A recent article in the ever insightful Stratfor Worldview this month underlines how the world is not short of copper ore deposits — they are, at least in this example, just in the wrong place.
The article covers a long-running dispute between the Pakistani government and mining company Tethyan Copper Co., a joint venture between Canada’s Barrick Gold Corp. and Chile’s Antofagasta PLC, the article explains.
The dispute is over the legality of Tethyan’s claim and rights to exploit the copper and gold reserve at Reko Diq in Pakistan’s remote southwest Balochistan province, close to the Iran border.
Pakistan’s mining rights and practices, not to mention its infrastructure, are not fit for the purpose, as Tethyan’s story underlines all too well.
Rights were originally granted to BHP by way of a decades-old pact called the Chagai Hills Exploration Joint Venture Agreement (CHEJVA), signed in 1993 between the Balochistan Development Authority and the Australian miner. The rights were subsequently acquired by Tethyan, which has been in a long-running dispute ever since.
The company has invested some $220 million in exploration to prove the resource and carry out feasibility studies. However, probably in a bid to wring more out of the firm, legal challenges were taken to the provincial courts. The resulting legal proceedings caused delays, which finally drove the firm to take the case to the World Bank’s International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) and the International Chamber of Commerce, resulting in a $5.9 billion fine against the Pakistani authorities.
The current impasse is in neither party’s interests.
Tethyan has offered to negotiate a settlement, but with the Chinese on the sidelines bidding to extend their Belt and Road involvement in the region, conflicting loyalties and priorities are in play.
A solution, though, would be very much in Pakistan’s interests.
The resource is said to be the largest untouched deposit in the world, containing an estimated 2.2 billion metric tons of mineable ore that could yield 200,000 metric tons of copper and 250,000 troy ounces of gold annually for over half a century, Stratfor reports.
But exploiting it requires international expertise and finance.
The ore must be processed into a fine powder at the mine head before converting it into a slurry concentrate for transport through a 682-kilometer pipeline to the Arabian seaport of Gwadar. At the port, the company planned to dry the concentrate before loading it onto ships for smelting abroad — missing an opportunity to value add to refine it into pure metal.