Access to the Property is best from the northern Chilean port city of Antofagasta. Antofagasta is currently serviced from Santiago by seven daily domestic flights of nearly 2 hours duration. From Antofagasta, Highway 5 extends southward in the direction of Santiago, and 55 km to the south, at the Las Primas intersection, a 36 km all-weather dirt road leads to the Property. The total road distance from Antofagasta to the Property is 96 km.
Alternatively, Antofagasta (and the Property) can be accessed from Santiago by road. The distance from Santiago to Antofagasta is approximately 1,361 km and it takes about 17 hours to drive.
The Property is located in the intermediary depression of the Chilean Atacama Desert. The normal desert climate, present in areas between 1,000 masl and 2,000 masl, is characterized by a very low relative humidity, virtual lack of precipitation, practically no oceanic influence and clear skies during the whole year. Average annual precipitation does not exceed 10 mm. Due to the extreme aridity, there is practically no natural vegetation or fauna in the area. The Atacama Desert along the Pacific Coast of Chile and Peru is one of the driest and possibly oldest deserts in the world.
Between 1994 and 1998 there was only one significant rain event of 2.3 mm, possibly a rain from a heavy fog, which occurred near midnight local time. It is of interest that the strong El Niño of 1997-1998 brought heavy rainfall to the deserts of Peru, but did not bring significant rain to the central Atacama Desert in Chile. Dew occurs frequently following high levels of night time relative humidity, but is not a significant source of moisture in the soil or under stones. Groundwater also does not contribute to surface moisture.
At Aguas Blancas, temperatures vary between 5°C and 28°C, with averages around 18°C. Freezing temperatures are rare, but large temperature differences between day and night are common.
The Aguas Blancas Property is a relatively flat area, located at the upper slopes of large alluvial fans on the western side of the Atacama Desert. Elevations at the Property ranges from 970 to 1,160 masl.
The Property contains many tracks (or huellas, a commonly used local term), most of them remaining from previous exploration campaigns or from the previous and current mining. The condition of these tracks is often good to moderate, but a 4-wheel drive truck is advisable for moving within the area, because the soil outside the tracks is very loose. The main access road, linking the Property to Highway 5, is not paved, but is in very good condition.
Sirocco maintains a permanent mining camp at the Property, at an elevation of 1,000 masl, with excellent office and living conditions, mechanical and electrical workshops, telephone and internet communications and in-house generated electricity. Water supply is maintained from a battery of special drill holes managed by Sirocco. Water for human consumption is purified at the camp.
Antofagasta (estimated population of over 300,000) is the only permanent settlement located in proximity to the Property. Known as the capital of Chilean mining, Antofagasta is the fourth largest population center in Chile, after Santiago, Concepción and Valparaiso/Viña del Mar. Calama, the second major mining center in the region (estimated population of 125,000), is located 210 km north-east of Antofagasta. Both cities can easily provide the basic goods, services and accommodations for the early and advanced stages of project development, as well as labour and technical requirements for various stages of exploration and development projects, including modern airports, and a sea port at Antofagasta. More sophisticated needs would generally have to be serviced from Santiago. Chile has an excellent telecommunication network, and most of the main cities and towns are connected to a fibre optic network and/or have cellular phone coverage.
The mining industry is the most important economic activity in the II Region. The industry supplies 53% of the national mining production, mainly due to copper, but also from lithium, iodine, nitrates and ulexite. However, other industries have had a considerable development during the last decades, among them fishing and cement, as well as the port activities and other services.
The most important nearby active mine is Escondida, a joint venture between BHP-Billiton (57.5%), Rio Tinto (30%), a Japanese consortium (10%) and the International Finance Corporation (2.5%), which is located approximately 90 km east of Aguas Blancas. Escondida is a world-class copper producer, with nearly 2,000 Mt of combined oxide+sulphide copper ore and over 230,000t/d ore throughput. Other major mining operations are active in the II Region, among them Chuquicamata and Radomiro Tomic (Codelco), Mantos Blancos (Anglo American), El Abra (Freeport-McMoRan/Codelco), Carolina de Michilla (Antofagasta Minerals), etc. Other major industries are the La Negra Altonorte copper smelter (Noranda), the Inacesa cement plant (Cemento Bio-Bio), both of them situated at La Negra, 16 km from Antofagata, and two lithium processing plants near Antofagasta, one of them operated by Sociedad Chilena del Litio (SCL), and the second one by Soquimich (SQM).
SQM operates various caliche mines in the II Region. María Elena and Pedro de Valdivia are located 200 km northeast of Antofagasta, and Pampa Blanca is located 100 km northeast of Antofagasta. The three operations have a combined production of 900,000 t/y nitrates (sodium, potassium and mixed), as well as 5,000 t/y iodine and 80,000 t/y sodium sulfate.
The PCS Yumbes processing plant, also operated by SQM and located 145 km south of Antofagasta, produces potassium and sodium nitrates from salts transported from Pampas Blancas. The mining operations at PCS Yumbes are currently halted. No recent production figures are available, but in 2003 the yearly production capacity was quoted at 285,000 t of potassium nitrate and 60,000 t of sodium nitrate.
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