Those who visit Las Bambas and contemplate the magnitude of what has been built amongst the peaks of the Peruvian Andes - overcoming countless challenges of working at great heights, in thin air and extreme temperatures - can begin to appreciate the human effort and technology involved in such endeavours. The reality behind Las Bambas’ construction is even more impressive.
The first Las Bambas workers came to the area in late 2004. At the time, Apurímac was one of the poorest regions in Peru. The company’s first office opened in Challhuahuacho, a sparsely populated district that until 1994 had no electricity or sewage. Among the forms of trade, there was a mule trail for those who came from Arequipa with their llamas to trade their dried figs or other goods for the locally produced chuño.
Nearby is Ferrobamba hill, the first site destined for mining, an “open pit” where the minerals are found close to the surface. The traditional image of mining is of a tunnel with underground passages; but this is different. The operation is outside in the open. The logistical challenges were enormous. In the midst of towering mountains, at an altitude of over 4,000 metres above sea level, the area was nearly inaccessible.
“To operate Las Bambas requires large scale works,” said Luis Rivera, former Vice President of Operations for Las Bambas, “involving first, expanding and improving access roads, like the connecting highway between Espinar (a province in Cusco) and Las Bambas. More than 240 kilometres of highway that simply did not exist before, that crosses canyons ... from an engineering point of view, that was the most challenging.”
Improving the highway is not the only thing Las Bambas has done. Thanks to the various enhancements in road infrastructure in the area, the trip from Cusco to the mine that previously took nine hours and was perilously dangerous, now takes only approximately six hours. Domingo Drago, Vice President of Corporate Affairs for Las Bambas, recalls that people “walked or rode mules or horses. A few others rode bicycles.” And along the way, “there were steep cliffs and curves with no guardrails or shoulders.
At that time, no one knew for certain how much ore was available. The explorations the Peruvian government made (7,000 linear metres of drilling) were insufficient. After a series of talks with local leaders in Fuerabamba and obtaining the relevant authorisations, a new phase of exploration began. In 2005 drilling covered some 56,000 linear metres of mountain, to obtain more accurate projections. That same year, Las Bambas workers moved into the operations area. Two camps were built, one in Fuerabamba community, christened “Pioneer 1,” another in Chalcobamba, in the Charcascocha area. Altitude and climate impose harsh conditions. Between June and August, for example, when it frequently freezes, during a single day, the temperature can fluctuate some 15 to 20 degrees Celsius. “First-time visitors have to stay in Cusco for a day to acclimatise. And everyone has to have a medical exam before coming to the mine, in line with our safety and health standards,” says Gustavo Gomes, President of Las Bambas. In place since day one, this policy remains in force.
The company raised the “Pioneer 1” camp with prefabricated galvanised steel modules that had capacity for housing some 200 persons. It was the first Las Bambas architectural landmark.
As Domingo Drago said, altogether “they drilled 350,000 linear metres to see if there were sufficient mineral resources to justify an investment to build a mine.” Drilling continues to this day. Over time, geological models and predictions evolve. In addition to the deposits at Ferrobamba, Chalcobamba and Sulfobamba, others at places such as Charcas and Azulccacca are also believed to be viable. Las Bambas has a projected lifespan of twenty years; but, in the words of Marcelo Bastos, Chief Operating Officer of MMG, “We have good indicators that this will last longer.”
Because of the completed explorations, it was clear by mid-2009 that Las Bambas would be a viable project. As in this case, a mineral deposit may be known for several hundred years; but its viability relies on a combination of geological, metallurgical and social conditions. “Unless we have all of these ircumstances [geological, metallurgical and social],” says Luis Rivera, “a deposit can be the richest on earth; but it won’t necessarily become a mining operation.”
The social component was evident throughout the entire citizen participation process and, in July of 2010 during a public hearing in which Las Bambas presented its EIS to more than 5,000 people from the surrounding communities. The Peruvian government subsequently approved the study. Amongst other reasons, the company’s demanding environmental policies explain the situation. For example, the company prepared the environmental baseline - gathering of information regarding the location’s environmental situation - over a two-year period, whereas the law says the baseline need only cover one dry and one wet season.
