Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Chile: Energy or Water? Not in my Backyard - Mining

Chile is a beautiful country. A land of deserts and the Andes which is stretched across 3000 miles of coastline. Its main city, Santiago, sits in a basin surrounded by mountains and contains 7 million of Chile’s 17 million citizens. In this land of beauty there is a problem. There is not enough water or energy for its largest sector of the economy to thrive. Mining needs water and energy. By the year 2020, the copper mining industry will need an additional electric power of 3,000 MW in order to produce 39.4 TWh, 80% more than in 2010.
Mining in Chile is using seawater pump over long distances. This is used in ore removal as well as in the concentrator process. This requires energy and is corrosive to the equipment and the environment. Copper mining globally consumes about 12,6 m3/sec of fresh water.
Why does Chile have such a shortage of freshwater and energy? Chile is an arid country and has enough fresh water around Santiago with glacial melt water. However, the country as a whole is short on water. This will be a limiting factor in Chile’s growth and they are in the process of looking into desalination plants to provide for future Chileans. However, this is not practical for mining. 
Energy is a different story. There has not been a consistent energy strategy over the last 10 years. This is largely due to the inability of the government, people, NGOs, mining companies, and energy companies to agree on a set of goals. Chile has a growing environmental movement and many people don’t want energy projects or desalination plants in their backyard. This has led to the desire to find a zero impact energy strategy, however, this is not practical as any energy project including renewables have an impact on the environment. 
Chile has thousands of wind, water, solar, and geothermal projects on hold. Not because these projects don’t have merit, but because of gridlock due to the failure of communities and government to find the best solution for a watershed and ecosystem. Rather than meeting in the middle of regional solutions, all parties tend to focus on either site solutions or government policy. Chile spans 3,000 miles and crosses many ecosystems and watersheds.
This will be the main challenge for Chile’s new government. If they can break the log jam, then, the future is bright for Chile as reserves of copper are projected to last another 100 years.
Best Regards,
Greg Montemurro

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