Copper production in Chile, the world’s No. 1 producer of the metal, dropped by 44,000 tonnes, or almost 0.8%, last year compared to 2018, amid a perfect storm of falling ore grades at the largest deposits, water scarcity and operational issues.
The country’s copper commission Cochilco said Codelco, the state-owned giant, was the miner most affected by ageing mines, as its production declined by 5.6% in 2019 to about 100,000 tonnes. The impact of such a fall at a national level was offset by results at other mines, such as Barrick’s (TSX: ABX; NYSE: GOLD) Zaldívar, Lundin Mining’s (TSX: LUN) Candelaria, and Antofagasta’s (LSE: ANTO; US-OTC: ANFGY) Centinela.
In 2019, the world’s largest copper producer churned out 1,706 million tonnes of copper, the lowest level since 2008, when it generated only 1.55 million tonnes. At that time, however, the giant Ministro Hales mine, which contributes between 180,000 and 200,000 tonnes copper per year, had not yet begun operations.
Another mine that experienced a sharp drop in production was BHP’s (NYSE: BBL; LSE: BHP) Escondida, the world’s largest copper mine, which ended 2019 with a production of 1,188 million tonnes, or 4.4% less than in 2018.
The biggest output increase, in turn, was registered at Antofagasta’s Centinela mine, which churned out 25.8% more copper than in 2018.
Codelco, which hands over all of its profits to the state, is in the midst of an ambitious, 10-year, US$39-billion investment drive to open new projects and overhaul older mines.
The company holds vast copper deposits, accounting for 10% of the world’s known proven and probable reserves and about 11% of the global annual copper output, with 1.8 million tonnes of production. The metal accounts for up to 15% of the country’s gross domestic product.