Friday, February 17, 2023

Peru protests jolt mine activity with Las Bambas, Antapaccay hit hardest

Peru mine disruption to continue as MMG fails to oust protesters

Las Bambas mine. (Image by MMG) 

Peru’s top copper mines are starting to see activity hit harder by protests and blockades in the country’s southern Andes, power data reviewed by Reuters shows, with Chinese-owned Las Bambas and Glencore PLC’s Antapaccay currently worst affected.

The South American country, the world’s no. 2 producer of the red metal, has been roiled by protests since the Dec. 7 ouster of President Pedro Castillo, though mining operations had generally remained resilient until this month.

However, a Reuters analysis of daily power use data from COES, which represents firms in Peru’s energy sector, shows that at least two key mines are now regularly only drawing half their normal power as key supplies needed for mining operations run out, suggesting they are in ‘care and maintenance’ mode.

Those are MMG’s Las Bambas, Peru’s third largest copper mine, and Glencore’s Antapaccay, which have both been hit by blockades on a key mining corridor highway. Latest data up until Thursday showed both at half normal power usage.

Miners in Peru, however, have a long history of dealing with community protests which have at times caused long shutdowns, something not yet seen in the current nationwide anti-government protests where nearly 50 people have died in clashes.

The data backs this up, suggesting that mines are at times getting some supplies through the blockades, with Las Bambas in recent days see-sawing between full and half power use.

A source familiar with the matter told Reuters on Thursday that protesters had temporarily lifted blockades a day earlier on a key section of the mining corridor in Condoroma, Cusco, used by Las Bambas, Antapaccay and Hudbay’s Constancia.

They were, however, threatening to resume the blockade on Friday, the source added, underscoring the current uncertain environment which has hit the arrival of supplies to mines and transport of copper concentrate for export.

Antapaccay said on Monday that five fuel trucks had been attacked and vandalized while on route to the mine.

Representatives from Las Bambas, Antapaccay and Constancia were not immediately available to comment on whether they were receiving inputs for their operations or sending their concentrates in the two-day window with the blockades eased.

Other key mines including Peru’s largest copper mine Antamina, co-owned by Glencore, BHP Group, Teck Resources Ltd and Mitsubishi Corp, appear to be still drawing near normal levels of power, despite some temporary disruptions in recent months.

An analysis of power use by six key mine operators shows that combined electricity use levels have dropped overall since mid-January, with the biggest slide this month.

“The longer that the supply of raw materials remains hostage to the protests the higher the risk that affected mines either run at limited capacity or halt production entirely,” Capital Economics said in a note this week.

“Anecdotal reports and high frequency data suggest that ongoing civil unrest in Peru is beginning to choke off activity at key copper mines. But, if recent history is anything to go by, output can rebound rapidly so long as closures are brief.”

(By Marco Aquino and Adam Jourdan; Editing by Diane Craft)

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