Mining in Argentina presents geological characteristics that favor mining exploitation. The Argentine part of the middle and southern Andes of the Andes-about 3500 km from north to south, approximately half the total length of the mountain range-which constitutes its western boundary, the mountainous widening of the foothill zone in the Provinces of Mendoza, San Juan, La Rioja and Catamarca, the longitudinal valleys between both formations and the transversal valleys, scarce in other sectors of the Andean massif, have a remarkable potential for the development of mining, largely untapped.1 Mining has been a traditionally unimportant activity in Argentina, but towards the end of the 20th century the large-scale mining sector began to experience strong development, especially in the case of metal mining, which has prompted the opening of new mines and the continuity of existing holdings, sometimes with social opposition due to the environmental cost of extractive activities.2

Mega mining has the active promotion of several sectors, even in some cases the highest authorities of some provinces. However, the issue of sustainability or sustainability, 3 which, if considered one of the first definitions of the concept, is “development that satisfies the needs of the present generation, without compromising the capacity of future generations, continues in debate. to meet their own needs.


  • The first attempts to exploit the Famatina deposits took place towards the end of the 16th century and the beginning of the 17th and were carried out by a group of Jesuits12 who, according to existing documentation, had obtained from the original inhabitants the necessary information to successfully address them The explotion.
  • Around the year 1800, two miners from Peru and Mexico returned to work. One of them discovers the mine that until now is known by the name La Mejicana, in honor of its country of origin. After a few years, two businessmen from Aragon (Spain) started work in the area, apparently counting on information from the expelled Jesuit religious. With this information, the exploitation of the Santo Domingo, Santa Rosa, and Viuda, Socorro, San Pedro, Bartolomé and Mercedes mines reopens.
  • Between 1860 and 1900, before the oil boom was, to move the industrial machinery the use of coal and especially coal-type, at that time were discovered interesting (until 2017 never rationally exploited) hard coal deposits in the provinces of the Province of San Juan, more precisely in the Paganzo Basin and in the Guandacol basin in La Rioja.
  • In the 1880s the Argentine Republic consolidated its sovereignty in Esquel and its important gold deposits or placerries, these 4 deposits were shallow, although they were profitably exploited.
  • Between 1946 and 1955, iron extraction in the Andean-Cuyo area increased 143%, gold extraction 131%, copper 127% and silver 117%, cement and aggregates 103% .25 During those years, the State National, developed regional mining research plans (Plan Cordillerano, NOA Plan, San Luis Plan, Patagonia Comahue Plan) to identify areas of interest in various metalliferous ores. Thanks to these explorations is discovered the most important iron deposit, that of Sierra Grande, which is the largest in Argentina. It was discovered in 1947, and has a reserve of 214 million tons. Las Alumbres (Catamarca), Cerro Vanguardia (Santa Cruz), Las Pirquitas, and Salar del Hombre Muerto (Catamarca) were also discovered.
  • The Bajo de la Alumbrera operation began its activity in the province of Catamarca in the mid-1990s.
  • The main solid mineral products (not counting the enormous underground reserves of natural gas and hydrocarbons) exported by Argentina are gold and copper.
  • It is currently estimated that the production of strategic lithium will also be very important.


The term “MEGAMINING” refers to a large-scale mining exploitation, in general of metalliferous minerals, which involves large capital investments, massive movements of materials, very high utilization of resources and is operated or concessioned by companies or associations of mining companies. foreign capital, since the ore is scattered in large volumes of low concentration material which makes the technologies “sink” impracticable. Not all surface or open-pit operations are mega-mining. A typical example is the farms dedicated to obtaining salt in salt places or salt flats, which practically develop as a “harvest” (harvesting) of the mineral that is at ground level.

At present, this type of large-scale operations is the only economically profitable method, because the veins with high concentration are depleted.

Present (some mines are no longer economic and are not working in 2019)

Location and products of the main exploitations and / or explorations (2015)

