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BHP greenlights expansion at Escondida copper mine in Chile

BHP expects Escondida’s output to reach 1.1 million tonnes (Image courtesy of Rio Tinto)

BHP Billiton (ASX:BHP), the world’s biggest mining company, has committed to spend just less than $200 million to get more copper out of its 57.5%-owned Escondida operation in Chile, the world’s largest copper-producing mine.

The expansion of the Los Colorados concentrator will help offset declining grades at the mine and add incremental copper production to reach an average production of 1.2 million tonnes a year over the next decade, The Australian reported.

BHP, already the world’s second-biggest listed copper miner, is betting on the industrial metal as one of the company’s main pillars of future growth.

Los Colorados was the first concentrator plant used by Escondida when it began operations back in 1990. The current project involves the repair of this facility, which had been placed on care and maintenance in the March quarter.

The concentrator will join the other two plants, Laguna Seca and the recently opened OGP1, and operations are set to begin by mid-2017.

The decision to revive Los Colorados expansion comes less than a week after Escondida reported a significant drop in output for the first three months of 2016, causing profits to sink 47% to $265 million compared to the same period last year. Mine revenues also plummeted to about $1.4 billion from $2 billion in the same period last year, among weak prices for the industrial metal.

BHP, already the world’s second-biggest listed copper miner, recently decided to raise its annual exploration spending by 29%, allocating nearly all its $900 million budget to finding new copper and oil deposits. The mining giant is committed to make of those two commodities the pillars of its future growth.