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Chile’s Collahuasi finds new life in tired copper deposit

An open pit copper mine.

Vlad Turchenko/Getty Images/iStockphoto

World No. 3 copper mine Collahuasi said on Wednesday its mineral resources grew by 19 per cent to 9 billion tonnes last year compared with 2011 levels, due in part to new drilling campaigns and improvements in mining design.

Average ore grades are 0.81-per-cent copper, Collahuasi said, an enviable level as grades slip in many of leading copper producer Chile's ancient, tired deposits.

"The notable increase in our base of mineral resources gives a clear indication of the significant future potential of an expansion at Collahuasi," new chief executive officer Jorge Gomez said in a statement.

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"We continue work to offer greater stabilization in our processes via operational improvements with the aim of favouring the capitalization of this world-class asset."

Collahuasi is seeking to turn the corner after a tough 2012. The deposit produced around 282,100 tonnes of red metal last year, tumbling roughly 37.8 per cent from 2011 levels, according to state copper commission Cochilco.

It hopes to produce more than it did in 2012, Mr. Gomez told Reuters late last month.

Global miners Anglo American PLC and Xstrata PLC each own 44 per cent of the mine. The remaining 12 per cent is owned by a consortium of Japanese companies led by Mitsui & Co.

Collahuasi is mulling expansion plans that seek to double annual production.

But Xstrata's head of copper, Charlie Sartain, said last year no progress on ambitious expansion plans would be considered for the operation until the current turnaround was complete.

The mine was hit last year by a combination of work stoppages, heavy rains and fatal accidents, prompting Anglo, Xstrata and Mitsui to step in.

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Collahuasi said in October it had appointed Mr. Gomez, then state copper producer Codelco of Chile's vice-president for central-south operations, as its new CEO.

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