24 May 2006


(May 24, 2006) Escondida mine, one of Chile’s state owned cooper mines, announced it will open the nation’s largest water desalination plant in the city of Antofogasta in August, 2006. The water plant will generate 525 liters of industrial quality water per second and cost approximately US$160 million.

The project includes the installation of 170km of pipes to push water from Antofogasta up to the Escondida mine 3,000 meters (9,800 ft.) above sea level. The water will be used in a process called lixiviation where water is mixed with sulfuric acid to extract copper from oxidized minerals.

Scarce water supplies in Chile’s northern desert where the Escondida mine is located have forced mining executives to look for new sources of water to supply the mine’s needs. “This is a complementary solution, not a substitute,” said Pedro Correa, a manager at the mine. Correa said that the water from the new plant will “only be used for the lixiviation process” as it is much more expensive to pump water such a long distance.

Copper prices remain high on the London Metals exchange but have decreased by US$0.15 since last Friday. The decrease brings the monthly average price of copper to US$3.62 compared to last year’s then 16-year record high of US$1.58 per pound.