Mineral industry of Colombia
Mineral industry of Colombia refers to the extraction of valuable minerals or other geological materials in Colombia. Colombia is well-endowed with minerals and energy resources. It has the largest coal reserves in Latin America, and is second to Brazil in hydroelectric potential. Estimates of petroleum reserves in 1995 were 3.1 billion barrels (490,000,000 m3). Colombia also possesses significant amounts of nickel and gold. Other important metals included platinum and silver, which were extracted in much smaller quantities. Colombia also produces copper, small amounts of iron ore, and bauxite. Nonmetallic mined minerals include salt, limestone, sulfur, gypsum, dolomite, barite, feldspar, clay, magnetite, mica, talcum, and marble. Colombia also produces most of the world's emeralds. Despite the variety of minerals available for exploitation, Colombia still had to import substances such as iron, copper, and aluminum to meet its industrial needs.
Materials recovered by mining in the country include oil, with proved reserves of 1,506,000,000 bbl (239,400,000 m3) (2006 estimate) and natural gas, with annual production of 6.18 billion m3 (2004 estimate) and reserves of 114.4 billion m3 (1 January 2005 estimate).
Minerals—in particular coal, oil, and natural gas, but also emeralds, gold, and nickel—have played an important role in Colombia's GDP and foreign trade in the last 20 years. Accounting for only 1.4 percent of GDP and 13 percent of total exports be tween 1980 and 1984, minerals represented about 5 percent of GDP and 42 percent of total exports in 2006. The minerals industry has compensated to a certain extent for the decreasing role of agriculture and has expanded the importance of commodities for the economy as a whole. Colombia is the world's leading source of emeralds, and illegal mining is commonplace. However, production of precious minerals is small scale despite high international prices for minerals such as gold.
Mining of kaolinite and hematite for pottery pigments started in what is today Colombia since the mid-late neolithic, with archaeological evidence of ceramic production and sedentary groups living in El Abra settlements and the Colombian Caribbean coast (near the towns of San Jacinto, Monsú, Puerto Chacho, and Puerto Hormiga archaeological site) beginning around the year 5940 BCE around the town of San Jacinto. This would place these pottery shards among the oldest ever recovered anywhere.
The earliest examples of gold mining and goldwork have been attributed to the Tumaco people of the Pacific coast and date to around 325 BCE. Gold would play a pivotal role in luring the Spanish conquistadores to the area during the 16th century.
Gold was considered sacred by most of the precolumbian civilizations of the area. In Muisca mythology, Gold (Chiminigagua) was considered itself a deity, and the force of creation. Copper mining was very important for the classic Quimbaya civilization, which developed the tumbaga alloy.
Although significant in the colonial economy, it never commanded a large portion of Colombia's GDP in modern times. With the discovery and exploitation of large coal reserves, however, the role of mining in the national economy expanded in the late 1980s.
The discovery of 2 billion barrels (320,000,000 m3) of high-quality oil at the Cusiana and Cupiagua fields, about 200 kilometres (120 mi) east of Bogotá, has enabled Colombia to become a net oil exporter since 1986. The Transandino pipeline transports oil from Orito in the Department of Putumayo to the Pacific port of Tumaco in the Department of Nariño. Total crude oil production averages 620 thousand barrels per day (99,000 m3/d); about 184 thousand barrels per day (29,300 m3/d) is exported. The Pastrana government liberalized the petroleum investment policies, leading to an increase in exploration activity. Refining capacity cannot satisfy domestic demand, so some refined products, especially gasoline, must be imported. Plans for the construction of new refineries are under development.
While Colombia has vast hydroelectric potential, a prolonged drought in 1992 forced severe electricity rationing throughout the country until mid-1993. The consequences of the drought on electricity-generating capacity caused the government to commission the construction or upgrading of 10 thermoelectric power plants. Half will be coal-fired, and half will be fired by natural gas. The government also has begun awarding bids for the construction of a natural gas pipeline system that will extend from the country's extensive gas fields to its major population centers. Plans call for this project to make natural gas available to millions of Colombian households by the middle of the next decade.
Starting in 2004, Colombia became a net energy exporter, exporting electricity to Ecuador and developing connections to Peru, Venezuela and Panama to export to those markets as well. The Trans-Caribbean pipeline connecting western Venezuela to Panama through Colombia was inaugurated by October, 2007, thanks to cooperation between presidents Álvaro Uribe of Colombia, Martín Torrijos of Panama and Hugo Chávez of Venezuela.
Colombia's coal output has increased consistently from 4 million tons in 1981 to 65.6 million tons in 2006, when it contributed 1.4 percent of the world's coal production. In 2006 Colombia accounted for 81 percent of the total coal production in Central and South America. Furthermore, 94 percent of Colombia's coal is of very good quality and is classified as hard, with high heat-generating capacity. Coal has been Colombia's second-largest export since 2001.
The largest coal mines—and the ones that generate the most exports—are located in the north of the country, in the departments of La Guajira and Cesar. Cerrejón is considered to be one of the largest open-pit coal mines in the world. The 2008 coal production in Cerrejon was calculated in 31.2 million tons. There are also smaller coal mines scattered throughout the rest of the nation.
