Chile is one of the world’s most important mining countries – leading the world by far in copper production, while being also the second largest producer of gold, and home to nearly a third of the world’s lithium reserves.
The economy of the nation rises and falls with copper prices, and Chile is home to dozens of international mining companies, with large projects owned in whole or in part by com-panies such as Barrick, BHP, Teck, Glencore, Kinross, Anglo American, and many others.
The coastal nation hosts some of the largest mines in the world, including the emblematic copper mines of the state-owned miner Codelco. These include mines with over 100 years of continuous operation, such as “El Teniente”, one of the world’s largest underground mines with over 2400 kilometers of underground tunnels, and the massive open pit mine “Chuquicamata”, which boasts an open pit that is arguably the largest excavation on the planet (with plans well underway to extend the mine with further underground exca-vation below the pit).
In this context, it is perhaps surprising how little practical experience there is within the country in mine closure. While there are hundreds of aban-doned sites throughout Chile (some of which present significant environmen-tal and health & safety concerns), sites that have been closed in accordance with modern standards are few and far between. This is likely to change in the coming years, with many large mines nearing the end of their produc-tive life, combined with the rapid evo-lution of the legal landscape for mineclosure, an evolution that has focused on eliminating the generation of more abandoned sites in the future.
The coming years promise to rede-fine mine closure in Chile. Large, aging mines that are nearing closure, relatively little practical experience with mine closure at a national level, and a new legal framework create both uncertainty and considerable opportunity. While the new closure law is arguably flawed, it represents an important leap forward. The timely imposition of financial guarantees for closure should go a long way towards the stated goal of avoiding abandoned mine sites in the future, and motivate serious consideration and study of adequate closure measures earlier in the mine life cycle.