Rio Tinto has approved $1.03 billion (Rio Tinto share) for the construction of a new 2,500 litre/s seawater desalination facility to ensure continued water supply and sustain operations at the Escondida mine in Chile. Similarly BHP Billiton has approved an investment of US$1,972 million (BHP Billiton share) to sustain operations at Escondida, by constructing the new sea-water desalination facility. The project will provide a sustainable supply of water for the new 152,000 t/d OGP1 copper concentrator approved in February 2012, while minimising Escondida’s reliance on the region’s aquifers.
Construction will commence in July 2013 with commissioning scheduled in 2017. The project will include two pipelines, four high pressure pump stations, a reservoir at the mine site and high voltage infrastructure to support the system.
Rio Tinto says its investment “will be funded through the company’s share of Escondida’s cash flows.”
The project will ensure continued water supply to Escondida, as water use increases upon completion of the OGP1 copper concentrator.
BHP Billiton Copper President, Peter Beaven, said: “Securing a sustainable water supply in the Atacama Desert is a major priority for all Chilean copper producers, so the approval of the Escondida Water Supply project is a significant milestone for our business. The new desalination facility will minimise our reliance on the region’s aquifers, which will help us to meet our environmental commitments and enable us to achieve our long-term business strategy.”
Escondida is located 3,100 m above sea level, 170 km southeast of the City of Antofagasta. It is owned by BHP Billiton (57.5%), Rio Tinto (30.0%), JECO Corp (10.0%) and JECO 2 Ltd (2.5%). BHP Billiton operates the mine.