MAC: Mines and Communities

Chile aims to save water in copper mining

Published by MAC on 2015-01-17
Source: PlanetArk (2015-01-14)

But it may prove a mirage

Lack of water, suited for human (not to mention other species') use may have become planet earth's most critically-endgangered natural resource.

The mineral's industry is unquestionably one of largest - many would say among the most wasteful - consumers of fresh water, and belatedly this is recognised by several major mining companies, including those operating copper mines in Chile.

What to do then? The Chilean preferred "solution" is to draw water from the ocean and desalinate it, hopefully decreasing  proportionate fresh water demand.

However, this may prove something of a mirage. 

Chile has exhausted most of its higher-grade copper, and future mining will rely on even greater  supplies of water in order to extract and process similar amounts of ore to those in the recent past.

Chile copper mine water use seen rising rapidly in next decade

PlanetArk

14 January 2015

Water consumption in Chile's vast copper mining industry is set to rise 66 percent by 2025, with companies increasingly turning to seawater to meet
mine demand, a study by state copper commission Cochilco showed on Tuesday.

Most of the copper mines in Chile are located in the Atacama, the world's driest desert, and a series of droughts has raised concerns about water use in the country.

Seawater desalination plants are forecast to cover a third of water demand by miners in 10 years' time, from around 9 percent currently, according to
Cochilco.

"The future of water supply in Chilean mining will come from the sea," said Jorge Cantallopts, research head at Cochilco.

Chile, producer of around a third of global copper, is facing slumping ore grades at many of its deposits, high energy costs, and strained water resources.

Cochilco forecast that water use in the mining industry will average 24.6 cubic meters per second by 2025, with the development of new projects accounting for around 75 percent of total expected water usage.

Copper production in Chile is led by state-run Codelco and private firms such as BHP Billiton, Glencore, Anglo American and Antofagasta Minerals.*

(Writing by Anthony Esposito; editing by Gunna Dickson)

* Editorial note: This article omits mention of Rio Tinto which owns 30% of the Escondia copper mine, Chile's largest.

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