Plans for $3 billion copper mine could be halted if studies indicate potential harm to glaciers
Anglo American believes it can mine safely at its proposed Los Bronces Mine in Chile and that it has developed plans that will allow the $3 billion mine to operate without negatively impacting nearby glaciers, however, if further studies indicate the mine could harm the glaciers the company will halt the project.
Henni Faul, Anlo American’s chief executive office of copper told Bloomberg that if studies indicate the plan could harm nearby glaciers or there’s major opposition from local communities in Chile the project will be stopped.
The London-based company will file for environmental approval of the $3 billion project to increase production at its Los Bronces Mine during the third quarter. The project is sensitive because of its proximity to Andean glaciers and the Chilean capital.
“All of our data proves we can mine that resource without doing any damage to the glaciers and without affecting the ground water,” he said at the company’s offices in Santiago ahead of the Cesco Week mining conference. “We will not mine it if there are any other indications; we will not take the project forward.”
The Los Bronces project is part of Anglo American’s plan to expand its portfolio of copper assets organically, Faul said. Last year, the company started construction of the $5 billion Quellaveco Mine in Peru, one of the few large copper mines being built at the moment.
Production at Los Bronces -- the largest copper mine operated by the globe-straddling company -- will decline in five years as ore grades decrease. The output expansion at the site, which has been mined for more than 150 years, could take annual production from 335 kt (369,500 st) last year to about 360 kt (400,000 st). The company plans to use new technology to increase efficiency and to dig underground tunnels to avoid impact on the nearby glaciers.
“We’ve been working on this for six years and we trust we have the best scientific input,” Faul said of the Los Bronces plans.
About 80 percent of South America’s glaciers are in Chile, and they cover about 3 percent of the country’s land area. Rising temperatures combined with mining activity have sped up the melting of Andean glaciers, Francisco Ferrando, a geography professor at University of Chile in Santiago, said in June.
The Juncal Norte and Olivares Alfa glaciers, about 4,000 m (13,100 ft) above sea level and close to Los Bronces and Codelco’s Andina mine, are melting at a faster pace than others further away, he said.
Faul expects it will take about three years to obtain the necessary permits for the project, including the environmental license. Project development would take four years, and ramp up a further five years. A lot could happen during that time, especially as glacier protection and the impact of mining on the delicate Andean environment are being discussed in Chile’s Congress.
The two mines are just about 65 km (40 miles) away from Santiago, home to more than 5 million people, about a third of the Chilean population. Developments around Los Bronces and the glaciers nearby are closely watched by local communities and large environmental groups such as Greenpeace, which opposes industrial and mining activities on or under glaciers.
Anglo wants to start discussions about its Los Bronces plans with local communities during the second quarter, Faul said. But the project won’t happen if there’s significant opposition.