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Reducing reliance on groundwater at Escondida


We operate and own 57.5 per cent of the Escondida mine, which is a leading producer of copper concentrate and cathodes. Escondida, located in the Atacama Desert in northern Chile, is a copper porphyry deposit.

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Following the commissioning of the Escondida Water Supply project and ramp-up of the Los Colorados Concentrator in the September 2017 quarter, Escondida´s two open-cut mines feed three concentrator plants (which use grinding and flotation technologies to produce copper concentrate), as well as two leaching operations (oxide and sulphide).

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Key developments during FY2018

Escondida copper production in FY2018 increased by 57 per cent to 1,213 kt, reflecting a full-year of production following the industrial action in the previous year and supported by the start-up of the Los Colorados Extension project on 10 September 2017. The addition of the third concentrator helps offset grade decline over the next decade and adds incremental annual copper production. Production attributed to the Los Colorados concentrator in FY2018 was 208.9 kt.

The Escondida Water Supply Expansion (EWSE) project was sanctioned by the joint venture parties in March 2018 and will deliver its first water in FY2020. EWSE comprises the expansion of the Escondida Water Supply (EWS) conveyance system by 1,300 litres per second and desalination plant system by 800 litres per second. This project, in conjunction with the existing desalination installed capacity, will reduce reliance on ground water sources and enable Escondida to achieve its production plans. At the end of FY2018, the proportion of desalinated water in use at Escondida was 38 per cent.

The next step in Escondida’s transition to desalinated water is the sustainable reduction of ground water usage with the goal of eliminating ground water usage entirely by 2030, in line with BHP’s commitment to changing the balance of its water supply sources. The strategy focuses on increasing the use of desalinated water, recovering more water from operational processes and gradually reducing the use of water from aquifers.

In October 2017, Escondida and Union N°2 of Supervisors and Staff signed a new collective bargaining agreement valid until 30 September 2020.

The agreement with Workers Union N°1 expired on 1 August 2018. On 17 August 2018, Escondida successfully completed negotiations with Union N°1 and signed a new collective agreement, effective for 36 months from 1 August 2018.

Looking ahead

Production of between 1,120 and 1,180 kt is forecast in FY2019, as higher expected throughput is offset by a significant decrease in average concentrator head grade consistent with the mine plan.

As well as continuing to expand the capacity of the existing desalination plant to reduce ground water usage, we will also realise further latent capacity by debottlenecking the concentrators and maximising concentrator throughput, implementing leaching process improvements to sustain cathodes production and increase fleet run time by optimising maintenance.

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