Two projects to support higher production at the Escondida copper mine in Chile were recently approved. The $3.8 billion Organic Growth 1 Project (OGP 1) will replace the Los Colorados concentrator with a new 152,000 metric tons per day (mt/d) plant. It also allows access to the high grade ore located underneath the existing facilities.

Construction of the new plant will be complete within three years. The $721 million Escondida Oxide Leach Area Project (OLAP) involves the construction of a new dynamic leaching pad and a mineral handling system. The project will maintain processing capacity at current levels following the completion of the current heap leach in 2014. Construction will be completed by July 2014.

In addition, a 17% increase in the mineral resources and a 25% increase in the ore reserves at Escondida were recently announced, following successful brownfield exploration and accelerated in-fill development drilling programs. The reserve increase also reflects the approval of OGP1, as most lower grade sulphide ore is now expected to be treated through the flotation circuit with an associated increase in process recoveries. A new resource at Chimborazo, based on more than 115,000 m of drilling averaging 530 m in depth, is being evaluated as potential feed for Escondida’s sulphide leach processing facilities.

“We expect the completion of the current Escondida Ore Access and Laguna Seca debottlenecking projects, and a strong recovery in ore grades, to support a substantial recovery in Escondida copper production to more than 1.3 million mt/y in the 2015 financial year,” said BHP Billiton Base Metals President Peter Beaven. “Looking ahead, the success of our brownfield exploration program suggests there are sufficient resources at Escondida to sustain production at current levels for more than a century. OGP1 is the first of a series of potential projects that could substantially expand processing capacity at Escondida and help ensure it remains the world’s leading copper operation for decades to come.”

Located 3,100 m above sea level, and 170 km southeast of Antofagasta, Chile, Escondida is owned by BHP Billiton (57.5%), Rio Tinto (30%), JECO Corp. (10%) and JECO 2 Ltd. (2.5%). BHP Billiton operates the Escondida mine.