250km north-east of Antofagasta, 1,200km north of Santiago. (22°17'S 68°54'W)
Classification: open pit copper mine.
OreType : Copper porphyry.
Dimension: Size of pit: L=4,500m, W=3,540m, D=800m.
Production: Gold-Copper 650,000 metric
Tons annually. A=2,800m a.s.l.
Chuquicamata, in northern Chile, is the world’s greatest orebody. It was mainly controlled by initial intrusions (probably at 36 to 33 Ma) through mineralization (last major hydrothermal event at 31 Ma) to postmineral brecciation and offset by the West Fault system. The Chuquicamata Porphyry Complex consists of the East Porphyry, West Porphyry, Banco Porphyry and Fine Texture Porphyry. Potassic alteration, the early stage of alteration, affects all porphyries. Veins of quartz molybdenite, up to 5 m wide and cutting all porphyries, were emplaced between the early and the main stages. Main-stage veins occupy many of the same structures of the early stage and may involve massive remobilization of earlier mineralization. The late stage formed digenite with relatively coarse grained covellite from deep in the sericitic zone. A leached capping and oxide copper ore, replacing an upper chalcocite blanket, overlie a high-grade supergene chalcocite body that extends up to 800 m in depth.
Summary of Geological Setting
Chuquicamata is closely related to Eocene, early Oligocene porphyritic intrusions that occur within the middle to late Cenozoic, north-south striking Domeyko Fault system.
The oldest rocks in the Chuquicamata district occur in a north-northeast trending belt of Paleozoic metasedimentary and metaplutonic rocks. These rocks include gneissic granite, metadiorite, quartz diorite, and minor tonalite recrystallized in varying degrees to amphibolite.
The porphyritic rocks in the Chuquicamata pit, with the dominantly barren Fortuna Complex to the west and the intensely mineralized Chupui Porphyry Complex to the east, are separated by the major postmineral West Fault. Rocks with textures essentially identical to those of the Chuqui Porphyry Complex extend northward at least 9 km through the Radomiro Tomic mine (Cuadra et al., 1997; Cuadra and Rojas, 2001).
Fortuna Intrusive Complex
The Fortuna Intrusive Complex borders to the open pit and contains only low-grade mineralization. It has been structurally juxtaposed against the intensely mineralized Chuquicamata Porphyry Complex by large-scale, postmineral movement on the Wets Fault, which is documented by Dilles et al. (1997), Tomlinson and Blanco (1997), and previous workers. The Fiesta Granodiorite phase of the Complex is volumetrically dominant and is intruded by small irregular bodies of San Lorenzo Granodioritic Porphyry and minor Tetera Aplite Porphyry. Fiesta Granodiorite is weakly mineralized with copper oxides in the uppermost northwestern benches of the pit. Sulfides occur only near contacts of the San Lorenzo porphyries.
Pre-Chuqui porphyry intrusions
The Elena and East Granodiorites are exposed on the eastern margin of the pit. They intrude metasedimentary rocks that were originally shale and sandstone with minor limestone. Whereas Elena Granodiorite is mineralogically and texturally similar to the East Porphyry, the East Granodiorite is texturally distinctive and clearly older. A radiometric dating of the Elena Granodiorite indicates a Jurassic (dating of zircon) to Early Cretaceous age (dating of biotite), published by Ambrus (1979). All of these rocks at the east edge of the pit are essentially poor of mineralization.
Chuqui Porphyry Complex
Practically the entire Chuquicamata orebody is hosted by the Chuqui Porphyry Complex, made up of East, West, Fine Texture, and Banco porphyries. Their textures vary widely, and most exposures are affected by some degree of hydrothermal alteration and pervasive cataclastic deformation. The probably oldest and largest intrusion is the East Porphyry with hypidiomorphic-granular texture. The West Porphyry is finer grained and with quartz eyes in an aplitic groundmass. Locally both porphyries are weakly foliated. Banco Porphyry is more porphyritic and finer grained than East Porphyry, which it intrudes. From West Porphyry it differs in having an abundance of small plagioclase crystals in the aplitic mass. The Fine Texture Porphyry is distinctly finer grained than normal East Porphyry but has also a hypidiomorphic-granular texture. Contacts with East Porphyry may be abrupt but usually faulted. Because of the overprinting of most dikes by quartzsericite alteration, their identification is very difficult. Furthermore is seems, that Banco and Fine Texture porphyries have been affected by all of the same stage of alteration and mineralization as the East Porphyry.
