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BHP Makes ‘Safe’ Bet On Copper As Prices Hit 2-Year High

copper pipes

Lots of action the past few days in the global copper mining sector. With a couple of the world’s biggest mines again erupting into violence.

That included the Grasberg mega-mine in Indonesia. Where police used tear gas Saturday to disperse former workers who had barricaded roads leading to key facilities.

That came after owner Freeport-McMoRan laid off 3,000 Grasberg workers earlier this year — who had allegedly been skipping out on work, which they say was a protest of cuts at the mine.

Freeport said supply routes to the mine would start operating again today. But access still appears to be limited — with equipment reportedly having been burned in the most recent protests, suggesting that full operations may be some time to restore.

And halfway around the world, the same story has been playing out in Peru. Where local residents blockaded roads to the massive Las Bambas copper mine, operated by China’s MMG.

The blockades prompted Peru’s government to declare a state of emergency in the area last week. And it wasn’t until Thursday that roads were finally cleared.

Such protests have been on-again, off-again at Las Bambas the last several months. Showing that major social issues are still very much a concern for operations here.

With all of that happening, one of the world’s largest copper miners — BHP Billiton — made a very telling move. Approving its biggest new investment of recent memory — in a place considered one of the safest copper jurisdictions globally.

That’s Chile. Where BHP said it will spend $2.5 billion on an expansion of its Spence copper mine — adding 185,000 tonnes of yearly production capacity, and extending the mine life by 50 years. Related: Canada’s Oil Industry Doomed If Prices Fall Lower

That’s a big outlay. And it’s telling that BHP is going ultra-safe with this expenditure — sticking to a known deposit, in a stable jurisdiction.

All of which shows that Chile is still very much at the forefront of the copper world. Despite a recent run in Peru’s production that has threatened to challenge Chile for world’s top copper nation.

Watch for more news on problems at big mines like Grasberg and Las Bambas. And for locations of further investments in new copper mines — which could accelerate with the metal hitting a two-year high near $3/lb this past week.

Here’s to retreating to safety.

By Dave Forest

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Leave a comment
  • Luis Reyes on August 22 2017 said:
    "Safety" could have been had all along - avoiding costly stoppages, product and equipment losses, costs of establishing production in Chile etc...if they had had negotiated alla long in good faith with the copper workers.

    BUT myopic management hierarchies frequently act against the interest of us shareholders by stubbornly resisting compensation increases that cost only pennies ...only to have production drops, and costly subsequent expenses to reestablich production. Let's give some loud feedback to this BoD...and find out who is responsible for this unprofitable situation!

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