BHP Billiton announced in late March 2011 approval of a $554-million ore access project at Minera Escondida in Chile. The project will relocate crushing and conveying facilities currently located inside Escondida’s main pit to improve access to higher-grade ore and support increased production from 2013. During 2010, Escondida produced 1,086,701 mt of copper, of which 786,603 mt was copper contained in concentrate and 300,098 mt was copper cathodes. Revenue from sales increased to $9.2 billion in 2010 from $7.1 billion in 2009.
Escondida is located in the north of Chile, in the Atacama Desert, 170 km southeast of the city of Antofagasta, at an altitude of 3,100 m above sea level. Production began in 1990, and since October 2005, the company has also operated Escondida Norte, a second open-pit located 5 km from the main pit. In addition to the two mines, Escondida assets and infrastructure include two concentrators (Laguna Seca and Los Colorados), an electro-winning plant, and two pipelines that transport copper concentrate from the mine to a filter plant at the port of Coloso. A seawater desalinization plant was recently built in the port area to supply part of the operation’s water consumption.
Minera Escondida is owned 57.5% by BHP Billiton; 30% by Rio Tinto; 10% by JECO Corp., a consortium owned by Mitsubishi Corp., 70%, Mitsubishi Materials, 10%, and Nippon Mining & Metals, 20%; and 10% by International Finance Corporation. BHP Billiton is the operating company.