Antofagasta Minerals is preparing to submit an investment proposal for its Los Pelambres mine in Chile that could see it stop using water from the Choapa River and nearby wells, and to use mainly seawater from 2025.
In this way, MLP will be able to guarantee the availability of water for its operations and advance its studies into extending its operations beyond 2035, when its current environmental permits expire, it said.
The submission to the Environmental Impact Assessment System (SEIA) also considers Minera Los Pelambres (MLP), the operating entity, building a new concentrate transportation system with modern control systems, routed away from the most populated areas. This will allow maintenance to be carried out without interfering with the daily life of the surrounding communities.
The 60%-owned mine produced 363,400 t of copper in 2019, alongside 11,200 t of molybdenum and 59,700 oz of gold.
Iván Arriagada, CEO of Antofagasta Minerals, said: “We are going to invest in works that allow us to adapt our operation to the changes that have occurred in the Choapa province and the region over the last 20 years as a result of the prolonged drought caused by climate change and the increase in its population and productive activity.
“This is a key step in the future of Los Pelambres.”
Arriagada added: “We have a long-term strategic vision to extend the life of the operations while ensuring its continued coexistence with other productive activities in the province of Choapa. We are particularly interested in taking care of natural resources that are scarce today, such as water, and continuing to reduce our potential impact on the environment.”
This new stage of the company’s development, called Los Pelambres Futuro, also includes the contribution of the Los Pelambres Expansion project, which was 36% complete as at the end of June. A significant part of the work on the project was stopped as a result of COVID-19 and construction is now restarting in stages.
“We want to make minor adjustments to the design of the expansion project, which is already under construction, to facilitate the future expansion of the desalination plant,” Arriagada said. “In this way, there we will be less impact on the environment.”
It is estimated that the Operational Adaptation Investment (OAI) will be submitted to the SEIA in the first half of 2021. Its execution could begin in 2023, creating up to 2,000 jobs.
The OAI includes the expansion of the 400 litre/s desalination plant, currently being built in Punta Chungo, and the industrial quality desalinated water supply system, to 800 litres/s.
Mauricio Larraín, General Manager of MLP, said: “If our investment proposal is approved, in the coming years we could stop extracting water from the Choapa River and nearby wells, and more than 95% of the water used by Los Pelambres will either come from the sea or will be recirculated water.”
This plan could see MLP become the first mining company in the central zone of Chile to operate predominantly with seawater.
“The decision to use desalinated water is an idea that arose from dialogue with nearby communities and authorities and seemed to us to be the best way that we could contribute to easing the water scarcity challenges in this part of the country that affects us all,” Larraín said.
The company, which currently has environmental permits to extract water from the Choapa River until 2035, has worked for years with its neighbours and the authorities on the water management of the Choapa Valley. This work will continue in the future with the objective of promoting the sustainable use of the available water and strengthening the Rural Drinking Water systems for human consumption, the company said.
Lastly, the Environmental Impact Study will include some continuity and maintenance works for the tailings system. These works are already included in the Environmental Qualification Resolution (RCA) 38/2004 and consist of works on the north and south contour channels, repositioning pipes and other works.
Arriagada concluded: “This set of initiatives will require very significant investment in the province of Choapa over the next 10 years, close to $1 billion, and will also generate a significant number of jobs. It will also contribute towards helping the region and the country overcome the social and economic crisis generated by COVID-19 as soon as possible.”