Codelco to keep “Chuqui” open pit mine going for an extra year

Codelco to keep "Chuqui" open pit mine going for an extra year
At more than 1,100 metres deep, Chuquicamata still is the world’s largest open pit copper mine. (Image courtesy of Codelco.)

Chile’s Codelco, the world’s largest copper producer, has extended mining at its century-old open pit Chuquicamata mine for an extra year as the operation has yielded more than 30,000 tonnes of additional fine copper so far this year.

The state-owned miner shut the open pit section of Chuquicamata in 2018 and transitioned to underground block cave mining last year.

New technologies, however, made Codelco rethink the decision. The copper giant continued to exploit the pit, planning to shut it in December this year.

The Santiago-based company now expects the more than 1,100 metres-deep section of “Chuqui” — as locals call it — to keep running into 2021.

“We have promoted and achieved new ways of operating that have resulted, in the case of Chuquicamata, in a team that adapted to changes and sought continuous improvement,” executive president Octavio Araneda said in the statement.

Underground to take over

Araneda said ramp up of the underground section continued to move forward according to schedule. The company had previously noted that $5.6 billion-switch to underground cave mining from open pit was part of its 10-year, $39 billion-overhaul of its core assets.

The underground operation will add at least 40 years to Chuquicamata’s life. It will also allow the copper giant to keep up production rates, despite falling ore grades and increasing costs at its operations.

Codelco, which hands over all of its profits to the state, holds vast copper deposits, accounting for 10% of the world’s known proven and probable reserves and about 11% of the global annual copper output with 1.6 million tonnes of production in 2019.

The mining company’s sprawling deposits, scattered across central and northern Chile, have continued to operate through the ups and downs of the covid-19 with reduced staff.

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