Codelco $7.5 billion Andina mine expansion plan to take about two years

Codelco $7.5 billion Andina mine expansion plan to take about two years

Codelco says its future depends on the Andina mine expansion, as it is the only project that will allow the state-owned miner to increase production.

State-owned Chilean copper miner Codelco, the world’s largest producer of the industrial metal, said Thursday the $7.5 billion expansion of its massive Andina mine will take around two years, as it has to follow a new permitting process.

The company, which late last year yielded to pressure and delayed the project in order to submit changes, has said it was reworking the plan for the operation due mainly to falling copper price and protests about the expansion's potential impact on the environment, Reuters reports.

The project, near the country’s capital Santiago, includes the removal of six rock glaciers, which has granted it fierce opposition from environmentalists and local government officials. They claim Andina’s expansion will pollute and destroy dozens of glaciers in the area, wreaking havoc on drinking water reservoirs that serve the Chile’s central regions.

Codelco, which generates roughly 10% of the world's copper, has warned its future depends on the development of this project, as dwindling ore grades in its old mines are expected to bring annual output down.

Chief executive Nelson Pizarro told El Mercurio on Tuesday (in Spanish) that the expansion of Andina is the only project that will allow Codelco increase production. The rest, he noted, will only help keep output levels.

Codelco is in the midst of executing a $25 billion investment plan aimed to expand its aging mines and search for new high-grade deposits.

Despite spending $5 billion every year for the next five years, Pizarro expects "no significant gain" in production for its efforts with annual production staying around the 1.6 million tonne mark until 2017, when it could reach 1.7 million tonnes.

Images courtesy of Codelco, via Flickr.