  • Water of Dionisio, province of Catamarca. Gold and silver.
  • Agua Rica, from the Province of Catamarca. Copper, gold, silver and molybdenum.
  • Andacollo, province of Neuquén, gold.
  • Bajo de la Alumbrera or La Alumbrera, province of Catamarca. Copper, gold and molybdenum.
  • Bajo Pobre, province of Santa Cruz, gold and silver.
  • Calcatreu gold and silver deposits in the province of Río Negro.
  • Mahuida Bell almost immediately to the town of Loncopué, important copper mine, in the northwest of the province of Neuquén.
  • Capillitas in the province of Catamarca province, Rhodochrosite.
  • Casposo, province of San Juan, gold and silver.
  • Cauchari Olaroz, in the province of Jujuy, lithium and potassium.
  • Cerro Moro, Province of Santa Cruz, gold and silver mine.
  • Cerro Negro, province of Santa Cruz, gold and silver.
  • Cerro Tantana, Province of Catamarca. Uranium.
  • Cerro Vanguardia, Province of Santa Cruz Province. Gold and silver.
  • Chinchillas, province of Jujuy, silver, lead and zinc.
  • Diamante Los Patos, provinces of Salta and Catamarca, Uranio.
  • Don Nicolás, near the Tres Cerros area in the province of Santa Cruz. Gold and silver.
  • El Aguilar, province of Jujuy; considered probably the highest concentration of lead and zinc minerals, as well as important silver mine, of South America.
  • El Pachón, in the province of San Juan, produces copper and molybdenum.
  • El Quevar, in the province of Salta. Silver.
  • Farallón Negro, in the Province of Catamarca Province. Gold and silver.
  • Gualcamayo, in the province of San Juan. Gold and silver.
  • Lindero, in the province of Salta, gold.
  • Lomada de Leiva, in the province of Santa Cruz, gold.
  • Manantial Espejo, mine near the town of Gobernador Gregores in the Province of Santa Cruz. Gold and silver.
  • Pirquitas mine in the province of Jujuy, cassiterite, silver, tin and zinc.
  • Pascua Lama, located between the states of Argentina and Chile, in Argentina is the Lama sector, province of San Juan. Gold and silver. It is considered one of the world’s leading gold deposits.
  • Potassium Rio Colorado, a large potassium deposit in the south of the province of Mendoza.
  • Potrerillo in the province of San Luis, various varieties of granite.
  • Christmas Project, in the province of Chubut, silver.
  • Río Grande, in the province of Salta, copper, gold and silver.
  • Río Turbio and Mina 3 in the extreme south-west of the province of Santa Cruz: coal or mineral coal that gave rise to YCF.
  • Salar de Diablillos, province of Salta, lithium and potassium.
  • Salar de Olaroz, in the province of Jujuy, lithium and potassium.
  • Salar del Hombre Muerto, [Fénix Project] in the province of Catamarca, lithium.
  • Salar del Rincón, in the province of Salta, lithium.
  • San Jorge in the province of Mendoza, copper and gold.
  • San José (Huevos Verdes) in the province of Santa Cruz, Silver and Gold.
  • Sierra de Pie de Palo, important deposits of soapstone (magnesium hydrate) in the province of San Juan.
  • Sierra Grande, province of Río Negro, iron.
  • Sierra Pintada, province of Mendoza, uranium.
  • Taca Taca, in the province of Salta, copper, gold and molybdenum.
  • Tincalayu, in the province of Salta, borates.
  • Veladero, province of San Juan, gold and silver.
  • Zapla, province of Jujuy, iron..


Number of initial mines by province initially

  • Santa Cruz: 10
  • Jump: 9
  • Catamarca: 8
  • Jujuy: 7
  • San Juan: 6
  • Mendoza: 3
  • Neuquén: 3
  • Rio Negro: 2
  • Chubut: 1
  • San Luis: 1


Number of current Projects per province (2016)

  • Santa Cruz: 6
  • Catamarca: 3
  • San Juan: 3
  • Jujuy: 2
  • Rio Negro: 1
  • Buenos Aires: 1
  • Córdoba: 1

Number of future projects by province (2016)

  • Mendoza: 5
  • Catamarca: 3
  • Santa Cruz: 3
  • Jump: 3
  • San Juan: 2
  • Chubut: 2

Mining exports in Argentina

Number of foreign companies operating in mining.

The importance of not imposing retention on imports based on employment


The minerals of the Puna de Atacama have great potential, among which are borax, saltpeter, potassium and, especially since the present 21st century, lithium, being part of the Lithium Triangle, there are some of the main lithium proportions of the planet in the Salar del Hombre Muerto, uranium reserves are also very important in the Cuyo region and other Andean areas of Argentina; in the province of Misiones, the semiprecious stone mines stand out, such as those of Wanda, carboniferous veins in Paganzo in the border area between the provinces of La Rioja San Juan, where prospection tasks are currently being carried out in search of uranium.98 On the island of Tierra del Fuego and in the Malvinas contended there are large peat bogs and in the vast Antarctic Sector claimed by Argentina large proven coal and oil deposits and indications of gold, iron etc. In addition to those of the snow-capped Famatina in La Rioja; the auriferous pleasures of: Esquel in Chubut; those of Santa Catalina in the province of Jujuy; those of Cabo Vírgenes, province of Santa Cruz; and the island of Tierra del Fuego; the iron deposits in the Payunia (south of the province of Mendoza), those of diatomite in the Santa Teresita mine of the pcia. from Río Negro; those of quartz, mica, “marble onyx”, lime and white marble in the Sierras de Córdoba (already at the end of the 19th century the limestone deposits of the Malagueño hill were renamed a few tens of kilometers southwest of the capital city of Córdoba; At present, the company that operates the Malagueño has the same name and has important deposits in operation in Quilpo – in the northwest of the Province of Córdoba and in Los Berros in the Province of San Juan), in the Province of Córdoba, the deposit of uranium from Los Gigantes although for ecological reasons it is currently inactive; to the aforementioned are added the rhodochrosite deposits in the province of Catamarca etc.

