Chile copper mine output largely unaffected by protests despite some attacks


SANTIAGO (Reuters) – Chile’s copper mines have mostly maintained production and kept operations running normally in the face of weeks of unrest in the country, industry insiders told Reuters, though scattered incidents have hit some operations and uncertainty lingers.

The Chile protests show little sign of letting up despite measures taken by President Sebastian Pinera. While most mines are in remote areas, managers and analysts worried that continued unrest could hurt operations that make Chile the world’s top copper producer, responsible for around 28% of global production.

“If the crisis worsens, and major political demands are made again, major unions get involved, general strikes are organized … no doubt there will be vulnerabilities to the services that mining firms require,” said Juan Carlos Guajardo, head of the consultancy Plusmining.

“We are calm now, but we don’t know if it will last,” said the head of a major private mining company.

Some major miners have suffered direct attacks on parts of their facilities. Vandals lit on fire a water pump station at mining firm Antofagasta Plc’s flagship Pelambres copper mine, a source with knowledge of the matter told Reuters.

The company said in a statement that “ancillary infrastructure outside Los Pelambres perimiter” was damaged.

Copper prices rose on Tuesday after Antofagasta doubled its forecast production cut from Chile to about 10,000 tonnes this year due to the protests.

Still, that was a tiny percentage of the company’s total production of 725,300 tonnes of copper in 2018. Antofagasta’s other Chilean mines are now operating normally, it said Monday.

Other miners have had problems with port facilities, public transportation and supply chains and brief walk outs at some operations. To skirt road blockages, some mines use small planes to fly in personnel and some supplies.

The mayhem in capital city Santiago hindered transportation to and from Anglo American’s Los Bronces mine, on the outskirts of the city. The firm said it put in place “a contingency plan” to minimize an impact on operations.

At the start of the protests unidentified individuals also set fire to the entrance of Anglo American’s Chagres smelter and burned two company buses, the firm said.

Lumina Copper’s Caserones mine, controlled in a partnership of JX Holding and Mitsui Mining said that due to the ongoing protests its operations are now using “minimal personnel.”    

Mining unions and port workers have threatened to go on strike in solidarity with the larger social movements, but have so far remained on the job.

Last week, BHP said its Escondida copper mine, the world’s largest, was operating at a “reduced rate” after union workers walked off the job for part of the day in solidarity with the anti-government protest movement.

By the next day Escondida was operating normally.