Chile is well known for its prolific copper production, accounting for nearly a third of the world’s total output. However, the nation’s highly productive Andean geology doesn’t just hosts world-class copper deposits — it is home to abundant precious metals resources as well.

In fact, the Chilean silver rush of the mid-19th century did much to drive demographic, infrastructural and economic growth in the South American nation, firmly establishing mining as an essential pillar of its economy.

Today, silver mining in Chile is an exciting prospect, and the nation is among the world’s top silver-producing countries, with 50.6 million ounces in silver output for 2014. It remains one of the region’s fastest-growing economies, and the “2014-2015 Global Competitiveness Report” by the World Economic Forum ranks it 33rd in the world, topping all Latin American countries.

As is the case for much of the world, in Chile silver is a by-product of copper and gold production. In 2014, Chile’s state-owned Codelco, the world’s top copper producer, rose eight spots to make it one of the world’s top silver-producing companies, with silver output of 19.9 million ounces for the year. A third of that production comes from the company’s Ministro Hales mine located on the outskirts of Calama in Northern Chile.


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Silver mining in Chile: An overview

Kinross Gold (TSX:K,NYSE:KGC) holds the La Coipa gold-silver mine in the Atacama region of Northern Chile. La Coipa contains a 2014 measured and indicated resource of 876,000 ounces of gold and 23.5 million ounces of silver. The mine was put on care and maintenance in 2013 due to higher costs.

In the third quarter of 2015, Kinross completed a prefeasibility study to review the potential for restarting operations at La Coipa using the existing infrastructure. At a gold price of $1,200 per ounce and a silver price of $17 per ounce, the estimated internal rate of return (IRR) is 20 percent with a net present value (NPV) of $120 million. The company is now moving to complete additional studies and proceed with the permitting process.

Revelo Resources (TSXV:RVL) has a joint venture agreement with Kinross on the Las Pampas epithermal gold-silver project in Northern Chile. The project is in the early exploration stage, and Kinross has the option to earn up to a 75-percent interest by making $25 million worth of exploration expenditures over nine years. To date, Kinross has completed detailed geological mapping over key parts of the property, as well as geochemical sampling of more than 5,000 samples and detailed ground magnetics surveying. Revelo also holds three other early exploration-stage gold-silver properties in Northern Chile that are available for joint ventures.

Gold Fields (NYSE:GFI) is actively exploring its Salares Norte gold-silver project located in the Maricunga belt of the Atacama region of Northern Chile. The project has an inferred mineral resource of 3.1 million ounces of gold and 33.6 million ounces of silver. The company recently completed a $24-million exploration campaign at Salares Norte. The results will form the basis of an updated resource estimate due out in early 2016.

In the same mineral belt as Gold Fields’ Salares Norte, Mirasol Resources’ (TSX-V:MRZ) partner Yamana Gold (TSX:YRI,NYSE: