Archive | Latin America Mining

Score One for the Flamingos in High-Altitude Fight for Lithium Supplies – by Laura Millan Lombrana (Bloomberg News – December 22, 2018)

The Chilean government is taking on a U.S. mining company in a spat that could rattle the electric-car industry.

For the past nine months, a U.S. company that is the world’s largest producer of lithium — a key ingredient in electric-car batteries — has been locked in battle with the Chilean government over pricing issues, production quotas and environmental compliance. With no resolution in sight, the fight is sending tremors all the way up the electric vehicle supply chain that provides batteries to Tesla Inc., Nissan Motor Co., Bayerische Motoren Werke AG and other car makers.

The drama is playing out in the northern reaches of Chile’s Andes Mountains amid the arid and austere Atacama Desert, a vast, high-altitude bowl surrounded by snow-capped volcanic peaks named after ancient gods of the indigenous people. The U.S. company, Albemarle Corp., has taken over a massive salt-flats mine, pumping scarce briny water through dried-out salt marshes and lagoons to extract the prized mineral.

A dozen or so miles away, thick flocks of Andean flamingos feed peacefully in a lagoon teaming with tiny shrimp, as they have for countless millennia. But as mining activity surges, water tables are falling amid growing environmental concerns. Continue Reading →

Copper Clashes at World’s Largest Pit Signal Trouble Ahead – by Laura Millan Lombrana (Bloomberg News – December 20, 2018)

The world’s biggest copper maker is pushing to modernize one of its oldest mines. With the plans spurring a quickening series of worker protests and disruptions, it’s becoming clear that technical challenges won’t be the only hurdle.

Codelco is in the last stages of a $5.5 billion project to breathe new life into its Chuquicamata operation in northern Chile, which will transform the largest open-pit mine by size into an underground operation. The state-owned miner needs to spend $22 billion through 2022 upgrading its aging mines to maintain output at a time when stockpiles in the world’s warehouses are ebbing.

But the project won’t be without human costs, according to the workers, who are signaling further unrest may be in the offing. Changes to mine will entail cutting about 1,700 jobs from the current 5,000. With other Codelco sites set to follow a similar path, workers are feeling more urgency to make themselves heard. That suggests Codelco’s relations with the mine’s workforce may get more fraught just as global copper output is falling behind demand. Continue Reading →

Cuba sees nickel output topping 50,000 tonnes (Reuters U.K. – December 13, 2018)

HAVANA, Dec 13 (Reuters) – Cuba’s nickel plus cobalt sulfide production will top 50,000 tonnes this year and earnings are up over 2017, the head of the country’s state monopoly Cubaniquel was quoted by local media as stating on Wednesday.

Nickel is one of the cash-strapped Communist-run country’s most important exports, but revenue from it has suffered in recent years due to a decline in production and prices. The country was ranked 10th in world nickel production in 2017 and fifth in cobalt.

The government forecast last year’s output at 54,500 tonnes. Business sources with knowledge of the industry said final tonnage was around 50,000 tonnes of nickel plus cobalt, of which just over 4,000 tonnes was cobalt. Continue Reading →

Brazil’s Amazon rainforest under siege by illegal mines – by Ricardo Moraes and Jake Spring (Reuters U.S. – December 11, 2018)

BRASILIA (Reuters) – Environmental enforcement agents deep in the Amazon rainforest swooped down on an illegal mine in a dawn raid in early November, in a campaign to tamp down on such activities that environmental groups say have reached epidemic scale.

The operation was carried out against a handful of what are now known to be hundreds of illegal Amazon mines in Brazil that have been cataloged for the first time in a study released on Monday.

The project, coordinated by Brazilian advocacy group Instituto Socioambiental, maps all illegal mines in the Amazon rainforest that sprawls across Brazil, Venezuela, Colombia, Peru, Ecuador and Bolivia. Continue Reading →

Germany secures access to world’s second-largest lithium deposit – by Cecilia Jamasmie ( – December 12, 2018)

Germany and Bolivia today sealed a partnership for the industrial use of lithium, a key component in the batteries that power electric cars and cell phones. ACI Systems will work with state-owned Bolivian Lithium Deposits (YLB) on installing four lithium plants in the Salar de Uyuni salt flats, which hold the world’s second-largest lithium deposit.

The joint venture also plans to build a factory for electric vehicle batteries in the country. While more than 80% of the lithium extracted will be exported to Germany, the company is said to be in talks with other European companies.

