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.
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.