Processing Magazine

Chilean mines may be required to use desalinated water

January 14, 2014

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Chilean members of parliament are proposing a bill that would require mining companies to use desalinated water in mining processes, in a bid to reduce fresh water consumption while meeting the industry's growing water needs.

In a statement published by the lower house of the parliament, proponents of the draft bill explain that all mining companies that use more than 150 liters of water per second should start using desalinated water for their operations.

The use of desalinated water is not new in Chile, especially in mines located in the Atacama -- the driest desert in the world. Some of the biggest companies voluntarily adopted desalination as a means to reduce water stress for the local communities. But over the last few years, costs for desalination have been going up and at present desalinated water in the country is twice as expensive as in the United States, reported. As a result, energy operating costs for these companies have reached 14 percent of their total production costs, the highest level recorded in Chile in the 21st century so far.

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Meanwhile, sources from the country's Copper Commission, Cochilco, said that demand for fresh water in the industry is likely to increase by 38 percent in the period through 2021.

The Chilean mining industry is one of the most important sectors of the economy. It is estimated that copper exports represent roughly a third of the government's revenue.