The Argentine Chamber of Mining Entrepreneurs (CAEM) reports that an increase in exports was generated in the first part of the year, which towards the end turned slightly downward. In addition to that the prices of commodities, which had rebounded at the beginning of 2018, began to make certain corrections. In this context, the industry closed the year with an estimated US $ 3.9 billion of exports.

It can be assured that lithium has been the most advanced sector in the country. Argentina is positioned as the third world producer, with two projects in operation (Salar de Olaroz and Salar del Hombre Muerto) that produce 30,000 tons of LCE (lithium carbonate equivalent), which represents 16% of world production. To these are added two exploitation expansion projects and three other projects in advanced exploration and construction.

Considering only the two projects in operation and the six most advanced projects (and which are likely to start producing in the coming years), Argentina would almost increase its capacity by 2021 to reach 190,000 tons of lithium equivalent. However, the capacity could be multiplied by seven if different projects that are in their advanced exploration stage come into operation.

Regarding non-metal mining, in 2018 there was an auspicious beginning with the progress of public works, but with a year-end that accompanied the national economic situation and the decline in the pace of public works. Recall that the extraction of application rocks and other non-metallic minerals generate more than 13,000 jobs in the country, distributed among 689 registered companies, with a strong predominance of SMEs.

What must be highlighted is that, despite having gone through a complicated stage, the mining sector as a whole continues to support more than 81,000 workers, considering both direct and indirect employment, through contractors, positions in the mining-based industries (cement, lime and gypsum) and those generated by the exploration and construction companies.


Think mining “inward”

When thinking about the contribution of mining, it is immediately related to exports, especially given that the activity is the fourth exporting complex in the country. However, a deeper look reveals its fundamental contribution to the economy, as an enhancer of the SME value chain and regional economies.

This in-depth view makes it possible to understand that of the 850 mining companies that operate in Argentina, more than 90% are SMEs and account for around 40% of the sector’s employment. While 60% of the remaining employment is in the payroll of large companies with more than 100 employees.

The mining projects are the core of a network of suppliers and related activities. Among them, the chain of local suppliers of goods and services, construction companies of civil works and their subcontractors.


Regional economies

To understand the impact of the mining industry on regional economies, the case of Santa Cruz, the main mining province in terms of exports since 2015, with a 36% participation can be evaluated. Here, mining is one of the main pillars of provincial employment, with almost 20% of the total registered jobs in the private sector and with a salary scale higher than that of other industries. The mining wage is 1.7 times higher than the average of other sectors and that is why it represents 22% of the province’s wage bill.

And according to a report recently published by the Argentine Chamber of Commerce and Services (CAC) mining accounts for 80% of exports from the province of Catamarca, 74% of those in San Juan and 71% of those in Santa Cross.


Potential for growth

 Looking ahead to the next few years, Argentina has excellent potential, given that it has significant mining resources, being the world’s first country with the largest reserves of lithium, sixth in silver and tenth in gold. And as a positive result, according to the Ministry of Production, in the last three years mining exploration has rebounded in the country, doubling 2018 figures for 2015.

However, it should be borne in mind that mining production processes have their particularities and times, given that investment projects are characterized by their high economic risk, the large volumes involved and the prolonged recovery periods of the sunken capital.

In real terms, the mining industry is expected to be one of the fastest growing sectors in the years to come. Argentina is part of this development process, not without difficulties and with less speed than necessary, but with the challenge of gaining more and more participation in the flow of investments to the region.

In this way, as the new projects enter, your contribution to the Argentine economy will be growing.


Environmental impact, use of water, coexistence with other activities

The question of the real dimension of the environmental impact generated from mega mining is one of the central points of the controversies. The pro-mining sectors argue that all human productive activity impacts on the environment, that any mining project is obliged to comply with strict rules regarding the preservation of the environment and that, in case of an incident that produces environmental damage, there is technology and knowledge to solve the situation. However, these sectors can not deny that the enormous topographic and landscape changes are inevitable results. The extraction of the elements sought involves the extraction of huge volumes of stone and earth, which is why the irremediable modification of the environment is inherent to the activity. The sectors that oppose mega mining argue that the damage caused by this activity is much greater than what is reported, irreversible and disproportionate compared to the minimum positive results that this produces.46 Currently there are conflicts in various regions of the country directly linked to mega mining operations. Some of them are long-standing, for example the one involving the Alumbrera project, installed in the Belén department, in the province of Catamarca, which began in 1997. In 2007, the then governor of Mendoza Julio Cobos vetoed a law passed by the legislature provincial that protected the Mendocinean environment by prohibiting mining with cyanide in the provincial territory.

The 32 environmental conflicts in Argentina