More than three kilometers above sea level, Bechtel completed engineering, procurement, and construction for an expansion of the world’s largest open-pit copper mine, Minera Escondida Ltda., in 2002.
The $1 billion expansion included a new copper concentrator and a nearly 10-kilometer-long conveyor. The project employed 10,000 workers, nearly doubled throughput at the mine, and was completed on schedule.
The copper mine accounts for 8 percent of the world’s mined copper production, 10 percent of Chile’s exports and more than 2 percent of the country’s gross domestic product.
Like everything associated with the huge mine, the expansion presented several huge challenges. It called for finding, hiring, and training unprecedented numbers of employees; building a mini-city to house and feed thousands of them on a mountaintop more than three kilometers above sea level and 160 kilometers from the closest town; coordinating the schedule with an ongoing mining operation that runs nonstop every day of the year; and applying design automation technology never before tried in South America.
Plus, the accelerated schedule called for completion in 22 months rather than the 24 on similar construction projects. But Bechtel was up to the challenge. Escondida Minera, a joint venture of Broken Hill Proprietary, Rio Tinto Plc., Japan’s JECO Corp., and International Finance Corp., awarded Bechtel a contract in mid-1998 to design the facility and procure all of the permanent engineered equipment. A Bechtel-Sigdo Koppers (BSK) joint venture then took charge of construction on Phase IV, just as it did on Phase 3.5, an expansion completed in 1998.