Fluor has been delivering projects at the Escondida mine, 3,200 meters above sea level in the Chilean Andes Mountains, since the late 1980s. Escondida, operated by BHP Billiton, is the birthplace of large-scale mining projects for Fluor in Chile and a major portion of its 30-year history in South America. During that period of time Fluor has provided studies; engineering, procurement, construction management (EPCM); and technical services to the owners of the world’s largest copper-producing mine. Minera Escondida is just one example of Fluor’s global leadership in executing large-scale, complex projects in remote parts of the world.
The first Fluor project at Minera Escondida mine commenced in 1986, and subsequent projects are valued at more than $2 billion in capital investment. Fluor built the original Escondida copper concentrator plant and all support infrastructure, including the Coloso port near the city of Antofagasta. Escondida commenced production in mid 1990 and was officially inaugurated on March 14, 1991.
Escondida, operated by BHP Billiton, later awarded Fluor a series of large expansion projects and new standalone projects that comprise the huge complex and the port facility. All the projects were delivered to established project baselines, and Chilean- and/or industry-wide safety records were achieved on each one of them.
The massive plant to produce copper cathodes through an oxide leaching, solvent extraction and electrowinning process, completed in 1998, was the first Fluor Mining & Minerals recipient of Fluor’s prestigious Hugh Coble Project Excellence Award in 1998. The award is given based on outstanding performance in several areas, including safety, value creation, and client and community relations.
Minera Escondida is currently owned by BHP Billiton (57.5%), Rio Tinto (30%), JECO Corporation (10%), and JECO2 LTD (2.5%). BHP Billiton operates Escondida and is the world’s largest natural resources company, with head offices in Australia. It is organized as nine divisions: petroleum, aluminum, base metals, metallurgical coal, iron ore, manganese, diamonds and specialized products, energy coal, and stainless steel materials, which together total around one hundred operations, in addition to the corporate offices on each continent. One of these divisions, Base Metals, has its headquarters in Chile. BHP Billiton has been the major shareholder and operator of Escondida since before operations began.
Rio Tinto, a company of British origin, is one of the largest natural resources companies in the world. It operates eight divisions: iron ore, energy, industrial minerals, aluminum, copper, diamonds, technology, and exploration. Rio Tinto is involved in more than sixty operations in various countries.
JECO Corporation and JECO 2 LTD are two Japanese consortiums that are formed by Mitsubishi Corporation, JX Nippon Mining & Metals Corporation and Mitsubishi Materials Corporation. Mitsubishi Corporation (MC) is Japan's largest general trading company with over 200 bases of operations in approximately 80 countries worldwide.
Over the past two decades, Fluor has delivered more than 45 projects at the Minera Escondida minesite and offsites in Chile. These have included feasibility studies, engineering, and EPCM of major processing facilities, pipelines, ports, and infrastructure. The following are highlights of some of the more complex EPCM projects at Minera Escondida, all of which were delivered to the established project baselines, and all of which achieved outstanding safety records.
- Fluor built the original copper mine, processing plant, all support infrastructure, and the Coloso port near the city of Antofagasta. The project in the Andes Mountains included a copper concentrator, crushing and conveying systems, a camp and onsite facilities, and a 200-km power transmission line. A 167-kilometer copper concentrate pipeline, filtering, and port loadout were also part of the original project. Production began in mid 1990.
- Phase 1 and 2 expansion projects raised the mine and concentrator capacity to 60,000 metric tons per day (tpd) by the end of 1994.
- Phase 3 expanded the concentrator’s capacity by 60,000 tpd to 115,000 tpd, and the scope included in-pit crushing, conveying, grinding, flotation, tailings disposal, and process water facilities; a new 165-kilometer pipeline; and an expansion to the filter plant at the port site.
- Fluor provided EPCM services for the cathode copper ammonia leach and electrowinning plant located at the Coloso Port, which treated concentrate produced at the minesite.
- Fluor provided EPCM services on the Oxide Leach Project completed in 1998. The facility produced 125,000 tpy of cathode copper. Fluor’s safety record included 3.75 million safe work hours on two occasions. This project was the first Mining & Minerals project to receive Fluor’s prestigious Project Excellence Award.
- The Sulphide Leach Project was completed in 2006, one month ahead of schedule and within 1.5 percent of Fluor’s feasibility study estimate. New technological developments allowed Escondida to process low-grade ore.
As part of the Sulphide Leach Project, Escondida pioneered the use of desalination for process water in this arid region of Chile. Water supply comes from the 500-litre-per-second desalination plant constructed by Fluor at the Escondida port site in Coloso. Water is pumped through a 24-inch, 167-kilometer pipeline with four intermediate 12,000-horsepower pumping stations on the route from sea level at the port to an altitude of 3,200 meters at the mine site. During construction of Sulphide Leach, the project achieved 7 million hours without an OSHA lost-time incident – a Chilean record.
Fluor is proud of its 25-year history at Minera Escondida during which projects worth over $2 billion have been designed and constructed for the mine. The grassroots copper concentrator (Phase 0) was followed by expansion projects throughout the years that increased capacity of the mine and introduced new technologies to improve operational efficiency. A Fluor subsidiary is continuing to contribute to mining operations. Many leaders in the mining engineering and construction industry have honed their skills on these Fluor projects, and the projects have helped Minera Escondida owners to increase mine production to the highest in the world.
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