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Chilean mining giant plans billion dollar desalination plant
BHP Billiton is set to build a USD 3.4 billion desalination plant in northern Chile. The move comes in order to secure a steady water supply for its aging Escondida copper mine, high in the Andes of Chile’s northern Antofagasta Region.
The plant, scheduled for completion in 2017 will pump 2,500 liters of seawater per second from Chile’s Pacific coast across the arid Atacama Desert and Billiton which owns a majority stake in the mine will contribute almost USD 2 billion to the project.
Last year, Escondida produced 1.1 million tonnes of copper, almost one fifth of Chile’s total output pressures are mounting on Chile’s most profitable copper mine which last year announced an USD 4.5 billion expansion. The mine is JV whose largest partners are BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto.
Mr Andrés Solimano an expert on mining and Regional Advisor at the UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean said that “Right now big mining operations in Chile are facing a water crisis. Copper mining contributes 20% of Chile’s gross domestic product but extracting the red metal requires an enormous amount of water. Adding to the problem, many of Chile’s most profitable mines have tapped out the easy to reach, high grade ore.”
Source - Santiago Times