Focus on the environment

At Antofagasta we believe it is possible to mine in a sustainable way through effective environmental management that prioritises environmental protection and the efficient use of natural resources.

HIGHLIGHTS 2020

  • Centinela and Zaldívar have undertaken to obtain Copper Mark certification.
  • No operational event with severe environmental consequences occurred at our operations in 2020.
  • We are participating in a public-private committee on the circular economy in mining.

We recognise that mining, from exploration through to an operation’s closure, has an impact on the environment in the area around the operation as well as, more broadly, through greenhouse gas emissions. Given the places where we have our operations - the Atacama Desert and the semi-arid Coquimbo Region - water is a particular focus of our environmental management.

Through our environmental management, we seek to prevent, control and mitigate any environmental impacts we may have and, if they occur, to compensate appropriately. We also strive constantly to ensure the efficient use of natural resources. We believe that this is the way to achieve the long-term sustainability of our operations and the sustainable development of our host communities.

In 2020, the Internal Audit area performed environmental audits on all our operations with no significant negative findings.

At all four mining operations, compliance with our emissions reduction plan accounts for 5% of annual performance bonus targets while Los Pelambres, which is in the drought-stricken Coquimbo Region, also has specific water consumption targets.

In Chile, large-scale projects are subject to strict environmental and social impact assessments by the Environmental Evaluation Service (SEA) in order to obtain a Resolution of Environmental Approval (RCA) and be able to proceed with the project. These RCAs include legally binding commitments on matters such as the prevention and mitigation of a project’s impact on the environment and any necessary compensation measures. Compliance with commitments is verified by the Superintendency for the Environment (SMA) and failure to comply can result in fines or even revocation of the RCA.

Antofagasta has a total of 62 RCAs, entailing over 10,000 commitments on matters that include conditions of construction, operation and closure as well as water use, air quality and biodiversity. We manage compliance with our commitments through an environmental requirements management system on a platform that is common to all four operations as well as projects (at the prospection and construction stage).

Zaldívar is currently seeking approval of the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) for its operational continuity project. In the first half of 2021, Los Pelambres plans to submit the EIA for the first stage of its Pelambres Futuro project, which includes the expansion of its desalination plant.

Reporting of operational events with environmental consequences

In 2020, the Group reviewed its procedures for the internal reporting, investigation, evaluation and classification of operational events with environmental consequences. In addition to purely environmental parameters, their classification now takes into account the community reaction’s to an event. In this way, we are able to incorporate the reputational effect that it may have, even if no environmental norm is infringed.

Events with environmental consequences are classified as Actual (high, medium or low) or Potential (high or low) if the event could have occurred in slightly different circumstances. Actual high or medium severity incidents are investigated by a commission established specifically for this purpose.

In 2020, we experienced no operational events with severe environmental consequences. A total of 893 environmental events or findings were recorded, up by 6% on 2019. According to the criterion established in the environmental evaluation of each operation or project, 44 were reported to the SMA.

Environmental training programmes for both our operations and projects continued in 2020, with talks and workshops given by external experts. During the year, workshops on mine closure plans and Chile’s Extended Producer Responsibility (REP) Law were held while talks included topics such as climate change, project permitting and archaeology.

In November, Centinela and Zaldívar committed to the Copper Mark, an independent assurance process for copper companies’ environmental, social and governance practices. Developed by the International Copper Association (ICA) in line with the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), it includes matters such as greenhouse gas emissions, tailings management and biodiversity, and is designed to enable investors and consumers to make informed decisions about responsibly produced copper. In 2021, Centinela and Zaldívar will carry out the self-evaluation process and subsequent audit and we plan to extend the assurance process to Los Pelambres and Antucoya.

Our mining operations have three main tailings storage facilities (TSFs): the El Mauro and Los Quillayes conventional tailings dams at Los Pelambres and a thickened tailings deposit at Centinela. In addition, Zaldívar has a small TSF from the flotation and concentration of sulphides. Los Quillayes, the original TSF at Los Pelambres, has limited remaining capacity and is no longer in regular use.

All our TSFs are built using the safest downstream construction method and are designed to withstand severe earthquakes and extreme weather. They are subject to regular inspection by the government’s National Geology and Mining Service (SERNAGEOMIN).

In 2020, we strengthened our system of TSF governance. This included an increase in the involvement of the Independent Tailings Review Board we have for the Los Pelambres and Centinela TSFs. In 2020, in line with best international practices, an independent review of the Zaldívar TSF was also conducted.

Our operations have robust programmes to suppress and control dust emissions (PM10 and PM2.5), which are monitored permanently and, in some cases, with the participation of the local community. In addition, air quality data is reported monthly to the regional authorities as stipulated in our environmental permits.

In May 2020, unusual weather conditions and operating conditions at the El Mauro TSF, combined with the general dryness of the drought-stricken area, produced a dust cloud that was visible from the nearby Pupío Valley and the town of Caimanes. The emissions were controlled and the corresponding air quality norm was not infringed. Nonetheless, in response to community concerns, we are implementing a series of additional voluntary measures in conjunction with the SMA, principally as regards maintaining the humidity of the dam wall.

As required under Chilean law, all our operations have closure plans approved by SERNAGEOMIN. In 2020, we made ongoing progress in aligning their closure plans with the ICMM’s Integrated Mine Closure - Good Practice Guide.

In line with legal requirements on the update of closure plans, Centinela submitted an update of its closure plan to SERNAGEOMIN in 2020 and Los Pelambres presented a partial closure plan while, as of the end of the year, Antucoya was reviewing its plan with a view to its submission in 2021. In addition, Centinela and Zaldívar are drawing up internal closure plans under our own Mine Closure Standard, which includes aspects not envisaged under regulatory requirements.