Mining, water resources and community relations

By Scott D. Odell | Postdoctoral Associate | Mining, Environment, and Society Program

September 2021

Lea en español


The MIT Environmental Solutions Initiative (ESI) has released a new white paper detailing recent research on conflict over water in regions affected by both and climate change and mining. The document, “Hydrosocial Displacements: Climate Change and Community Relations in Chile’s Mining Regions,” was written by Scott Odell, a postdoctoral associate in ESI’s Mining, Environment & Society Program, and summarizes the results of fieldwork he undertook in three case study sites in Chile from 2017–2018.

The ESI white paper complements articles published from the project in academic journals (see links below). It provides an executive summary of the research project along with key insights for policymakers, communities, and business leaders wrestling with the challenges of water consumption by the mining industry in the context of climate change.

Copper production in Chile increased by 8 percent between 2009 and 2018, contributing to a 9 percent increase in the consumption of continental water supplies—such as rivers and aquifers—by the industry over the same period. While mines in and around the Atacama Desert in the north of the country have always operated under arid conditions, the Central Region experienced new water constraints due to an unprecedented “mega drought” beginning in 2010.

These converging dynamics of extractive industries and climate change have contributed to the emergence of conflicts over water between local communities and mining companies. Though particularly prominent in Chile, such conflicts are not unique to the country. The Environmental Justice Atlas, which tracks socio-environmental conflict at a global scale, has identified 519 cases of conflict related to mining with impact on water worldwide.

The research on which this white paper is based examines the nature and impacts of new forms of responses to these conflicts. Specifically, it investigates how collaboration between mining companies and communities, as well as expanded desalination production that allows mining operations to use seawater, have affected the management of water resources and conflicts over them. In addition, it analyzes how these issues may differ between mines operated by state-owned and private companies.

Read the full white paper in English here


You may also view two formal academic articles resulting from the dissertation project:

Odell, S. D. (2021). Hydrosocial displacements: Sources and impacts of collaboration as a response to water conflict near three Chilean mines. Resources Policy, 74 (December).

Odell, S. D. (2021). Desalination in Chile’s mining regions: Global drivers and local impacts of a technological fix to hydrosocial conflict. Journal of Cleaner Production, 323 (November).