UPDATE 3-Chile quake halts refineries, copper mines

Sat Feb 27, 2010 4:55pm EST

Related Topics

* Codelco suspends operations at two mines due to quake

* Two oil refineries damaged, fuel imports to rise

* Mining minister says copper shipments not at risk (Adds copper port San Antonio closed)

By Alonso Soto

SANTIAGO, Feb 27 (Reuters) - A powerful earthquake that hit Chile on Saturday halted production at two oil refineries and two major mines in the world's top copper supplier, but exports of the metal will not be affected, officials said.

The 8.8-magnitude quake forced state mining company Codelco to halt operations at its El Teniente and Andina mines, and Mining Minister Santiago Gonzalez said it could take two days for production to resume. Other Codelco operations were unaffected.

Gonzalez said Codelco had enough stocks to be able to meet its export commitments, and a union leader said the key copper ports of Antofagasta and Mejillones were operating normally, although the smaller copper port of San Antonio was closed.

"Export commitments are going to be honored," Gonzalez told Reuters, adding that Codelco's Caletones smelter had also been halted.

Anglo-American's (AAL.L) Los Bronces and El Soldado mines, which together produce about 280,000 tonnes of copper annually, also halted operations, but other major mines were running as usual.

Most of Chile's key mining industry is based in the north of the country. The quake, which killed at least 147 people, struck in central Chile, 70 miles (115 km) northeast of the city of Concepcion.

REFINERIES

The earthquake, which tore up highways and bridges, also damaged two oil refineries run by state oil company ENAP, and one official said diesel imports were being stepped up to ensure there were no shortages.

ENAP's Aconcagua and Bio Bio refineries have a combined refining capacity of about 220,000 barrels per day.

ENAP general manager Rodrigo Azocar said the refineries had energy supply problems and structural damage that "had together forced production to be paralyzed."

He added that the company had sufficient gasoline stocks to last for two weeks and enough diesel for 10 days.

"There won't be any diesel supply problems for two weeks," he told a local radio station.

Gonzalez said it was still too early to assess the level of the damage to Bio Bio, the biggest of ENAP's three oil refineries, but that the situation should be clear on Sunday.

El Teniente and Andina are Codelco's second- and third-largest mines by production, with combined annual output last year of 614,000 tonnes.

The mines suffered power outages after the tremor, but there was no serious damage. (Additional reporting by Fabian Cambero and Monica Vargas; Writing by Helen Popper, editing by Stuart Grudgings and Philip Barbara)

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