23°50'13"S | 69°17'16"W

Escondida Phase IV, Chile Overview

Scope of Work Engineering, procurement, and construction
Value $1.05 billion
Schedule 1998–2002
Business Mining & Metals

Expanding the world's largest open-pit copper mine

escondida thickening distribution systemBechtel provided engineering, procurement, and construction services for the expansion of the world’s largest open-pit copper mine, Minera Escondida Ltda. We completed the billion-dollar job in 2002. Our scope of work included building a new copper concentrator, upgrading crushing and material-handling systems, and constructing a 6.2-mile- (10-kilometer-) long conveyer system. 

The project was a joint venture of Bechtel and Sigdo Koppers, the same team that successfully completed the Phase 3.5 expansion of the mine in 1998.

Meeting high expectations

The Minera Escondida Phase IV expansion presented a number of unprecedented challenges. Among them: a fast-track construction schedule that called for completion in 22 months rather than the 24 months typically required for such a project. In addition, the Bechtel team successfully:

  • Hired and trained 10,000 employees
  • Built a small city on a mountainside nearly 10,000 feet (3,000 meters) above sea level and 100 miles (160 kilometers) from the nearest town, to house and feed thousands of workers 
  • Coordinated the project schedule with an ongoing mining operation that runs nonstop every day of the year
  • Applied design automation technology never before employed in South America
escondida cyclone piping

Escondida Phase IV was the largest single expansion of any copper concentrator in history.

Economic mainstay for Chile

escondida 10,500 above sea levelLocated nearly 2 miles (3 kilometers) above sea level in the arid Atacama Desert of northern Chile, Minera Escondida is one of the most productive copper mines in the world. Since its first shipment in 1990, the mine has played a vital role in the Chilean economy.  Minera Escondida accounts for:

  • 8 percent of the world’s mined copper production
  • 10 percent of Chile’s exports
  • More than 2 percent of Chile’s gross domestic product

Expansion strategies

We're at work on another huge effort at Escondida: the Organic Growth Project 1. The project team has been tackling several large elements:
  • Erecting a large enclosure to protect an ore stockpile
  • Performing mechanical work on a new concentrator and its massive grinding mill and flotation-cell complex
  • Building  a 6.2-mile- (10-kilometer-) long overland conveyor
Further, we're building a supply of desalinated water to sustain mine operations.