* Chile copper output seen at record high this year
* Investment pace seen slowing in mining powerhouse
By Fabian Cambero
SANTIAGO, Jan 15 (Reuters) - Chile’s incoming center-left government must find solutions for the roughly $40 billion in mining projects which have been put on ice or delayed in the world’s top copper producer, the SONAMI mining association urged on Wednesday.
President-elect Michelle Bachelet will take the reins of the country, a mining powerhouse, on March 11 with a strong mandate for reform.
Awaiting her are a number of mining and energy projects which have been delayed due to unclear regulations and increasing opposition from local communities and environmental groups.
Other projects and expansions have been put under revision or pushed back as metal prices slip and production costs increase.
Despite the $40 billion in delayed or blocked investments, SONAMI’s overall forecast for $100 billion investment in the Chilean mining industry is still intact, said Alberto Salas, president of the organization.
That amount was forecast to be funneled into the Andean country within the next 10 to 12 years, according to an estimate in January of last year. However, the delays mean it could now take longer to materialize than previously forecast.
One of the most emblematic reversals was Barrick Gold Corp’s roughly $8.5 billion Pascua-Lama gold mine project.
The environmental regulator suspended the controversial investment last year, citing “severe environmental harm” because pre-stripping activities had begun before water protection infrastructure was finished, threatening local water supply.
Fellow Canadian miner Goldcorp’s roughly $3.9 billion El Morro copper and gold mine has also been blocked. An indigenous community says it was not properly consulted about the project, which it says is planned on sacred ancestral land and could pollute a local river.
Like many of its resource-intensive Latin American peers, Chile is struggling to find a balance between its mining-led growth and environmental protection.
Copper accounts for roughly 60 percent of the country’s export revenue, at a time when citizens are clamoring for improved education, health care and pensions.
Chile’s copper output is seen rising to top 6 million tonnes this year, a record level and up from last year’s estimated 5.77 million tonnes, boosted by higher production at privately held mines and as new projects come on line, SONAMI said.
Recoveries at the massive Escondida mine, run by global miner BHP Billiton, and the Collahuasi mine, a partnership between Glencore Xstrata Plc and Anglo American Plc, have boosted Chile’s mining industry in the past months.
State copper miner Codelco’s new $3 billion Ministro Hales copper project in Northern Chile is also set to nudge up overall production.
SONAMI represents some 70 miners and aims to foster the development of private mining in Chile.