Expanding the world's largest copper mine

Bechtel provided engineering, procurement, and construction services for the expansion of the world’s largest open-pit copper mine, Minera Escondida. 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.

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Meeting high expectations

The 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

Expansion strategies

We also recently completed two other huge efforts at Escondida: the Organic Growth Project 1 and the Escondida Water Supply Project.

Economic mainstay for Chile

Located nearly 2 miles (3 kilometers) above sea level in the arid Atacama Desert of northern Chile, Minera Escondida is the world's largest copper mine. Since its first shipment in 1990, the mine has played a vital role in the Chilean economy. Escondida accounts for:

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