It should be mentioned that water monitoring to ensure that mining operations do not pollute this key resource has been done since 2005, with participation of representatives from various communities. From the beginning, the company held workshops explaining its mining plans for the area - and the expected environmental impact. At many gatherings it hired a theatre company to communicate the process, using puppets and music. “It was a fun atmosphere ... everything was in Quechua,” said Giovanna Huaney, Environmental Superintendent at Las Bambas. “This project involved the communities from the very start,” she continued. “It’s been a rewarding experience because it’s been so thorough.”
On 31 May 2012, construction of Las Bambas - one of the most important mining projects in the history of Peru - received the green light. Various species of amphibians, reptiles and plants were moved to similar habitats before building began, avoiding adverse effects on plants or animals while demonstrating the company’s concern for the environment.
Most of these efforts were coordinated with the community. Las Bambas’ neighbours are the company’s strategic partners, as demonstrated in the company’s labour policies. In fact, by the end of 2012, when the engineering work was more than 90 percent complete, local communities had provided all unskilled labour and have continued to do so throughout the mine construction period.
In 2012, around 14,000 people worked in construction and operations at Las Bambas, a number that has steadily grown. “In 2014 we created 17,356 jobs, either for new hires or contractors,” said Gustavo Gomes. There is a reason why there would be so many local employees. As Luis Rivera says, “The people of Cotabambas are hardworking and dedicated ... and very respectful people.”
In 2012, construction began on the principal settlement (Anta Wasi Camp) in the Collpapuquio hamlet. This camp can accommodate more than 6,000 people and is one of the most important mining camps in Peru. It is a citadel in the middle of the mountains. Its uniformed inhabitants, vehicles and heavy equipment are active day and night, functioning like a finely tuned complex timepiece.
The road connecting the mine with Espinar plays a vital role in the ongoing operation of Las Bambas. Without the twelve-metre wide compacted highway, the giant equipment Las Bambas requires could not be moved from Cusco to the mine. This machinery is amongst the largest in the world. Trucks that can haul 320 tonnes; electric shovels with bucket capacities of 100 tonnes each; two hydraulic shovels each with 60-tonne bucket capacity; a loader (Guinness world record holder as the “largest earth mover”) with 60-tonne bucket capacity; and bulldozers that are the biggest in their class. Everything was shipped in pieces. According to Luis Rivera, “To build these giants, we involved the manufacturers, and the local community, along with proper training.”
And that’s not all. Nearly two hundred young Cotabambinos from Fuerabamba, Huancuire, Quehuira, Chila, Challhuahuacho, Haquira and Tambobamba have been certified as heavy equipment operators, after completing a demanding two-year training in programs such as T´ikariy Wiñaypaq (Flourish Forever) and Yachay Watakunapaq (Learning for the Future). Depending on the category, these programs include technical training in Lima and Arequipa at one of the TECSUP training centres.
An Environmental Impact Study (EIS) is a technical study conducted by a multidisciplinary team that seeks to predict and manage the impacts of a project on people and nature. EISs are internationally recognised in the validation of large-scale projects.
Since 2004 Las Bambas has actively engaged with communities in its area of influence participating in various undertakings, such as establishing an environmental baseline (2006-2008). Las Bambas has also monitored the quality of water, air, soil, flora and fauna.
Constant monitoring of water quality is part of the technical discipline as well as the environmental commitment to the communities in the area of influence.
Together with government authorities, Las Bambas conducted extensive meetings with the public to gain approval of its Environmental Impact Study. Meetings included workshops to explain the scope of the project, methods for environmental management, and the importance of the EIS. Radio and other communications’ outlets also broadcasted this information. In July of 2010, the EIS was presented at a public hearing. More than 5,000 residents from the area of influence approved the Study and signed an agreement, referred to as the “public consensus” for the project. The Las Bambas EIS was officially approved in 2011.
When Las Bambas became independent from the Antapaccay (Tintaya) mine, an opportunity arose to reduce the project’s footprint and streamline the mining process. The original plan was to locate the molybdenum and filter circuits and the concentrate warehouse in the old Tintaya mines (in the Cusco region). Las Bambas changed their location to a space within the Company’s project area, making more efficient use of water resources.
Additionally, the slurry pipeline was replaced with a bimodal system that includes transport by road and rail to the Port of Matarani (in the Arequipa region). As a result, the existing highway was improved and is maintained on a regular basis, leading to the creation of an economic corridor along this new route.
