By Karen Norton, Thomson Reuters GFMS
According to the US Geological Survey (USGS), Chile is the top copper-producing country in the world by a long shot, so it’s no surprise that most of the world’s largest copper mines are also located in Chile. In fact, Chile took four of the five top five spots in terms of production last year.
To get a bit more insight into the world’s largest copper mines, The Investing News Network got in touch with Karen Norton, Senior Analyst at Thomson Reuters GFMS.
Here’s what she had to say about the world’s largest copper mines from 2015, in terms of production.
In 2015, one operation outside the largest copper producing nation Chile elbowed its way into the list of the world’s top five copper mines.
1. Escondida, Chile
Despite the well-documented negative impact of falling ore grades, Escondida in Chile retained its position as by far the biggest mine in terms of output. Last year it produced a total of 1.148 million tonnes comprising mostly concentrate, although around 320,000 tonnes was also in cathode form.
Escondida’s output last year was down just 0.5 percent from 2014 levels, with an 18 percent decline in output registered in the second half of calendar 2015. The record amount of material mined was more than countered by a 25 percent drop in ore grade.
The impact of lower ore grades is expected to be more keenly felt in calendar 2016. However, a new $4.2 billion concentrator and $3.0 billion water desalination plant are expected to counter the impact of lower grades in coming years and help to boost production at the mine.
BHP Billiton (NYSE:BHP,ASX:BHP,LSE:BLT) owns a controlling interest in the mine, while Rio Tinto (NYSE:RIO,ASX:RIO,LSE:RIO) and a Japanese consortium headed by Mitsubishi (TSE:8058) also have stakes. Norton added that BHP sees grades falling further at the mine.
2. Morenci, United States
From relative obscurity in 2014, Freeport McMoRan’s (NYSE:FCX) majority-owned Morenci operation in Arizona shot up to become the world’s second biggest producing copper mine last year. A mill expansion lifted daily ore throughput at the mine from 50,000 tonnes to 115,000 tonnes, with full operating rates achieved in the second quarter. As a result, total production of copper contained in concentrate and cathode jumped by almost one-third to around 485,000 tonnes last year.
In February 2016, Freeport announced that it had agreed to sell a further 13 percent stake in Morenci to Sumitomo Metal Mining (TYO:5713) for $1.0 billion as it sought to accelerate debt reduction and restore its balance sheet. The deal is set to be completed in mid-2016. Sumitomo Metal Mining already holds a 15 percent interest.
3. El Teniente, Chile
El Teniente, owned by Chile state-owned producer Codelco, ran close to Morenci and retained its number three position, producing just over 470,000 tonnes of copper in 2015. Production in 2016 is seen dipping only slightly.
In January, Codelco said expansion plans for the century-old mine, involving a new, deeper mine level, would be subject to further delay. At the last count, the project was seen costing $5.1 billion, with completion envisaged around 2020—21.
4. Collahuasi, Chile
The Collahuasi mine, jointly owned by Anglo American (LSE:AAL) (44 percent), Glencore (LSE:GLEN) (44 percent) and Mitsui (TSE:8031) (12 percent), dropped from second place to fourth last year as output fell almost 5 percent to 455,300 tonnes . The mine is located in the north of Chile in the Atacama region. Production levels were constrained in the third quarter as a result of major maintenance on two of the three smaller SAG lines, but rebounded sharply in the final three months.
In September, in the wake of a fresh slump in copper prices, Collahuasi announced that it would focus on higher margin sulphide production and curtail higher cost oxide output, with the exact impact on production unclear. In April 2016, the mine announced that output this year would be slightly higher than in 2015.
5. Los Bronces
Finally, Anglo American’s Los Bronces produced just over 400,000 tonnes of copper last year, a small decline on the previous year, which nevertheless enabled the mine to retain fifth spot. In early 2016, the mine was closed briefly in February due to a leak, and then more recently in April for security reasons following heavy rains. However, processing plants continued to partially operate. Despite these minor disruptions, production levels are seen relatively stable this year.
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About Karen Norton
Karen Norton has worked in the base metals industry for more than 25 years. She joined Thomson Reuters GFMS as a senior analyst in April 2012. Prior to that, she worked for 14 years as a metals correspondent in the company’s commodities editorial team. Before joining Thomson Reuters, Karen was a metals analyst from 1989 to 1998 at one-time LME-ring dealing member Billiton Metals.
This article was originally published by the Investing News Network on April 21 2016.