Since 2000 government participation in the production of coal has been decreasing, and there has been a shift to private domestic and foreign investors. Major changes have occurred in the institutional framework of the coal industry in recent years. In particular, in 2000 the government sold the stakes that Colombia Coal (Carbocol), a state-owned company, had in Cerrejón, and the new mining code introduced in 2001 led the government to concentrate on its role as regulator through the Ministry of Mines and Energy.
The Cerromatoso nickel mine, located in Montelíbano, Córdoba Department at northern Colombia, combines a lateritic nickel ore deposit with a low cost ferronickel smelter. It produces an average of 52,000 tons of nickel/year, which places this mine in the second place of nickel producers worldwide. Cerromatoso is currently owned by BHP Billiton. Disagreement among the direction and the trade union workers, with frequent strikes produced heavy losses during 2008
The production of gold during 2008 was calculated in 15482 kg, with an increase of 34.2% over the previous year. As of 2009, La Colosa mining project (to be exploited by AngloGold Ashanti) near Cajamarca, Tolima is in planning phase, with calculated reserves of 12.9 million ounces. However, there is controversy about the possible environmental damage. In the Colombian economy, Gold is the most important metal in terms of short-term revenues.
Halite was explored by the Precolumbian cultures such as the Muisca, as an important trade product. Early halite mining is dated about 5th century BC. The traditional halite mining was described by Alexander von Humboldt during his visit to Zipaquira in 1801. Nowadays, the zipaquira halite mine contains the Salt Cathedral of Zipaquira, entirely hand-carved in halite, including the Icons, ornaments and architectural details; the Park of Salt and the national Mineralogy museum.
Colombia produced 2.7 Mcarats (540 kg) of emeralds during 2008. Emerald mines are located mainly in the Boyacá Department. Colombia emeralds constitute 50-95% of the world production, the numbers depending on the year, source and emeralds grade.
The Colombian mining industry remains as one of the most dynamic and promising sectors of the Colombian economy, in just one year the investment has reached record figures in excess of 2,000 million dollars and the trend in the short term is not reversed. The mining industry contributes with the economic growth and social development and the development of the regions where the activity is legally established. In addition this demonstrates that the contribution in the social and environmental component is higher than the industry average.
Government efforts to expand mining in Colombia were needed to encourage private sector investment. In the late 1980s, much of Colombia remained inadequately charted, and reserve estimates were considered only marginally reliable. The government set a policy of developing infrastructure (roads, electricity, and communications), providing technical assistance, and encouraging sound credit and legal policies to minimize problems with land titling. Through joint ventures and the promotion of small mining companies, government officials believed that the mining sector could contribute more to national employment, income, and wealth.
Human rights and crime
Mining infrastructure is a common target of terrorist attacks, specially the oil and gas pipelines, mainly by the Farc and ELN guerrillas. The mining companies have been implicated in extortion payments to guerrillas in exchange for access to mining locations. The Caño Limón–Coveñas pipeline which travels 780 km from the Caño Limón to the Atlantic port of Coveñas has been heavily attacked, includying 170 attacks in 2002 only, The pipeline was out of operation for 266 days of that year and the government estimates that these bombings reduced the GDP of Colombia by 0.5%. The bombings, which have occurred on average once every 5 days, have caused substantial environmental damage, often in fragile rainforests and jungles.
On October 14, 1998 a pipeline exploded because of bombs placed by ELN guerrilla. The burning oil spread a fire across the Machuca village near Segovia, Antioquia. 85 peasants died and over 30 were injured. On the morning of December 13, 1998, after two days of combat between the army protecting the pipelines and the FARC, a Colombian Air Force helicopter carried out an air attack against guerrillas, near the village of Santo Domingo, including the use of cluster-bombs. After the bombing was over, the bodies of seventeen civilians were found in Santo Domingo, including seven children. The case was subsequently handed over to a Colombian military court, with convictions of 31 years of prison for the accused. The decision called for the case to be judged in civil court, for comprehensive reparations to the victims.
- Unidad de Planeación Minero Energética - UPME (2004), Boletín Estadístico de Minas y Energía 1994 - 2004. PDF file in Spanish.
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- Cerrejon Ltd.
- "Cerro matoso duplicará producción de níquel y montará planta térmica" (in Spanish).
- "Levantada la huelga de Cerro Matoso, que dejó pérdidas por 200 mil millones de pesos" (in Spanish).
- Investment opportunities in Colombian mining industry
- "Reservas inferidas de 12,9 millones de onzas de oro tiene la mina La Colosa, en Cajamarca (Tolima)" (in Spanish).
- "Minambiente da luz verde a fase exploratoria en La Colosa, pero solamente en áreas de rastrojo" (in Spanish). May 6, 2009.
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- "Estalla otro oleoducto en Colombia por atentado de las FARC" (in Spanish). May 8, 2008.
- "Machuca 1998-2008 -Un esfuerzo por construir memoria" (in Spanish). October 17, 2008.
- "Condena de 31 años para militares involucrados en bombardeo a Santo Domingo" (in Spanish). September 26, 2009.