“The highlands in Cotabambas province have historically been ideal for raising livestock”, says professor Felipe Roldán. Until the beginning of the century, the culture surrounding the horse went far beyond everyday transport and included tests of skill and the manufacture of clothing and accessories.
The Ministry of Energy and Mines (MEM) reviewed and approved modifications to the Las Bambas Environmental Impact Study, which also gained favourable opinions from the Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation and the National Water Authority. The MEM reported these modifications to provincial and district authorities in the zone. In accordance with relevant legal requirements, all modifications were carried out with strict compliance to regulatory procedures and with prompt communication with the municipalities and other entities.
“There were various assessments of our skill sets; and then we reached the goals they set for us,” said Consuelo Chacaltana Cahua, who since 2014 has operated a truck with a 320 tonne load capacity. “I think it’s interesting. The company has supported us in all phases of the training,” she added. In Las Bambas, it’s not uncommon to see women in jobs that were previously reserved for men. Lucila Coaquira Roque, from Fuerabamba, attended training and now operates a wheel dozer. “I never imagined I would be operating such a big machine. I never thought I’d be working for a company,” she says. “I have a little boy and I’m a single mother, so for him I’m both mother and father. Now I can better imagine my son’s future. I have an income and can better educate him. Before, I lived in a straw house. Now I say that I am better off.”
Four hundred thousand tonnes of material are removed each day thanks to the work of people like Consuelo and Lucila.
Electricity powers countless daily tasks going on at Las Bambas. June of 2015 saw completion of 132 kilometres of power lines rated at 220 kilovolts, running from the Cotaruse station in Aimaraes province to Las Bambas. It was a daunting task, taking two and a half years and occasional work at an altitude of over 5,400 metres above sea level. “It’s the most rugged topography you can imagine,” said Luis Rivera. “The worst part is the weather, because almost all of the power lines are above 4,000 metres. The work didn’t stop at any time ... winter or summer, rain or shine, or cold, freezing or snowing.”
Extreme environmental conditions characterise virtually all of the work at Las Bambas. Day after day, personnel complete highly demanding tasks, many times outdoors. The meals offered in the dining facilities are heavy on meat and well-balanced fare, illustrating the outstanding nutrition available to employees. Additionally, the nature of mine work requires the workers to reside at the mine for days at a time, following a schedule that balances hours of work and rest. Las Bambas’ employees are industrious and clearly dedicated.
If 2015 was the year to finish the infrastructure needed to begin operations at the mine, 2016 will be a leap forward, with expected production during the mine’s first 12 months of between 250,000 and 300,000 tonnes of copper in copper concentrate. Las Bambas estimates that it will employ 4,000 workers and for each worker between 5 or 6 indirect jobs will be created, consolidating a value chain that will ultimately include some 20,000 people. In 2015, local and national purchases by Las Bambas totalled US $1.27 billion.
“During the first three years of operations, we’ll be mining above one percent of copper at Ferrobamba,” said Luis Rivera. This means that every 100 tonnes of processed ore will yield just over one tonne of copper. First, there was a period of equipment, system and process checks performed with reduced tonnage. Afterwards, production will gradually increase.
Working at high altitudes is certainly different, as Gustavo Gomes explains. “You have to be very careful. There is a working protocol,” he says.
Luis Rivera underlines the difficulty of the work, “when you start at three or four in the morning, between minus 10 to 12 degrees Celsius, with snow or rain, in the mud, at over 4,200 metres above sea level, AND, there’s very little oxygen at that altitude.”
In general terms, the operation at Las Bambas is as follows: in stage one, trucks carry material removed from the pit to what is called the “primary crusher.” The objective is to reduce the size of the rocks, which can be highly variable, to a maximum diameter of 18 centimetres (7 inches). Then, an overland conveyor that is 183 centimetres wide (72 inches) carries the rocks some 5.2 kilometres to where it is stockpiled. The sight of the long conveyor moving ore up the hill and the immense architecture needed for extracting and processing the mineral is overwhelming.
