Late last year, Anglo American commissioned its dealination plant at its Mantoverde copper mine in Chile at a cost of more than $100 million. The plant free frees the Mantoverde copper mine from using the freshwater of the river Copiapó, the main water supply for local residents of the Atacama region and instead pulls water from the Pacific Ocean.
Seawater is captured in a catchment tower, located 300 metres from the seashore, where it begins a filtration and purification process that extracts residue and salt. This water can then be utilised by the Mantoverde operation, which comprises an open pit mine, crushing plants and facilities for processing oxide ores.
Now, lawmakers in Chile are discussing a bill that would force mining companies including giants such as BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto to run all of their copper mines in the country using desalinated water from the Pacific Ocean.
The lower chamber of deputies’ measure, introduced last year, would only be imposed to miners that consume more than 150 liters (40 gallons) of water per second, Mining.com reported.
In addition to Anglo American, a number of mining companies have already introduced plans to develop such facilities, including Freeport-McMoRan’s El Abra, as well as the Radomiro Tomic and Chuquicamata divisions of state-owned copper giant Codelco.
Mining giants Rio Tinto and BHP Billiton unveiled last year a $3 billion plan for a plant that’ll pump treated seawater 10,000 feet high to their jointly owned Escondida copper mine.
Companies in Chile are not the only ones concerned about finding means to improve the way they conserve, manage or obtain water. Since 2011, companies around the world have spent more than $84 billion on the task. And overall the mining industry alone, says Global Water Intelligence, is expected to spend more than $12 billion on water this year.