Copper: A trio of Chilean mine expansions receive board approval

Antofagasta — Los Pelambres, Chile

Mine expansion plans have been approved in recent months by Collahuasi, Teck and Antofagasta which have the ability to add significant capacity to the Chilean copper industry.

Collahuasi has revealed plans to invest US$3.2Bn to expand output at its open pit operation in Northern Chile which produced 524kt of metal in 2017. In an Environmental Impact Study presented to the local authorities, the operation would expand throughput at the mine’s concentrator from 160kt per day to 210kt per day via the installation of a fifth ball mill, additional crushing capacity and floatation cells. The company will also relaunch the mine’s SXEW cathode facility, which was closed in 2015, using new bioleaching technology and increasing its scale to 60kt of cathodes per year. At full capacity, the expanded operations would, in total, be able to produce over 700kt of copper in concentrate and cathodes.

Collahuasi CEO Jorge Gomez said the project had undergone several revisions in recent years, but that, as a result, “we have made a huge effort to present the most robust project possible”. Moreover, the company is in talks with Teck to explore operational synergies in the Tarapaca area, including the sharing of pipe and power line infrastructure and desalinated water supplies, since both companies are embarking upon ambitious expansion projects. “The presentation of the EIS for this project to extend the life of Collahuasi by 20 years reflects the reactivation of mining investment in the country”, said the Chilean Minister of Mine, Baldo Prokurica. Located 4,000 metres above sea level in the Andes and only 10Km from the Bolivian border, the mine is a joint venture between Anglo American (44%), Glencore (44%) and Mitsui (12%).

Earlier in the month, Teck announced board approval for its US$4.8Bn Quebrada Blanca Phase 2 (“QB2”) which will produce 316kt per year of copper equivalent production in the first five full years of its mine life. As part of the funding for the project, Sumitomo Metal Mining and Sumitomo Corporation have agreed to acquire a 30% indirect interest in Compania Minera Teck Quebrada Blanca S.A. which owns the QB2 project.

“QB2 is one of the world’s premier undeveloped copper assets and this transaction further confirms the value of the project,” said Don Lindsay, President and CEO of Teck. “This partnership significantly de-risks Teck’s investment in the project, enhances our project economics and preserves our ability to continue to return capital to shareholders and reduce bonds currently outstanding”. QB2 will be a long life, low cost operation with major expansion potential (the QB3 project), including the option to double production or more, to become a top five global copper producer. Construction has begun and production is expected to begin in the second half of 2021. QB3 would potentially double capacity to over 600kt per year, and cost an additional US$5Bn as a new concentrator would need to be installed.

In November, Antofagasta announced that it had given internal approval for a US$1.3Bn expansion at its flagship Los Pelambres mine in Chile to boost production there by 70kt per year from 2021. At the company’s Centinela mine, an expansion is in its early stage. “After a feasibility study in 2019, a decision on whether to expand the mine will not be made until at least 2020”, said CEO Ivan Arriagada. As a whole, Antofagasta expects 2019 to be a record year for its production with output in the 750-790kt range, up 8% from the 705-720kt expected in 2018.

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