The partners expect to produce up to 40,000 tonnes of lithium hydroxide per year, beginning in 2022, over a period of 70 years. President Evo Morales sees a prosperous future for the impoverished nation, pinning his hopes on the rapid rise in the global price of the so-called white petroleum. Continue Reading →

Company walks fine line to revive Colombia emerald mine – by Julia Symmes Cobb and Susan Taylor (Reuters U.S. – December 12, 2018)

COSCUEZ, Colombia/TORONTO (Reuters) – A tiny company is trying to breathe new life into a fabled, four-century-old Colombian emerald mine without triggering unrest among wary locals who fear being shut out of the tunnels where they hunt for gems and make a meager living.

Fura Gems, the first listed emerald miner to operate in Colombia, has $10 million invested to date. The company, based in Dubai and listed in Canada, faces a community relations test as it tries to rehabilitate Coscuez, the country’s top producer until sometime after 1998, as declining investment and outdated mining methods eroded output.

For decades, residents have scoured the dozens of tunnels crisscrossing Coscuez for stones to buy their next meal. Locals say there are hundreds of people digging daily. Fura has pledged to gradually phase out access to the shafts while helping locals find alternative employment like baking, sewing and poultry farming. The company hopes this will help prevent security problems like those that hit a mine in nearby Muzo, known as the world’s emerald capital. Continue Reading →

Illegal gold rush destroying Amazon rainforest – study – by Anastasia Moloney (Thomson Reuters Foundation – December 10, 2018)

BOGOTA, Dec 10 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – A rise in small-scale illegal gold mining is destroying swathes of the Amazon rainforest, according to research released on Monday that maps the scale of the damage for the first time.

Researchers used satellite imagery and government data to identify at least 2,312 illegal mining sites across six countries in South America – Brazil, Bolivia, Colombia, Peru, Ecuador and Venezuela.

The maps show the spread and scale of illegal mining and were produced by the Amazon Socio-environmental, Geo-referenced Information Project (RAISG), which brings together a network of nonprofit environmental groups in the Amazon. Continue Reading →

What really powers your smartphone and electric car – by Lynsey Chutel ( – December 8, 2018)

The rechargeable lithium-ion battery helps define our era. It powers our smartphones and electric cars, and promises a future where we’re better able to store renewable energy. It also requires lithium and cobalt, minerals that some of the world’s poorest countries happen to have in abundance.

That should be good news for all concerned, but mismanagement and graft—common in extractive industries—are making the latest mining boom looks uncomfortably like the bad old days of previous booms.

This week provided reminders of that. First, the Democratic Republic of Congo tripled its levies on cobalt, of which it has the world’s largest natural supply, in a move that could result in pricier smartphones and production slowdowns for electric-car makers. Also, HSBC released a report showing that the projected market share of electric vehicles will be smaller than first thought, due to the high price of lithium and cobalt amid soaring demand. Continue Reading →

FEATURE-Chile drives electric vehicle rollout in Latin America – by Natalia A. Ramos Miranda (Thomson Reuters News – December 9, 2018)

SANTIAGO, Dec 9 (Reuters) – A massive cargo ship docked in the Chilean port of San Antonio at the end of November, carrying it its belly the first 100 electric buses from China that Chileans hope will revolutionize their public transport system.

Chile’s ambitious plan to face down its capital Santiago’s notorious smog problem includes the rollout of electric scooters, cars and taxis, as well as lorries for use in the mining industry.

Mineral-rich Chile – which is not only the world’s largest copper producer but also the second-largest producer of lithium, a key component in electric vehicle batteries – aims to increase the number of electric vehicles tenfold by 2022. Continue Reading →

Crossing Cartels Leads to Death for Mexican Environmentalists – by Emily Pickrell (Bloomberg News – December 7, 2018)

He was shot point-blank in the face while asleep in bed, in front of his wife. Margarito Diaz Gonzalez was an indigenous spiritual leader of the Wixarika community. He was also an environmental activist who defended ancestral territory from encroachment by mining companies and hydropower plants, and Mexico’s National Commission of Human Rights has asked Nayarit state to investigate whether his opposition to the construction of a dam was the motive.

It’s a familiar story in Mexico, where none of the 15 murders of environmentalists in 2017 has been solved, according to the Mexican Center for Environmental Law, known as Cemda.

