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Anglo American’s $1.1 Billion Plan to Save Chile’s Water

The mining giant aims to reduce its freshwater usage by 50% and recycle more water from its tailings dams

by Victor Adetimilehin

Anglo American, one of the world’s largest mining companies, has announced a $1.1 billion plan to improve its water management at its Los Bronces copper mine in Chile. The plan, which was submitted to the Chilean environmental authorities, aims to reduce the company’s freshwater usage by 50% by 2030 and recycle more water from its tailings dams.


The plan comes amid a severe drought that has affected Chile’s central region for more than a decade, impacting the availability and quality of water for both human and ecological needs. Chile is the world’s largest copper producer, accounting for nearly 30% of global output, but the industry is also one of the most water-intensive, consuming about 12% of the country’s total water supply.


Reducing Freshwater Consumption

According to the company, the plan involves three main components: repulping, desalination, and repowering. Repulping is the process of moving mineral pulp or tailings from one dam to another, using water as a transport medium. This allows the company to recover more water from the tailings and reduce the risk of dam failures.


Desalination is the process of removing salt and other minerals from seawater to make it suitable for industrial use. Anglo American plans to use 500 liters per second of desalinated water to cover 45% of its operations in the first phase of the project. In the second phase, the company plans to exchange treated wastewater for desalinated water for human consumption, in collaboration with local authorities and communities.


Repowering is the process of increasing the capacity and efficiency of the recovered water system (SAR), which recycles water from the mine’s processes and reduces the need for fresh water. The company plans to increase the flow of recycled water from 1,000 to 1,200 liters per second, securing its water supply and optimizing the repulping process.


A Sustainable and Inclusive Approach

According to a report by Mining.com, the company claims that the plan will not only benefit its operations but also the environment and society. By reducing its freshwater consumption, the company will contribute to the preservation of the Maipo and Aconcagua basins, which are vital for the region’s agriculture, tourism, and biodiversity. 


Moreover, the company says that the plan will create more than 4,000 jobs during the construction phase and 300 permanent jobs during the operation phase, boosting the local economy and social development. The company also pledges to engage with the stakeholders and communities throughout the project, ensuring transparency, participation, and respect for human rights.


The plan is expected to last for 10 years, from construction to the completion of the tailings transfer. The environmental impact declaration is currently under review by the Chilean authorities, who will decide whether to approve or reject it. If approved, the plan could help Anglo American achieve its global goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2040 and enhance its reputation as a responsible and innovative mining company.

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