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Chile’s copper output down in 2019 on declining grades

Chile’s Ministro Hales mine. (Courtesy of Codelco via Flickr)

Copper production in 2019 in Chile, the world’s no. 1 producer of the metal, dropped by 44,000 tonnes compared to 2018, amid a perfect storm of falling ore grades at the largest deposits, water scarcity and operational issues.

Cochilco, the country’s copper commission, said Codelco, the state-owned giant, was the miner most affected by aging mines as its production declined by 5.6% in 2019 by about 100,000 tonnes. The impact of such a fall at a national level was offset by results at other mines, such as Barrick’s Zaldívar, Lundin’s Candelaria and Antofagasta’s Centinela.

Codelco contributed the most to the fall, producing 44,000 tonnes less than in 2018, as it grapples with falling grades at its aging mines

Overall, the world’s largest copper producer churned out 1.7 million tonnes of copper, the lowest level since 2008, when it generated only 1.55 million tonnes. At that time, the giant Ministro Hales mine, which contributes between 180,000 and 200,000 tonnes of copper a year, had not yet begun operations.

Another mine that experienced a sharp drop in production was BHP’s Escondida, the world’s largest copper mine, which ended 2019 with a production of 1.18 million tonnes, or 4.4% less than in 2018.  

The biggest output increase, in turn, was registered at Antofagasta’s Centinela mine, which churned out 25.8% more copper than in 2018.  

Codelco, which hands over all of its profits to the state, is in the midst of an ambitious, 10-year, $39 billion investment drive to open new projects and overhaul older mines.