Two of our projects in Chile face the same key challenge: access to water. Quebrada Blanca (QB) Phase 2, in northern Chile, is designed to extend our existing mine’s production life by more than 30 years and to increase production by more than 100%. Relincho, in central Chile, is a greenfield project. Both of these projects are located in areas with limited availability of water.
Near QB and Relincho, there are no major rivers and minimal rainfall; the only water found is in underground aquifers. At QB, the aquifer is relied on by ecosystems. At Relincho, the aquifer is used by communities and the agriculture industry.
Given the limited availability of water, it was necessary to seek a different approach to meet the needs of our proposed operations. As a result, we have proposed the use of desalinated seawater at QB Phase 2 and Relincho. The water would be pumped from the coast via pipeline approximately 170 kilometres to QB Phase 2 and 125 kilometres to Relincho.
Using seawater has its challenges. It is a significant investment, and it requires additional energy to desalinate the water and pump it to our sites. To implement these projects, we have to consider various factors, including the additional cost to build and operate the desalination plant, the management plan for discharging the concentrated saltwater brine that results from the desalination process, and the increase in our energy consumption.
This is not the first time we have had to construct a pipeline to bring water to our Chilean operations. In 2011, at our Carmen de Andacollo (CdA) Operations in central Chile, we completed construction of a 27-kilometre pipeline to bring water to our process plant, thus eliminating the need for us to extract water from a groundwater aquifer we had previously shared with the community. This decision was made in consideration of the other water users in the community, consistent with our commitment to implementing effective water management techniques.
Our past experience with a limited local water supply at CdA gave us greater understanding of the long-term water situation in Chile. Given that our operations would be competing for precious local water resources, we came to the decision at both projects that using seawater was an appropriate solution, despite the increased capital and operating costs.
This case study was originally published in our 2012 Sustainability Report.