Chile remains region's top mining exploration destination

Chile remains region's top mining exploration destination

Mineral exploration spending in Chile increased 15% last year, adding investments of US$833mn, even though the sector grapples with economic difficulties, declining copper production, red tape and changes to the legal framework.

With the increase, Chile remains the region’s top exploration destination and No. 4 worldwide.

Still, “Chile should promote a national mining exploration policy that provides incentives” to increase exploration, Patricio Cartagena, secretary general of Chile's mining chamber, told BNamericas.

He added that exploration concessions owned by state companies, including Enami, which are not being worked on should be reviewed as part of law 21,649 on tax exemptions, which resolved a series of omissions of law 21,420 and seeks to avoid the hoarding of properties. 

Such a review would help to “generate more space, more open land and boost exploration,” he said.

Copper, gold and lithium are driving the segment.

Of 226 exploration prospects, 62% reported activities last year, 32% were paralyzed and 6% withdrawn, according to latest figures by state copper commission Cochilco.

On the other hand, six exploration prospects were added, a highlight being Pan Asia Metals’ 1,600km2 Tama Atacama litiferous asset, which consists of a series of brine and clay deposits, and Chilean Cobalt Corp's project in the same area.

Of total exploration spending, 44.2% went to the mine category, reflecting concerns over operational continuity, followed by advanced exploration with 31.7% due to its key role for feasibility studies and decision-making, while basic exploration accounted for 24.7%, according to Cochilco.

Regarding minerals, copper initiatives received 53.1% of the budget, gold 25.7%, lithium 10.6%, silver 3.1%, iron ore 2.2% and zinc 0.9%. Minerals such as cobalt, rare earths and rutile accounted for 4.4%.

Top exploration companies

Anglo American, Rio Tinto and state miner Codelco represented 17.4%, 14.5% and 11% of the total spending.

Last year, Anglo requested exploration concessions covering 800ha in Colina and 200ha in Santiago’s Lo Barnechea district to expand operations at the Los Bronces copper mine. By 2020, Anglo had registered 186,600ha of exploration concessions, according to geological service Sernageomin.

Meanwhile, Rio Tinto bought all of Minera Meridian's concessions, owned by Canada’s Pan American Silver, covering 171ha for exploration and 170ha for development, but the focus is on starting copper, gold and silver exploration at the Agua de la Falda deposit in Atacama region in alliance with Codelco.

The state miner also has a lithium exploration project at thSalar de Maricunga in Atacama region, for which permitting is underway and an exploratory campaign to build the hydrogeological model and estimate the resources in an area of 5,000ha is being designed.

Additionally, Codelco will receive SQM’s Salar de Maricunga’s exploration concessions as part of a new agreement to introduce state participation into the white metal business.

Codelco also owns mining properties with rights to explore and develop lithium at the Salar de Pedernales, whose aquifer is 60km from the Salvador Division in Atacama region. Indigenous consultations and talks with local authorities are underway as part of the exploration plan.

In 2022, Codelco began searching for partners for 34 basic exploration projects, mainly copper and gold, in Arica y Parinacota and Ñuble regions, with concessions covering 255,000ha.

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