The stockpiled coarse material is extracted and transported on conveyor belts to the concentrator plant for further grinding in two semi-autogenous grinding mills (SAGs) and two ball mills. Both SAGs and ball mills are closed systems containing steel balls that “interact with the rock, to continue crushing it down to smaller, finer particles that flow to the other end of the mill,” explains Luis Rivera. The particles containing copper are reduced in size to just 0.18 millimetres - similar to grains of fine sand. Rivera adds that these “are the largest mills in the world ... we are the only mine in the world with two grinding standards like that.”
After passing through the mills, the material comes to the “cyclone” area where it is classified as either “fine” or “coarse.” The coarse material returns to the grinding cycle, while the fine moves to a flotation circuit where it undergoes physical and chemical processes that separate minerals from the rock. This product goes to the molybdenum circuit where copper is separated from the molybdenum, and the copper concentrate then goes to a filter circuit that recovers the water used in the process. The processed mineral continues to the concentrate warehouse where it is loaded on to trucks that carry it 458 kilometres over the heavy-haul road to Pillones station in Caylloma, Arequipa region. In fact, after delivery to the Pillones station, the material from Las Bambas travels another stretch to the Port of Matarani.
Las Bambas estimates that it will employ 4,000 workers and for each worker between 5 or 6 indirect jobs will be created, consolidating a value chain that will ultimately include some 20,000 people.
Installing the belt to the semiautogenous grinding (SAG) mills in May of 2015.
“Las Bambas will be the third or fourth largest copper mine in the world. ... Peru will be the second largest copper producer.”
Luis Rivera, former Vice President of Operations for Las Bambas
Two lines of the SAG mills, operating together and in parallel grind 1.3 tonnes of ore each hour. During this phase, steel balls five inches in diameter are inserted along with additional grinding media. The rotary action of the mills and the cascading effect of the steel balls break down the coarse ore and help it move to the next processing steps.
A particular concern for water usage distinguishes the entire process. The Las Bambas approach is clear: the operation will minimise the use of fresh water taken from the Challhuahuacho River. Any water used in the mining operations area will be recycled for subsequent utilisation in the same processes. To this end, a water reservoir built in the town of Chuspiri supplies the camp, the concentrator plant and the truck workshop. Thanks to these conservation efforts, Las Bambas recycles 95 percent of its water.
Las Bambas’ operations have adopted specific environmental commitments, as well as high standards in its Waste Management Plan. For example, paper and cardboard are recycled, and hazardous waste is taken to a secure landfill. “We minimise environmental impact with an outstanding team that works in coordination with the community,” said Jorge Franco, Vice President of Safety, Health, Environment and Community (SHEC) for Las Bambas. Franco added that this is done “in an open, transparent way, showing how our [environmental] controls actually work.” Together with local authorities and environmental delegates, Las Bambas has monitored water and air quality. It has also participated in water quality monitoring activities organised by the National Water Authority. Las Bambas is committed to finding conservation areas for the flora and fauna in the surroundings. These areas will most likely be wetlands or swamps in the highlands, as this is where wildlife seek shelter, make nesting sites or, of course, find water.
Human resources are another important task. “In human resource management, one of our most significant achievements was acquiring ISO 9001:2008 certification in our 13 human resource processes,” said Gustavo Gomes. This certification validates the organisation and standardisation of processes for corporate HR functions. Gomes stressed that in 2014 the company provided the equivalent of 109,203 man-hours of safety training.
Wilson Pachas operates a skid loader. He says the hard part of working at Las Bambas is “most of all, the cold - and having to get up so early.” He’s used to it now. Many of the employees arise at dawn. Wilson says that he’s accustomed to using his personal protective equipment during his workday (helmet, regulation boots, safety goggles).
In fact, the main value while working at Las Bambas is exactly this: We think safety first. “Safety comes before anything else,” said Jorge Franco. “I define it clearly: You go home in the same condition in which you came to work.” Marcelo Bastos puts it this way: “Safety is a clear demonstration of respect for people.” And Juan Cari, Communications Superintendent at Las Bambas, goes further by saying that safety “is an issue that’s in our blood.”
Contractor Rafael Cabrera comes from the Moquegua region. He says that every day at work there are numerous strict safety measures like breathalysers to detect alcohol use. There is zero tolerance for this kind of behaviour by employees or contractors. Rafael mentioned the importance of saying ‘no’ to a supervisor if a particular order involves physical risk to the worker. In these cases, “I have to say that it can’t be done that way and try to minimise the risk,” says Rafael. “You have to take care of yourself.”
