The gold is buried under glaciers whose ice is a source of water for fertile valleys nearby.
For five years, Barrick has been working on a plan to use big dump trucks and hydraulic shovels to haul away the ice and tack it onto a bigger glacier two kilometres away.
The plan has led to demonstrations outside the company's Santiago office, complete with a pile of melting ice as a prop to draw attention to how the plan might affect the area's desert ecosystem.
"Water yes, gold no!" about 30 environmentalists chanted during a protest this week.
"A glacier isn't a chunk of ice you can just pick up and move," said Lucio Cuenca. "It's part of a water basin, and if you move it, you'll disrupt that ecosystem."
Barrick says its plan won't change the flow of area rivers or otherwise harm the environment.
The company will submit a glacier management plan to the Chilean government later this month, and hopes to have all the approvals it needs by the end of the year.
Production on the $1.5 billion US Pascua Lama project could begin in 2008.