Anglo American said that it filed an environmental impact study for its $3bn (R41.7bn) underground expansion project at its Los Bronces copper mine. Photo: Simphiwe Mbokazi/African News Agency (ANA)
JOHANNESBURG - Anglo American said that it had filed an environmental impact study for its $3billion (R41.7bn) underground expansion project at its Los Bronces copper mine in Chile.

The Los Bronces Integrated Project (LBI) aims to develop two new areas in the existing open pit and develop a new underground operation, the company said on Friday.

“The LBI project will replace some of the lower-grade resources currently mined with better-quality ore mineral with the aim of maintaining the deposit’s current production levels,” Anglo American said. The project is located in the sensitive Andes Mountains above Santiago, the Chilean Capital.

On Friday, the mining giant said it was confident that the project would not harm the glaciers, nor would it affect biodiversity in protected areas.

It said it had spent six years studying the project, analysing international experiences, and three years consulting with local communities to ensure a design that would not affect surrounding glaciers, increase water use, or raise traffic levels on local roads.

“From this process of understanding the ecosystem that surrounds Los Bronces and the integral view of the interests that coexist there, we were able to define the sustainability criteria that prevailed in the design of this project, which has as a priority objective to avoid impacts on glaciers, water resources, and protected areas. This process led us to discard project alternatives more economically profitable for the company, but that did not meet the criteria we imposed," said Ruben Fernandes, the company’s chief executive for base metals.

Anglo American said it planned to use new underground technology to increase efficiency and to dig underground tunnels for the first time on a large scale in Chile. It said the underground mining technology that ensures zero impact on the surface has been used successfully in countries such as Sweden, Canada, Australia and Spain, among others.

“By utilising this method, almost 30percent of available ore will not be extracted, making it three times more expensive than other alternatives, such as open-pit or underground block caving operations,” Anglo American said.

The underground deposit at Los Bronces is estimated to have a 1.7percent copper grade, and the company estimated it would reduce production costs. The company reportedly said in April that it would abandon the expansion if any potential damage to the nearby glaciers and groundwater was identified.

Los Bronces hosts 30percent of Chile’s copper resources and 10 percent of world resources. It produced 369500 tons of the red metal in 2018, up 20percent from 308300 tons in 2017. Anglo American owns a 50.1percent interest in the Los Bronces mine, which it manages and operates, and a joint venture between Codelco and Mitsui holds the remaining interest.