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Permitting delays have pushed back the startup of the Tía María copper project in southern Peru to at least late 2017 or early 2018, according to Southern Peru Copper (SCC) president and CEO Óscar González Rocha.
The start of production at the US$1.4bn greenfield project, previously projected for the first quarter of 2017, is contingent on the company receiving construction permits by June, González Rocha told reporters on the sidelines of the CRU World Copper Conference being held in Santiago, Chile.
SCC had been expecting to receive the permit by April but now believes this will take an additional 1-2 months. Once the permit is received, construction will begin as soon as contractors have been hired, and take 20-24 months.
"We think our friends at CRU exaggerated a bit by putting it in 2019," González Rocha said, referencing a presentation at the conference by CRU director of copper research and strategy Vanessa Davidson. "I believe it will start production before 2019."
Davidson classified Tía María as a possible project, as opposed to firm or probable.
The environmental impact study for Tía María was approved by Peruvian authorities last August in a second version after the original study was rejected in 2011 following protests over the project's proposed use of local water resources. The approved study includes a desalinization plant.
González Rocha downplayed the protests against Tía María that have ramped up in the months since the EIS approval and said that the central government is taking a more active role now in bringing the local population and government officials together to "try to get the project going as soon as possible."
He described recent comments by a company spokesperson on local radio that SCC would abandon the project as an emotional response to frustration around what the company calls "anti-mining terrorism," noting the anti-mining stance of political groups such as Tierra y Libertad, and reiterated that the project is going ahead.
A Tierra y Libertad candidate won the mayoral election last year in the district of Cocachacra where Tía María is located, one of the five districts of Islay province, although a more pro-mining candidate won the Islay mayorship.
Tía María is set to produce 120,000t/y of copper cathode via SX-EW.
SCC's Toquepala concentrator expansion project is likely to come on stream before Tía María as the company expects to receive a construction permit this month and the project contemplates a similar construction period, according to González Rocha.
"The project that will certainly start production by end-2017 or sooner is Toquepala," he said. The expansion will add 100,000t/y copper and cost US$1.2bn.
Toquepala is considered a probable project, according to Davidson.