SANTIAGO, Chile – Top 10.
That’s where Chile strives to be among the countries that produce the largest amount of gold in the world.
The Andean nation isn’t there yet – but it’s getting close, officials said.
Chile is ranked 17th in the global ranking of gold production, according to Bloomberg, with 39.494 metric tons in 2010, according to the Chilean Mining Ministry.
China is ranked atop the list with 324 metric tons produced annually, followed by Australia (223 metric tons); South Africa (220); United States (219); Russia (205); Peru (182), Indonesia (166), Canada (96); Ghana (90) and Uzbekistan (75), according to Bloomberg.
But Chilean officials are optimistic their continued investment in the sector will enable the industry to ascend the rankings into the top 10. They also envision gold rivaling copper as the main source of revenue for the economy.
“Gold has become a secure haven for investors,” said Vicente Pérez, an analyst who works for the Chilean Copper Commission (Cochilco).
The country is home to US$9 billion in investments in its gold and silver mining sector, according to Cochilco.
The industry has become revitalized by the soaring prices of gold and silver on the worldwide market, which have spurred private companies to invest in the discovery of deposits as well as the equipment needed to find the precious metals buried under the surface.
“Gold production in Chile has stabilized around 40 metric tons since 2001, putting it 17th among the world producers of mined gold,” Pérez said. “According to our estimates, by 2016, total gold production in Chile has the potential to triple today’s production, reaching more than 130 metric tons, which could put us eighth worldwide.”
Pérez added: “The companies have already incorporated the technological innovations needed to bring the projects in their portfolio to light, at reasonable costs and profitability.”
It’s common for the price of gold and silver to fluctuate daily, which could negatively impact the Chilean government’s projections. But Pérez said the frequent change in the metals’ prices do not dampen his optimism that Chile’s economy could receive a huge boost in gold and silver.
“Current levels for gold are very high, and a drop could affect some expectations for investors associated with financial funds,” Pérez said. “But from a mining perspective, current levels are attractive enough to withstand drops without having this affect longer term investment decisions.”
Gabriel Balcázar, a corporate mining consultant, said the investments made to increase the production of gold also will make the Andean nation an even bigger player in the silver market.
Chile is ranked fifth in the world in silver production with 1,607 metric tons annually, just behind fourth-place Australia (1,727 metric tons). Peru, with 3,471 metric tons, tops the list, according to 2010’s figures by the United States Geological Survey.
Balcázar, however, said Chile has the potential to move into the top four.
Chilean officials anticipate the country’s gold production will receive a boost from mega-mining companies such as Barrick Gold’s Pascua Lama and Cerro Casale; Kinross’s Lobo-Marte; and Canadian Goldcorp’s El Morro, which are expected to collectively produce 70 metric tons of gold annually.
When Pascua Lama begins operating – in early 2013 – its annual average production is expected to be between 340 metric tons and 362 metric tons of gold for its first five years of operation, according to Barrick.
Cerro Casale can’t start its mining until the completion of its Environmental Impact Study, which is under preparation.
Kinross’s Lobo-Marte, meanwhile, still is conducting “feasibility studies.”
Canadian company Goldcorp, however, has been permitted by the Environmental Assessment Commission of the Atacama Region, in the country’s northern area, to begin operations in the town of Alto del Carmen.
But environmentalists are concerned Pascua Lama’s operations in the Atacama Desert could hurt the region, while some say other mining operations could be detrimental to the glaciers that sit atop the gold deposits. Activists fear the process used to extract metals could damage the glaciers.
“The gold is located under glaciers that are thousands of years old in the most arid desert in the world,” says Luciano González, an activist with Acción Ecológica, a Latin American network of environmental activists. “Decisions have to be made keeping the country in mind.”