Making amazing progress at extraordinary heights

The Escondida Copper mine project was initially created to place the Los Colorados concentrator with a new facility - Organic Growth Project 1 or OGP1 - adjacent to the Laguna Seca concentrator.

The original scope included decommissioning and demolishing Los Colorados, and building the new plant to access higher-grade ore beneath the existing facilities. However, the mine’s owners subsequently decided to refurbish and restart Los Colorados. Thanks to revised mine planning, the higher-grade ore can be accessed without demolishing the concentrator.

With capacity of 152,000 metric tons per day, OGP1 is the largest single-line unit ever built. While executing a project at an elevation of 10,000 feet (3,050 meters) in one of the world’s driest deserts presents many challenges, it did not prevent Bechtel from successfully completing OGP1. We have performed considerable work there in the past, including a billion-dollar 110-percent expansion between 1998 and 2002.

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Escondida is physically, economically and financially enormous

  • Escondida is the world's largest copper mine and produces about 5 percent of global supply
  • The complex and its expansions have provided thousands of jobs
  • Chile produces about one-third of the world's copper, and the metal accounts for about one-fifth of the country's gross domestic product

The project never slept

Apart from long hours at the mine site, engineering by hard-driving professionals was divided between Bechtel offices in Santiago and Taipei—12 hours apart. 

That's not unusual for Bechtel, which frequently divides engineering between locales such as Houston, London, New Delhi, Reston (Virginia), and many project sites around the world.

The mining complex is more than 100 miles (about 170 kilometers) from the city of Antofagasta. For good reason "escondida" means hidden.

Driest place on Earth

If any industrial installation needs water, it is Escondida. Not only do mining operations use lots of it, but the Atacama Desert, a portion of which is home to the Escondida complex, is one of the driest places on Earth.

Average annual rainfall in the desert totals some six-tenths of an inch, or about 15 millimeters. In some parts of the Atacama—which extends in a relatively narrow band from southernmost Peru into northern Chile—humans have never recorded any precipitation. Yet more than 1 million people call it home.

Beyond the project

Bechtel's Global Business Units collaborated for yet another Escondida effort: a water supply project. The Mining & MetalsOil, Gas & Chemicals, and Power units worked together on a project to desalinate seawater and pump it from the port of Coloso to Escondida. The new facility is the second desalination plant at Coloso and will ensure a reliable, sustainable source of water for three copper concentrators. 

Adding freshwater capacity is crucial to sustaining value for Escondida's production and growth strategy. For the Escondida Water Supply Project, we constructed:

  • A new seawater desalination plant with an intake and outfall system more than 65 feet (20 meters) below the surface of the Pacific
  • Two large-diameter, lined pipelines 112 miles (180 kilometers) in length
  • Four high-pressure pump stations to move the water east from the port across the Atacama Desert and up to a reservoir at the mine site
  • A section of pipeline tunnel more than 1 mile (1.9 kilometers) long to bypass the community of Coloso
  • A high-voltage electrical system and substations
  • 33 miles (53 kilometers) of 220-kilovolt transmission lines
  • Three new electrical substations and expanded four existing substations