American Drillers Line Up to Unlock Colombian Copper Riches

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Colombia is looking to reduce its dependence on oil and coal by developing copper deposits ahead of a forecast surge in demand for metals used in rechargeable batteries.

Authorities plan to award five copper exploration blocks by the end of June in Cordoba and La Guajira provinces, where much of Colombia’s coal is mined. U.S. and Canadian juniors, as well as firms already operating locally, are leading the interest, Mines and Energy Minister Diego Mesa said. A streamlined permitting process to shorten the path to production is among the incentives.

“Colombia could become one of the main producers of gold and copper,” he said in an interview Thursday. “We know that the copper belt starts in Chile, continues through Peru, finishes in Panama.”

While the nation will continue to churn out fossil fuels, albeit in lower quantities, a global electrification trend signals greater demand for metals including copper, nickel and gold, Mesa said. The price of copper has doubled in the past year to the highest in almost a decade.

Colombia is part of that transition toward cleaner energy, with a 7,000-megawatt pipeline of solar, wind and bioenergy projects.

The country will kick off a renewable energy auction in the second half of the year, with companies including Celsia SA, Enel Green Power SpA, Isagen SA, Electricite de France SA, seen as potential bidders.

Colombia is also seeking to promote the use of electric vehicles, an industry whose sales grew 90% last year, the minister said. It’s expected to sell about 10,000 hybrid and electric vehicles this year alone, surpassing a four-year target of 6,600 set in 2018.

Cities including Bogota, Medellin and Cali are turning their attention toward electric mobility. “The mass transportation system is going to have the largest fleet of electric vehicles in the world except for China,” Mesa said.

Car companies will bring new models into the Colombian market as it becomes more competitive. “People, I think, became more conscious with the pandemic of their environmental footprint,” he said.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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