Expansive study on global copper released this past week — from a top authority in the world’s largest producing nation, Chile.
That came from the government-run Chilean Copper Commission (Cochilco). Which put together 15 years of exploration data in Chile and beyond, to look at where major copper discoveries are coming from — and how successful exploration spending in the sector has been of late.
At first glance, that data seems to cement Chile’ place as the world’s premier copper nation. Showing that the country has hosted 30.2% of all copper deposits discovered globally between 2000 and 2014.
The study also shows that Chilean companies have a strong track record of discovery. With national copper miner Codelco having found 17 deposits during the study period, while private miner Antofagasta made four discoveries.
But digging deeper into the data, a more-unsettling trend is apparent.
Exploration recently has been coming up empty.
The numbers on Chilean discoveries show that discoveries have been in short supply during the last several years. With a full 94% of discovered resources and reserves being found prior to 2010.
That means it’s now been six and a half years in Chile with very little exploration success. Despite that fact the study notes “investment in exploration has increased significantly” since 2010.
The study authors conclude that “exploration results have not been proportional to the increased budget” during the last several years. Suggesting that discoveries are getting more difficult to come by in the increasingly mature terrains of Chile’s copper districts. Not helped by a national mineral licensing system that allows large tracts of land to be held inactive for extended periods.
All of which shows that the world may not be able to rely on its top-producing nation for future copper supply growth. A fact that’s evidenced on the ground by increasing copper exploration and production in other Andean nations like Peru, Ecuador and Colombia.
Watch for what moves the Chilean government and mining industry may make to address this situation. Possibly including state-sponsored regional geophysics for deep targeting — and reforms to mineral licensing that could open locked-up ground for exploration.
Here’s to getting over the hump,