Could you provide an overview of 2020 production in your Chilean operations amid the pandemic and indicate your guidance for 2021 for your projects?
In 2020, results for Zaldívar (jointly owned by Antofagasta and Barrick, being operated by Antofagasta) were 106 million lb of attributable production of our share at the cost of sales of 2.46 US$/lb and 2.25 US$/lb of all-in sustaining costs. For 2021 the outlook is 90 to 110 million lb of attributable production at the cost of sales of 2.30 – 2.50 US$/lb and 1.90 – 2.10 US$/lb of all-in sustaining costs.
Following the completion of mining through a higher-grade zone for the last two years, we expect grades to decline in 2021. Major maintenance is scheduled for Q2 of 2021.
What is your strategy to reassess the potential of Pascua Lama?
Last year, we prioritized the resolution of several legacy issues. This included drawing a line under a legal process related to the Chilean side of the Pascua-Lama project that started in 2013. The Chilean Environmental Court found that no irreparable environmental damage had been caused, but that Pascua should transition to closure, a ruling that Barrick accepted.
Pascua-Lama remains an important project and a unique gold deposit, and work is underway to re-evaluate its potential. This involves a comprehensive internal review of its technical, economic, social aspects and different approaches to permitting and development.
As our president and CEO Mark Bristow has pointed out, it appears that combining Lama with Veladero and looking at Pascua separately may make more sense. We are looking closely at this and all other options.
During transitioning to closure, we are focused on strengthening and building productive partnerships with the communities. Recently we launched the “Emprende Alto” program. The initiative, carried out by Barrick, is a collaborative initiative aligned with international ESG standards that will benefit 109 entrepreneurs and 2 associative projects selected by the community development committee.
How are you allocating your US$8 million exploration budget?
El Indio Belt has been a prolific generator of multiple world-class discoveries. The strategy is to build a critical mass of smaller deposits to create a mining complex capable of meeting Barrick’s criteria. Extensions of the belt are underexplored and likely to have a different style of mineralization requiring different search criteria, which is being investigated.
The Alturas – Del Carmen deposit spreads across the Chile and Argentine border and has a resource of over 8 million ounces of gold mineable through a heap leach process. It remains a greenfield with an optionality that holds the potential to advance it to a Tier1 or Tier2 asset.
At Alturas-Del Carmen, drilling has started with the objective of testing shallow, high-grade mineralization that would impact the economics of the project, following up on a comprehensive and improved structural framework completed in 2020.
With a significant exploration program already carried out, we continue to focus on studies to increase our understanding of the fundamental geology and metallurgical characteristic of the deposit, with a drill program scheduled to start in the first quarter of this year. After which we expect to reach a decision point at the end of 2021.
Can you elaborate on Barrick’s growth strategy and investment plan in Chile in the upcoming years?
In the short-term, we have two exciting infrastructure projects. We are working to link Veladero in Argentina to the power grid in Chile, which was temporarily delayed by the pandemic but now resumed and all required permits for the project have been granted. We expect completion of the power transmission project by the end of 2021. Veladero and Pascua-Lama’s joint investment in the project amounts to around U$41 million.
Upon completion, the power transmission line will allow Veladero to convert to grid power exported from Chile and cease operating the current high-cost diesel generation power plant. A power purchase price agreement was executed during Q4 of 2019 to supply power from renewable energy that will significantly reduce Veladero’s carbon footprint. This is expected to save 32 million litres of fuel per year and reduce CO2 emissions by 83,000 mt/y upon commissioning.
Secondly, the Chloride Leach Project for the Zaldívar mine, with a capital cost of US$189 million, contemplates the construction of a chloride dosing system, an upgrade of the solvent extraction plant, and the construction of additional washing ponds. Upon commissioning in the first half of 2022, the project is expected to increase copper recoveries by more than 10% by adding chlorides to the leach solution and with further potential upside in recoveries possible depending on the type of ore being processed. This process is based on a proprietary technology called CuproChlor® that was developed by Antofagasta at its Michilla operation, which had similar ore types. Once completed, the project is expected to increase production at Zaldívar by approximately 10 - 15 thousand mt/y.
This past year was marked by the establishment of a new exploration and business team for the region. We are confident in our significant organic growth potential, and greenfield exploration teams are hunting for the next world-class discovery across our global holdings, as well as scouting for emerging new targets and projects where the full potential to yield a discovery has not yet been realized.