At the mining operation workers are the first to appreciate safety measures. Jorge Franco, Vice President of SHEC for Las Bambas, points out a work climate survey with convincing results: happier workers in an accident-free environment. “There is a program that encourages everyone to observe the behaviour of others. Its emphasis is on-the-spot verification of critical risk control. Plus we have safety talks,” he says. “Day after day, each task is accompanied by a risk analysis in which the entire team participates.”
Safety happens because the Las Bambas philosophy embraces participation and engagement. The concept of participation is so present that when the time came to define the working values of MMG, it was the workers themselves who did so. “It was a bottom-up process,” said Troy Hey, Executive General Manager of Stakeholder Relations for MMG. “We hadn’t completed a thorough review of our values since forming the company,” he said. “With Las Bambas as a part of MMG, and being so important - it’s the biggest change the company has ever had - it was time to listen to our people, including people from other parts of the operation, and to ask them what kind of company they wanted to create.”
Interestingly, in Laos, Australia, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Peru, all places where MMG operates, employees shared similar ideas. The company listened to their contributions in Quechua, Spanish, French and Laotian, seeking a consensus amongst workers who didn’t know each other and who worked in different parts of the world. In the end, according to Troy Hey, “we brought the leaders of each team, including those from Las Bambas, to one single workshop. We worked on those values. The company adopted them in October of 2014.”
This is further proof of the integrity of Las Bambas, a mine that operates with extremely high standards, supported by the talents and abilities of its people - and it shows. Surveys taken in the last quarter of 2014 revealed a 73 percent employee satisfaction rating. “We are using the Las Bambas experience and repeating it in other parts of the world,” said Marcelo Bastos. “We are exporting the Las Bambas example to other operations.”
There is every reason to do so - and to be excited about the future.
Football game between colleagues in Anta Wasi, the Las Bambas main camp in Cotabambas. Football has deep roots in the area and games are organised almost every weekend. The passion comes alive in the Las Bambas Mine Club, which participates in the Copa Perú (Peruvian Cup) games.
Las Bambas operates with extremely high standards, supported by the talents and abilities of its people. Surveys taken in the last quarter of 2014 revealed a 73 percent employee satisfaction rating in the Las Bambas work environment.
MMG employees worldwide participated in a process of agreeing to and drafting five core values present in all daily activities in mine operations:
“We think safety first.” The subject is vast, and includes risk assessment that each worker should do before executing a task, as well as risk prevention.
“We respect each other” is a working value that focuses on comradeship between all employees, men and women.
“We work together” is exemplified in the group character of much of the decision making process and in the search for horizontal interaction (such as interaction in dining facilities, where both supervisors and employees share common space without boundaries).
“We do what we say” refers to the personal commitment assumed by each employee with the company, to reach the goals established.
The fifth value is “We want to be better.”Employees’ desire to grow both personally and professionally is one reason why Las Bambas functions so exceptionally well.
Work at heights outside the truck shop where the enormous mining vehicles are maintained and repaired. There is always strict adherence to labour and physical safety requirements.
In the snowy Andean highlands, the landscape as seen from the Anta Wasi Camp, including a dump truck with the message, “Look, think and work safely.” Given the high volume of truck traffic, roads are regularly watered to prevent dust.
The company publishes ‘Las Bambas Informa’ (for an internal audience) and ‘Las Bambas,’ containing items of internal and external interest. Bulletin boards for news are maintained at the camps. Every day, Las Bambas listens to Radio Máxima, transmitted on FM. Unlike Surphuy Radio - managed by Las Bambas, but focused on issues external to the mine - Radio Máxima carries urban programming and also features folk, Latin, ballads and salsa music. Radio Máxima dedicates itself to communicating mining news to workers and news of campaigns such as Festivalores that promote work values at Las Bambas.
Primary crusher: each gyratory crusher reduces the size of coarse ore extracted from the Ferrobamba pit. Then, it’s on to the overland conveyor that delivers ore to the mills for further processing.
“In all of our assets, energy efficiency is high on our priority list. We use renewable energy sources whenever possible.”.
MMG 2013 Sustainability Report