The majority of northern Chile's mineral discoveries to come will likely be deep underground and of low grade, Sergio Rivera, geologist and general manager of Andean exploration for Chilean state-owned copper company Codelco said Wednesday.
Contrary to the notion that Chilean exploration is on the way out, Rivera said in a speech at the Latin American International Exploration Forum that he is optimistic the country would continue to host promising discoveries, but hidden ones.
Between 1969 and 1993 roughly 72% of the 56 mineral discoveries made in Chile's north - the world's copper basket - were found on the surface, according to Rivera.
In the 1995-2007 period the amount of near surface discoveries versus those underground was split evenly with seven each plus one semi-covered discovery, he said.
The figures demonstrate that future exploration in Chile will have to focus predominately on underground deposits and the challenges associated with finding them, according to the executive.
Rivera dismissed the idea that deep underground exploration is much more expensive than searching on the surface, mentioning Codelco's Gaby and Opache deep deposits that took a combined US$77mn in funding and six years to find.
Meanwhile the Toki and Genoveva deposits were found by Codelco after three years and US$6mn of investment, and the Inca de Oro deposit discovered in three years and US$3mn, he said.
Gaby, also known as Gabriela Mistral, is slated to churn out 165,000t/y of copper cathode starting in 2009.
Codelco is the world's largest copper producer with 1.67Mt in output last year.