Cobre Panamá is a USD6.3-billion mining development project wherein the mine has a useful life of almost 40 years and is located 120km west of Panama City and 20km from the Caribbean coast in the district of Donoso, Colón province. The project occupies approximately 5,900ha of the 13,000ha awarded in the concession. The main facilities of the project are a mine, concentrator plant, port, and electric power generation plant.
The Cobre Panamá mining project will allow the annual extraction of 320,000 tons of copper for 34 years, which makes Minera Panamá the operator of one of the largest copper mines in the world. Minera Panamá is a local company that won the concession for the Cobre mine development project.
In addition to copper, molybdenum and gold will also be extracted and exported to the US, Brazil, China, and India. It is estimated that, in the peak phase of construction, 7,000 workers will be required, and of these, almost 90% will be Panamanians. Operating the mine will require 2,500 employees. All these activities will require properly trained professionals, not only in the areas of engineering or science, but also in matters that are vital in each of the processes to be developed during construction and then the mining operation. These include aspects such as geotechnics, rock geomechanics, soil mechanics, and geotechnical instrumentation.
First Quantum, which holds an 90% stake in Minera Panamá, informed its partners earlier in the year that it is already testing the first 150MW of its thermoelectric plant that will power the project and that it will have a total capacity of 300MW when completed. The first phase of the plant must begin operations in the second half of 2018, and with this, the company expects to raise funds that will be invested in the construction of the mine, which should begin operations in the final part of 2018. Likewise, the company is in the process of carrying out tests of the transmission line that will allow it to connect to the national electricity system to sell the surplus energy that it generates. The company has invested around USD6.3 billion. With the current market price of pure copper at around USD6,800 per ton and expected production reaching 320,000 tons per year, the gross revenue for the sale of copper concentrate alone is estimated at USD2.18 billion before factoring in production, transportation, and smelting costs. The project also has a port in full operation, where it unloads all the materials it buys and from where all the production will go to the recipient companies that pay for the concentrate to turn it into pure copper. The copper concentrate will go to smelters in Korea, the US, Canada, China, India, and other places, and from there to markets across the world. First Quantum upped the mining capacity of the development project in early 2018 based on optimistic outlooks for the global copper market.
Once the copper extraction is completed, the mine closure plan will establish three sub-phases such as the temporary cessation of operations, closure and progressive rehabilitation, and final rehabilitation. The process includes everything from the dismantling of infrastructure to ecological restoration, tentatively starting in 2059.
In addition to employing mostly Panamanians, the project is expected to generate USD213 million in salaries for locals, invest USD3 million in training, indirectly impact nearly 1,500 suppliers and other Panamanian companies, and add 4% to national GDP. Exports will total USD2 billion annually over the 34-year life span of the project. Minera Panamá will also make USD50 million and USD28 million in social and environmental investments, respectively. No doubt, Cobre’s development will have a significant impact on Panama’s mining sector and broader economy.