January 13, 2015 / 5:00 PM / in 4 years

Chile copper mine water use seen rising rapidly in next decade

SANTIAGO (Reuters) - Water consumption in Chile’s vast copper mining industry is set to rise 66 percent by 2025, with companies increasingly turning to seawater to meet mine demand, a study by state copper commission Cochilco showed on Tuesday.

Most of the copper mines in Chile are located in the Atacama, the world’s driest desert, and a series of droughts has raised concerns about water use in the country.

Seawater desalination plants are forecast to cover a third of water demand by miners in 10 years’ time, from around 9 percent currently, according to Cochilco.

“The future of water supply in Chilean mining will come from the sea,” said Jorge Cantallopts, research head at Cochilco.

Chile, producer of around a third of global copper, is facing slumping ore grades at many of its deposits, high energy costs, and strained water resources.

Cochilco forecast that water use in the mining industry will average 24.6 cubic meters per second by 2025, with the development of new projects accounting for around 75 percent of total expected water usage.

Copper production in Chile is led by state-run Codelco and private firms such as BHP Billiton, Glencore, Anglo American and Antofagasta Minerals.

Reporting by Fabian Cambero; Writing by Anthony Esposito; editing by Gunna Dickson

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