Performance of Underground Mines in Chile

Performance of Underground Mines in Chile

The mining sector is a key element in the Chilean economy with most of the mining activities grouped in the north of the country and it accounts for 12% of Chile’s GDP. The top minerals found in the country are Copper, Gold, Silver, Molybdenum, and Iron. Chile leads the world’s production of copper and is among the top five producers of molybdenum and silver.  

In the last years, the mining industry worldwide has been turning towards underground mining, and Chile could not be the exception. The increase in technological advances that the world has been experiencing, as well as the increasing awareness of the environmental impact, have become two key factors in the return to underground mining. Despite open pit mining remains the most popular mining method for Cu or epithermal deposits, the trend towards sustainability is pointing to the underground methods for ground footprint reduction. 

Mines such as El Teniente, the world’s largest underground mine, owned by the state National Copper Corporation of Chile (CODELCO) have been investing in the expansion of the underground tunnels to expand the mine’s life for more than 50 years. Other mines such as the Chuquicamata, Chile’s largest open-pit copper mine, transitioned from open-pit mining to underground mining (Jamasmie, 2012).  This transition is expected to reduce 97% of suspended particulate matter originated from open-pit operations, thereby minimizing environmental demands (Michaud, n.d.) 

Without a doubt, Chile is facing a great challenge on the road to underground mining, because it is not only a matter of considering the new technical requirements that this new stage implies, but also it is essential to carry out geological studies, cost analysis, automation of tasks and preparation of the appropriate staff for the development of the operations. Therefore, it is important to highlight the crucial role those new technologies play in the evolution of mining operations, as profitability is not the only concern, but it is also important to think about sustainable operations that will drive the future of mining in Chile. 

 

 References:

Jarroud, M. (2013). Mining in Chile Going Back Underground. Inter Press Service. Retrieved 22 June 2021, from http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/08/mining-in-chile-going-back-underground/. 

Jamasmie, C. (2012). Chile’s largest open pit copper mine goes underground. MINING.COM. Retrieved 23 June 2021, from https://www.mining.com/chiles-largest-open-pit-copper-mine-starts-conversion-to-underground/. 

Michaud, D. Why are Chile and the world going back to underground mining?. Mineral Processing & Metallurgy. Retrieved 24 June 2021, from https://www.911metallurgist.com/blog/why-are-chile-and-the-world-going-back-to-underground-mining. 

Mining in Chile. Comisión Chilena del Cobre. Retrieved 24 June 2021, from https://www.cochilco.cl/SIAC/Paginas/English/Mining-in-Chile.aspx. 

Future looks bright for green mining

Future looks bright for green mining

As more and more governments are trying to comply with the Paris Agreements goals, it is expected to see incentives to reduce carbon emissions in the mining industry in EU countries, the UK and Canada. Mining companies aim to reduce their emissions by investing in renewable energy installations as well as the progressive usage of electric mining truck fleets. Steel and aluminum producers will focus on the efficiency of operations and on waste recovery to comply with said governments regulations. As for Oil and Gas Producers, they will go for methane leakage and the decrease of venting and flaring in the pursuit of the reduction of carbon emissions[i].

However, with the Coronavirus epidemic, impacting the economy of many countries, governments might strive to achieve economic recovery pre-COVID-19. This could be materialized by more investments in infrastructures and a preference for economic growth over climate change contingency plans1.

 

In Canada, with the green Mining Initiative, mining companies, research centers, provincial governments and natural resources Canada are working around 4 Innovation pillars to make mining more efficient, safer, and more sustainable. As Mining is a huge part of our daily lives, it is important for the Industry to come together and work on ways to improve mining activities for future generations. The 1st Pillar is about Footprint Reduction. In Alberta for example, researchers are looking for non – aqueous alternatives to extract oil sands and avoid wet tailings. In Val d’Or, researchers are working on non-explosive extraction methods. The 2nd pillar is about mitigating the negative impacts of mineral processing. Rehabilitating mine sites to profit from them constitutes the goal of the 3rd pillar. Last, the 4th pillar focuses on studies about the impacts of mining on the fauna and flora[ii]

In addition, the Mining Association of Canada sets a world‑recognized sustainability standard, the Towards Sustainable Mining (TSM) initiative in 2004. Companies adhering to this initiative, pledge to responsible mining and their performance is measured by multiple indicators and tools. De Facto, all members are obligated to adhere to this Initiative and the program has been adopted by other countries like Finland, Argentina, Botswana, the Philippines, and Spain[iii].

Canada is leading by example and paving the way for a more sustainable mining industry. Past progress in the sector shows hope that despite COVID-19, sustainability is nowadays a goal of mining companies, governments, and academia. 

[i] MINING.com Editor. (January 27, 2021). Five green energy trends topping miners’ agendas in 2021 – report. MINING.com.

https://www.mining.com/climate-to-top-energy-and-mining-agendas-in-2021-report/

[ii] Natural Resources Canada. (2018). Green Mining Innovation Video [Online Video]. Government of Canada. https://www.nrcan.gc.ca/our-natural-resources/minerals-mining/mining-resources/green-mining-innovation-video/8260

[iii] Trade Commissionner Service. (January 18, 2021). Canada sets a world standard for sustainable mining. Government of Canada.

https://www.tradecommissioner.gc.ca/canadexport/0003604.aspx?lang=eng