Escondida looks to maximize water recovery from tailings

Bnamericas Published: Wednesday, October 26, 2022

BHP’s Minera Escondida is looking to intensify the recovery of water from tailings processes at the giant copper mine it operates in northern Chile, according to the firm’s water and dams superintendent Cristian Jaque.

The official said the mining industry as a whole is expected to keep pushing processes such as tailings recovery and desalination to reduce consumption of freshwater. 

“The industry should go in this direction, though obviously each area has its own complexities,” Jaque told BNamericas at an international conference of Latin American desalination and water reuse association Aladyr. 

Some 70% of the water currently used by Escondida, the world’s largest copper mine, comes from desalination, while the other 30% comes from tailings recovery efforts, he said. 

“Recuperated water is the most environmentally favorable and has the most favorable costs for the industry’s processes,” Jaque said, highlighting Escondida completely stopped water extraction from the Monturaqui well in 2019. 

Jaque said BHP uses Chile’s sustainability regulations as a base, and from there goes on towards even more sustainable methods, and it will continue advancing in that line. 

Chilean mining companies have been under pressure by a 13-year drought, with many turning to desalination.

In 2006 Escondida became the first mine in Chile to have a dedicated desalination plan. 

State copper commission Cochiclo said last year it expects that use of seawater in mining will almost equal that of fresh water in a decade.

Chile is the world’s largest copper producer.

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