Drought in the central zone raises pressure on mining and companies raise alerts

Yesterday, the mining arm of the Luksic group – Antofagasta Minerals – announced that they are evaluating options to mitigate the risk associated with the lack of rainfall so far this year.

The extensive drought that mainly affects the central area of ​​the country and that lasts for more than a decade is a major concern for the mining industry, whose productive stages of flotation, milling and tailings processing require this element. This is reflected in the growth of the use of desalinated water in the sector. Yesterday, Antofagasta Minerals, the mining arm of the Luksic group, warned of the situation that is affecting its main mine: Minera Los Pelambres, located in the mountain range of the Coquimbo Region.

As revealed by the company in its production report at the end of the first semester, rainfall in the area where Los Pelambres is located has been significantly lower than in 2019, which was in itself the driest year of the current drought that spans 12 years. That is why they revealed that they have strict water management protocols, to which is added that they are evaluating various options to mitigate the risk of the impact of reduced rainfall, should this situation continue. “The production guide assumes that the minimum levels of precipitation required will resume during the rest of the year and, therefore, are subject to the availability of water,” they argued, pointing out that as a group they hope to reach a range of between 730 thousand and 760 thousand tons of copper.

In this sense, Antofagasta Minerals’ copper production in the first six months of the year was 361,500 tons, in line with expectations and 2.8% lower than in the same period of the previous year, mainly due to lower ore grades . Regarding the water situation, one of the solLos Broncesuciones that could reduce the problem in Los Pelambres is the INCO project, an initiative of more than US $ 1,700 million, which among other works considers the construction of a desalination plant in Los Vilos, which It would operate in the second half of 2022 and that it completes 52% progress. But this is not the only impact of the climate crisis on the Luksic mining company.

This, since the storm surge at the end of June delayed shipments of about 15,000 tons. “These shipments then left for their destinations in early July, so they will be accounted for as sales during the third quarter,” they added.

Transversal concern

Regarding the water issue and the extension of the drought, the companies have implemented various measures, for example, increasing the recirculation of water used in operations, a figure that according to the latest update of the Mining Council reaches 76%.

One of the mining companies that have implemented measures is Los Bronces, a task that has been forced to stop processes due to lack of water in previous years. However, the management strategy implemented by Anglo American has had its first results, and during the first semester it allowed greater availability of the resource, increasing the efficiency of the concentrator plant by 32%. Added to this is the project through which they are evaluating bringing water from the coast of the Valparaíso Region.

The drought has also affected Codelco, which in previous seasons has even evaluated water rationing in the El Teniente division, the Corporation’s most important division. It currently has a plan to reduce the use of water, through the thickening of tailings and the recirculation of 70% of the fresh water used, in addition to the reduction of 40% in consumption in the last decade. As explained by the state company, both in El Teniente and Andina, “for now the water situation allows a normal operation, without restrictions; however, the situation is constantly being evaluated and we continue to make progress in saving plans and increasing recirculation ”.

The executive director of Plusmining, Juan Carlos Guajardo, commented that the drought is a phenomenon that is affecting mainly the works that are in Copiapó to the south. “Mining has been working on this issue for at least 10 years, so there are a large part of the operations that have a solution linked to the use of seawater, but not all of them can implement this situation. In the central zone there is the aggravation that the drought is prolonged, but there is also competition for the resource, for urban use, for agriculture, in addition to environmental pressures, ”explains Guajardo.

For his part, the UC academic, Gustavo Lagos, says that the main risk if there is no water is a direct impact on copper production. “To process copper you need water, mainly for flotation processes, but also for milling and in various parts of the process, such as tailings, and it can be recirculated, but it is not easy,” says Lagos.

Source: El Mercurio

Translated with Google Translator