A large part of the copper at Chuquicamata occurs in veins and veinlets filling faults and faultrelated shatter zones. In the main orebody practically all of these fractures have been opened and mineralized more than once. Early-stage veinlets of quartz and quartz-K feldspar contain no or only very minor sulfide. They are cut by more continuous quartz veins, to 5 cm wide, containing minor molybdenite and traces of chalcopyrite. Large banded quartz veins, known as blue veins, are typically 1 m or more in width. They contain abundant molybdenite and truncate the previous veins. Furthermore, they are commonly surrounded by sericitic alteration, but this is due to superposition of younger pyritic veins following the same structures. Veins and veinlets of the main stage contain pyrite, chalcopyrite, bornite, and digenite, decreasing amounts of quartz and increasingly well-developed sericitic alteration halos. Locally, the earliest of these veins appear to contain pyrite without Cu sulfide (Lindsay et al., 1995). Relatively late main stage veins contain enargite ± pyrite and minor sphalerite. Later on, veinlets and fractures are filled with relatively coarse grained covellite (to 1 mm) and digenite with and without pyrite.
Hypogene Alteration and Mineralization
Just like El Salvador and many other porphyry copper deposits, vein relationships lead to the definition of an early stage defined by K feldspar stable alteration and early quartz veinlets, a transitional stage defined by quartz-molybdenite veining, and a main-stage defined by pyrite-bearing veins with sericitic halos. A more unusual and controversial late stage is defined by coarse-grainedcovellite-digenite veinlets without pyrite and possibly hypogene sphalerite rims on other sulfides (Fréraut, et al., 1997).
Supergene Mineralization and Alteration
After Taylor (1935) and Jarrell (1944) the rich oxide copper orebody has been largely mined out, but considerable resources of lower grade material remain in the north end of the pit and beyond (North zone, Fig. 1; Cuadra et al., 1997; Ossandón and Zentilli, 1997). Oxide ores contain a large variety of minerals but in chief antlerite, brochantite, atacamite, chrysocolla, and copper pitch. Also residuals of chalcocite are implied. The ore was overlain by leached capping and was an eastward and upward extension of the chalcocite zone, indicating it was a supergene chalcocite enrichment blanket oxidized in situ. It is the upper of two chalcocite blankets with a leached horizon in between. A lower enrichment zone has more reactive alteration assemblages and contains decreasing chalcocite and/or covellite proportions downward. In the central zone of intense brecciation, the two enrichment blankets (copper leaching and chalcocite enrichment) merge and reach their maximum depth.
Mining and processing
Coldec uses conventional open pit mining methods at Chuquicamata. A conventional truck-and-shovel operation constitutes the mining activity. Large quantities of the ore are crushed within the pit. Underground conveyors transport the crushed ore to the mill bins.
An Outokumpu flash smelter is installed for smelting the concentrate. The concentrate is then passed through a converter with electric furnace. After the slag is cleaned, the concentrate passes through four Pierce Smith converters. Blister copper is then sent to six anode furnaces. The electrolytic refinery has a capacity of 855,000t per annum. Three anode casting wheels were installed and are fed by the furnaces.
Underground mining at Chuquicamata
The new underground mine, scheduled begin operations in 2019, will comprise of four production levels, a 7.5km main access tunnel, five clean air injection ramps, and two air-extraction shafts.
The tunnels will deepen the mine by nearly 787m by the end of production in 2060. The underground mine will be developed at an estimated cost of $4.2bn and will produce an estimated 140,000 tonnes of ore per day. It mine is expected to produce 366,000t of copper and 18,000t of fine molybdenum per year.
Sinclair Knight Merz undertook the conceptual engineering of the mine, including identification, option studying and analysis for ore excavation and handling. For ore extraction, panel caving and macro blocks were studied. Three extraction panels were identified at different depths for both options. Excavation panels identified for panel cavings were at 1,841m, 1,697m and 1,409m above sea level and 1,841m, 1,625m and 1,409m for macro blocks.
The copper ore reserves of the Chuquicamata underground mine are estimated to be 1,700mt grading 0.7% copper and with an average molybdenum content of 502ppm.