Disputes over mining, logging, and water-protection rights raise the ire of powerful business interests and organized crime in a country with a deeply flawed justice system, according to a recent report by Global Witness, an international group researching natural resource exploitation, conflict, poverty, corruption, and human rights abuses. Continue Reading →

Exclusive: Albemarle pushes Chile to reverse lithium quota decision – filings – by Dave Sherwood and Ernest Scheyder (Reuters U.S. – December 5, 2018)

SANTIAGO/HOUSTON (Reuters) – Albemarle Corp (ALB.N) has launched an aggressive lobbying campaign after Chilean regulators denied its request to boost lithium output, stressing the company’s importance to Chile’s economy and workers, according to records reviewed by Reuters.

The behind-the-scenes moves come even as Albemarle has publicly brushed off worries from analysts and investors about rising regulatory pressure in Chile, home to the world’s largest reserves of lithium, a crucial ingredient in electric car batteries and mobile phones.

Ellen Lenny-Pessagno, who became Albemarle’s Chile country manager in October, met with the Chilean Nuclear Energy Commission (CCHEN) on Nov. 23 to discuss the rejection, according to filings with Chile’s lobbyist transparency website that have been previously unreported. Continue Reading →

High Risk-High Reward Lithium Bet Drives Argentina Mining Surge – by Laura Millan Lombrana and Jonathan Gilbert (Bloomberg News – December 5, 2018)

High risk/high reward. That’s the bet being made by global lithium miners in Argentina who are brushing aside a recession, a currency crisis and political uncertainty in their hunger for the mineral that helps power electric cars.

Rising demand and limited supply have resulted in lithium prices tripling over four years. In response, companies have been scrambling to build new mines, putting Argentina and Chile, two of the world’s largest producers of the mineral, squarely in their sights.

But while Chile may be more economically stable, top producers there — Albemarle Corp. and Soc. Quimica y Minera de Chile SA — have struggled to obtain licenses to expand. Meanwhile, Argentina President Mauricio Macri is pushing a more pro-market agenda. Continue Reading →

Tianqi buys stake in lithium miner SQM from Nutrien for $4.1 billion – by Antonio De la Jara (Reuters U.S. – December 3, 2018)

SANTIAGO (Reuters) – China’s Tianqi Lithium Corp (002466.SZ) has purchased a 23.77 percent share in Chilean lithium miner SQM (SQMa.SN) from Canadian fertilizer giant Nutrien (NTR.TO), the Chilean stock exchange said on Monday, for a total sale price of $4.066 billion.

The sale to Tianqi comes as Chinese companies increasingly scour the globe for the raw materials necessary to ramp up Chinese production of electric vehicles. Lithium is a key component in the batteries that power everything from cellphones to electric vehicles.

“A minority stake in SQM is great from our perspective, especially when we look at long term growth and expectations for the lithium industry,” said Ashley Ozols, business development manager for Tianqi, after the deal closed. Continue Reading →

Bolivia’s Almost Impossible Lithium Dream – by Laura Millan Lombrana (Bloomberg News – December 3, 2018)

A small army of workers from cities and villages across Bolivia boards the buses for the last leg of a commute that can last days. The meandering, bumpy dirt roads, the thin air at high altitude, the ordeal of bringing labor into the blinding white plain of the world’s largest salt flat—all of this stands between anyone who dreams of retrieving Bolivia’s lithium riches and turning it into electric-car batteries.

These workers will spend two weeks at the Uyuni salt flat in the southern tip of Bolivia before they return home for a seven-day rest. They are attempting to build a world-class lithium mine on top of the Andes mountains, about 12,000 feet above sea level at the heart of landlocked Bolivia. The nearest port is at least 500 kilometers and a border crossing away.

From above, this vast area appears so white it gets mistaken for a giant snow plain. The salt crystallizes in the dry season, forming millions of tile-looking hexagons that span an area as large as Connecticut. During the wet season, it’s covered by a thin layer of water that forms a giant mirror, reflecting the sky so neatly that the line of the horizon disappears. The visual effect draws thousands of visitors and the Dakar Rally every year, making it Bolivia’s top tourist destination. Continue Reading →

Indigenous rights ‘invisible’ as Ecuador pushes mining, oil projects: U.N. – by Johnny Magdaleno (Thomson Reuters Foundation – November 30, 2018)

QUITO, Nov 30 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Excluding indigenous Ecuadoreans from the country’s development plans has made their rights “invisible”, a U.N. expert said, citing a government push to approve oil and mining projects to extract resources from their territories.

Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, made the comments on Thursday at the end of an 11-day fact-finding mission in the country.

It was the first visit to Ecuador by the U.N. indigenous rights watchdog since 2009, and came on the 10th anniversary of the constitution – which gives indigenous people collective rights, and was one of the first to give legal rights to nature. Continue Reading →