Escondida copper mine

BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto have secured a $100m loan from the Australia’s export credit agency, Export Finance and Insurance Corporation (EFIC), to expand Escondida copper mine in Chile.

The Escondida mine is owned by Minera Escondida Limitada (MEL), a joint venture of BHP Billiton, Rio Tinto, JECO Corporation and JECO 2. The mine is located in the northern Atacama desert about 160km south-east of the port of Antofagasta, at an elevation of 3,050m above sea level.

BHP holds a 57.5% stake in the mine, Rio Tinto owns 30%, while JECO Corporation holds 10% and JECO 2 has the remaining 2.5% interest.

EFIC’s loan will help finance Escondida’s organic growth project one, which includes the construction of a new 152,000t a day concentrator.

EFIC executive director of origination and portfolio management Peter Field said the development underlines the agency’s commitment to support Australian companies involved in export-related contracts.

“The loan will help finance… the construction of a new 152,000t a day concentrator.”

“We are very pleased to be supporting a large number of Australian companies by providing finance to the project linked to Australian exports,” Field said.

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The mine came on-stream in late 1990 and its capacity has since been increased by phased expansions to its current level of 230,000t a day ore throughput.

In February 2012, BHP Billiton approved an investment of $2.6bn to replace the Los Colorados concentrator with a new 152,000t a day plant and allow access to higher grade ore located underneath the existing facilities.

Construction started in February 2012 and is anticipated to be completed in 2015.

Image: Escondida copper mine is located 3,100m above sea level. Photo: courtesy of BHP Billiton.

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