Chilean copper miner Antofagasta has said it is confident of winning approval to develop a $1bn underground copper mine in a remote area of Minnesota, as it eyes expansion outside its home country.
Antofagasta’s chief executive Iván Arriagada said the company would apply for a licence from the US government as soon as this year.
“We expect we will get the permit,” Mr Arriagada said. “This process should be governed not by sentiment but by facts and an objective assessment.”
US president Donald Trump has been supportive of reviving US mining and has rolled back regulations put in place by former president Barack Obama, offering hope to some of the largest mining companies.
In September, US agriculture secretary Sonny Perdue announced that companies could now explore for minerals in north-eastern Minnesota, reversing a decision made by the previous administration to conduct a two-year review.
In June, Swiss mining group Glencore bought a majority stake in PolyMet Mining, which is looking to mine copper, nickel and precious metals from a deposit near Hoyt Lakes in Minnesota. Glencore owns 72 per cent of the company, which received the final permit it needed to start mining in the state in March.
The Antofagasta mine has been criticised by local activists, however, who say it threatens the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, a 1m-acre reserve of lakes and rivers that lies on the border with Canada.
Mr Arriagada said the mine, which would be developed and run by a subsidiary, Twin Metals Minnesota, would have “minimal impact to the environment” and would use a “dry stack” method that compressed waste rock and used less water.
“This is a project we think we have a good economic case to pursue,” he said. “This will be an underground mine with dry stacking on tailings, all features designed to make this as environmentally friendly as possible. Therefore, we want to move ahead with this.”
Mr Arriagada also cautioned that winning permits could take as long as eight years. Antofagasta could also look for a partner in the future when it comes to building the mine, he said.
Antofagasta, which is majority owned by Chile’s Luksic family, reported a 44 per cent increase in earnings for the first half of the year on Thursday and said it was in a strong position to weather the uncertainties of the US-China trade war.
Copper prices have fallen 3 per cent this year and hit their lowest level in two years this month after Mr Trump said he would impose more tariffs on Chinese imports.
London-listed shares in Antofagasta fell 0.7 per cent on Thursday to trade at 813p.
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