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World’s top copper projects by capex — report

The KSM Project in northwestern British Columbia. (Image: CNW Group/Seabridge Gold.)

Global copper mine production is set to expand by 7.8% y-o-y in 2021 as a result of multiple new projects coming online and low-base effects due to covid-19 lockdowns reducing output in 2020, market analyst Fitch Solutions finds in its latest industry report.

Output over the next few years is slated to be strong, as a number of new projects and expansions come online, supported by rising copper prices and demand.

Fitch forecasts global copper mine production to increase by an average annual rate of 3.8% over 2021-2030, with annual output rising from 20.2mnt in 2020 to 29.4mnt by the end of the decade.

Chile is the world’s top copper producer, and leading project development are mainly large-scale miners BHP and Teck Resources, which have been attracted to the country’s well-developed infrastructure, extensive reserves and history of stability.

Chile has attracted a substantial amount of mining investment in recent years, which will begin to pay off over the coming years as new projects are slated to come online, and the analyst’s 2021 growth forecast is primarily underpinned by the start-up of BHP’s Spence Growth Option project. First production was achieved in December 2020 and is projected to increase payable copper production by 185kt per annum once ramped up — the process is expected to take 12 months.

In the longer term, a decline in average ore grades across the sector in Chile presents a key downside risk to production forecasts, Fitch notes, as ore grades decline, and higher amounts of ore need to be processed in order to yield an equivalent amount of copper each year.

Copper is in high demand for use in renewable energy and electric vehicles, but new deposits are rare and increasingly difficult to recover.

While Chile is the world’s biggest copper producer, Fitch expects Australia and Canada to dominate new projects. The analyst has ranked the world’s top ten copper projects by capex, with Chile absent from the list.

Source: Fitch Solutions

In first place is Seabridge Gold’s KSM project in British Columbia, Canada with a capex allocation of $12.1 billion. In November 2020, Seabridge refiled the technical report: Proved Reserves: 460mnt; Mine Life: 44 years. The project includes Kerr, Sulphurets, Mitchell and Iron Cap deposits.

Rio Tinto-controlled Turquoise Hill Resources’ massive Oyu Tolgoi expansion in Mongolia takes second place, with an $11.9 billion capex. The project has been plagued with delays and cost overruns, but Turquoise Hill is expected to commence production at the project in October 2022. The $5.3bn underground development at the mine remains on schedule to be completed by 2022; Rio Tinto has 50.8% interest in Turquoise Hill Resources. Proved Reserves: 355mnt; Mine Life: 31years.

SolGold and Cornerstone Resources’ jointly held Cascabel project in Ecuador is in 3rd place with a capex allocation of just over $10 billion. Measured Resources: 1192mnt; Mine Life: 66years; The project includes Alpala deposit; Expected Production: 150kt/yr Proved Reserves: 604mnt; Mine Life: 33years; Expected Production: 175kt/yr.

Coming in at number 4 is the Freida River project in Papua New Guinea with a $7.8 billion allocated capex. Proved Reserves: 569mnt; Mine Life: 20years.

MMG’s Izok Corridor project in Canada’s Nunavut’s Bathurst Inlet is in 5th place with a $6.5 billion allocated capex. Indicated Resources: 21.4mnt; The project includes Izok Lake and High Lake deposits.

Teck’s Galore Creek project in British Columbia, Canada in 6th place with a $6.1 billion capex allocation. In October 2018 Novagold Resources sold 50% stake in the project to Newmont Corporation. Measured Resources (Newmont Corporation’s 50% stake): 128.4mnt; Mine Life: 18.5years; Expected Production: 146.1kt/ yr.

Alcantara Group’s Tampakan project in the Philippines holds seventh place with a $5.9 billion capex. However, in August 2020 the Philippine government has cancelled an agreement with Alcantara Group to develop the mine. Estimated Production: 375kt/yr; Resources: 2940mnt; Mine Life: 17years.

Kaz Minerals’ Baimskya project in Russia has a $5.5 billion capex allocation. KAZ is expected to complete bankable feasibility study for the project in H121; Mine Life: 25years; Measured Resources: 139mnt; Expected Start Year: 2027; Expected Production: 250kt/yr.

Rounding out Fitch’s list is Antofagasta’s Twin Metals project in Minnesota. Antofagasta has submitted a plan to state and federal authorities for the project; Measured Resources: 291.4mnt; Mine Life: 25 years; The project includes Maturi, Birch Lake, Maturi Southwest and Spruce Road deposits.

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