A Giant Sinkhole Just Opened Up in Chile

The sinkhole, 650 feet deep and roughly the width of the White House, appeared on land owned and operated by a Canadian mining company.
The sinkhole is 82 feet wide and 656 feet deep, according to Chile's National Service of Geology and Mining (Sernageomin).
The sinkhole is 82 feet wide and 656 feet deep, according to Chile's National Service of Geology and Mining (Sernageomin). Photo by Sernageomin

A giant sinkhole just opened up in Chile on a plot of land whose mining rights are owned and operated by a Canadian company. The hole, 82 feet in diameter, or roughly the width of the White House, is being investigated by geologists to see if it has a connection to contentious foreign mining operations in the region.

The National Service of Geology and Mining (Sernageomin) announced on Twitter that it had first become aware of the sinkhole on Saturday in an agricultural area outside of the town of Tierra Amarilla in the Atacama region, over 400 miles north of the capital of Santiago.

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“There is a considerable distance, approximately 200 meters (656 feet), to the bottom,” David Montenegro, Sernageomin’s director, said in a statement. “We haven't detected any material down there, but we have seen the presence of a lot of water.”

The sinkhole, approximately as deep as the length of two soccer fields, opened up near the Alcaparrosa copper mine, which is owned by the Canadian company Lundin Mining. Canadian mining companies operate throughout Latin America and have been accused of a wide range of environmental and human rights abuses over the years. 

Cristóbal Zúñiga, Tierra Amarilla’s mayor, told a local radio station that the community living near the mine “has always had a fear that something like this could happen.”

“Today it happened in a space that’s an agricultural property, but our greatest fear now is that this could happen in a populated place, on a street, in a school,” said Zuñiga. 

“Protecting the integrity of our inhabitants is our greatest concern at the moment.”

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Lundin Mining released a statement on its website, saying that “upon detection, the area was immediately isolated and the relevant regulatory authorities notified. There has been no impact to personnel, equipment, or infrastructure.”

“The surficial sinkhole has remained stable since detection,” the company added, and said that “as a preventive measure,” work in the area “has been temporarily suspended.”

But the company’s assurances haven’t sat well with the local community.

Zuñiga, the 25-year-old mayor whose Twitter boasts that he’s the youngest mayor in the country, alleged that the community experiences daily blasting and strong tremors from the mine that “have destroyed our houses and our streets, and today, destroyed the ground.”

“The government, Sernageomin, and this company must be held responsible and be investigated quickly regarding what happened and why,” Zuñiga told Ciudadano ADN Radio. “Sernageomin must get its act together and do a good job and clarify what the reason is, and if it is connected to mining activity, or due to nature.”

Zuñiga mentioned that it wasn’t the first time that Lundin Mining and its blasting has come under scrutiny. Chile’s environmental regulator filed charges against Lundin Mining for breaching its operational permits related to blasting at a different mine in the country in 2021.

Lundin Mining operates several mines around the world primarily focusing on copper, zinc, gold, and nickel. Along with its operation in Chile, it also works in Argentina, Brazil, Portugal, Sweden, and the U.S., according to its website.

Follow Nathaniel Janowitz on Twitter.