COLUMN-For copper miners, major problems are above ground: Kemp
By John Kemp
LONDON Feb 28 (Reuters) - Copper producers have struggled to raise production even though prices for the metal have quadrupled since the turn of the century, an embarrassingly poor performance for the industry.
Producers tend to blame falling ore grades at ageing mines for the industry's failure to produce more of a supply response in the face of soaring prices.
But the real barriers to expansion of copper production, as with crude oil, live above rather than below ground.
There is no shortage of potential copper deposits, even if output from some of the older worked ore bodies is starting to decline.
New estimates from the influential U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) put undiscovered copper resources at 3.5 billion tonnes, more than double the already-identified resource base of 2.1 billion tonnes.
The potential resource base is enough to last 300 years, at current consumption rates of 20 million tonnes per year, and recycling could extend that many more centuries into the future ().
The challenge is getting the copper out of the ground in the face of an often hostile political environment. Continuación...