Mining cos increase use of seawater

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Chilean mining companies are increasing seawater use in their production processes due to difficulties in obtaining access to freshwater resources in the north, local publication Area Minera reported.

Scarce freshwater resources in the country's north have led companies to install pipelines to transport seawater to the mines, some located at an altitude of over 3,000m.

Certain mines, such as local group Luksic's Esperanza project, have even begun to use the resource directly without de-salinizing the seawater.

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For Esperanza - a project that authorities expect to approve between April and June - Luksic has planned a US$150mn-200mn investment to build a 140km-long pipeline network, going from sea level to altitudes of 2,400m. The system will provide all the water needed for the initiative.

Antofagasta Minerals - a branch of the group's mining business - will also build a de-salinization plant to treat 10% of the water, which will be used in the last stages of the production process, the firm's VP Marcelo Awad was quoted as saying.

The Luksic group has already used seawater in projects such as Michilla and El Tesoro. Anglo-Australian mining company BHP Billiton has also begun using seawater to operate Escondida mine, but it de-salinizes the water previous to use in the mining process.