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The Argentine Republic, or Argentina, is a sparsely populated country on the continent of South America, with a population of 44.3 million. It is the 8th largest country in the world, with an area of 2.8 million sq km which covers most of the southern half of South America. Due to its length of almost 4000 km, the climate of the country ranges from the rainforest-covered tropics of the north to the sub-Antarctic conditions in the south.
Argentina is a country of abundant natural resources, is a member of the G-15 and G-20 major economies and has one of the strongest economies in Latin America.
This article will give an overview of the major mineral resources present in Argentina, the evolution of mining industry and what the future may hold for mining in Argentina.
Resources in Argentina
A century ago, Argentina was one of the richest countries in the world due to its natural resources. However, political and economic turmoil have dogged the nation over the last 100 years, making it difficult for the country to retain its place as an economic superpower.
The important mineral resources present in the country include lead, zinc, tin, copper, iron ore, manganese, petroleum, uranium, and lithium.
As a recognized ‘middle power’ with a ‘very high’ human development index rating, Argentina has a stable government and has secure mining policies and legislation in place. In a forward-thinking move towards sustainability, a law was passed in 2010 forbidding mining in and around the large glaciers in the south of the country. A tax on the export of copper, gold, and silver is also in place.
The majority of mining in Argentina is open pit mining and only two underground mines currently open partly due to the lack of contractible drilling companies in Argentina.
In addition to traditional mining products, Argentina produces more biofuel than any other country. However, the biofuel production in 2018 is expected to drop compared to previous years. This is because of the anti-subsidy duties and anti-dumping duties set by US government on biodiesel from Argentina. The Argentina government has also increased the export duties on diesel from 8 to 15% from July 2018.
In 2010, according to the USGS, 16% of the country’s economy was accounted for by the mining sector.
Data Source: US Department of State and USGS. Percentage estimates collected in 2010.
Argentina has the world’s third-largest Lithium reserve. The lithium is found in solutions or brines that are extracted via aquifers. It is estimated that Argentina contains more than 80% of the world’s reserves of lithium brine just in the Puna Plateau in the northwest. Lithium is extremely important in the car manufacturing industry and due to this, there has been a large increase in lithium exploration in the country. In 2010, Argentina was estimated to be the 4th highest producer of lithium in the world.
One of the four most important mining projects in Argentina is focussed on lithium, the Salar del Hombre Muerto-Fenix Project. This is owned by Minera del Altiplano SA (FMC Lithium Co.).
These brines are also rich in boron and potassium. Boron is also present in large quantities, from the lithium brine and other sources. Argentina was the second largest producer of boron in South America in 2015.
Argentina is also approximately the world’s fourth highest producer of strontium derived from celestite.
Cadmium is also extracted in economically viable amounts and can be used in the manufacturing sector.
Important metals found in Argentina are copper, gold, silver, and zinc. The region of Argentina adjacent to the Andes is possibly one of the most metal-rich areas in the world.
The Bajo de la Alumbrera mine, owned by Minera Alumbrera S.A., produces copper and gold. The mine produced approximately 140,000 tons of copper ore in 2014.
The Cerro Vanguardia, owned by Anglo Gold Ashanti, produces gold and silver. In 2010, 6,500 kg of gold was extracted from here.
Another important gold mine is the Barrick Veladero mine.
Though there is little coal to speak of mined in Argentina, natural gas and crude petroleum are important resources.
The proven oil reserves in Argentina are the 32ndhighest in the world, estimated to be around 2.5 billion barrels in 2014. In 2010, the country produced 763 600 barrels of oil per day, much of which was exported, making it one of the top 30 oil producing nations in the world.
Argentina is the 35th largest proven national reserve of natural gas, with around 430,000 million cu m.
Argentina also claims sovereignty over the Falkland Islands, or Islas Malvinas, a small group of islands off the coast of mainland Argentina, which are currently being explored for oil and gas reserves. Argentina renewed its claims over Argentina in 2012. In 2016, Argentina and UK decided to take measures to co-operate and positively engage in order to improve the economic growth and development of the Falkland Islands.
Uranium, which can be used as a fuel in nuclear energy, is also present in minable amounts.
Despite the wealth of resources, mining has not traditionally been big business in Argentina, and the country has been more focussed on farming. Until the 90’s, most of the mining was geared toward the construction industry. However, in recent years this has shifted slightly, as in 1992 the government opened the mining sector to private companies. This led to a rise in international trade, investment, and exploration.
The rich, fertile ground of the pampas plains has traditionally been the primary source of wealth for the people of Argentina. Image Credits: US Department Of State.
Since the 1970’s the mining exports of Argentina have increased substantially, from US$70 million to over US$4019 million in 2016. This has been achieved primarily by the 4 important mines mentioned previously in the article.
The main nations that Argentina exports to are Brazil (21.1%), China (8.5%), Chile (6.6%) and USA (5.1%).
There are many perceived benefits of the mining in Argentina. The mining market in Argentina is transparent, easy to access, and foreign and domestic investors are encouraged. Due to the size of the country, there are still large areas that have not been fully explored and so junior exploration companies can benefit from this.
Disclaimer: The Author of this article does not imply any investment recommendation and some content is speculative in nature. The Author is not affiliated in any way with any companies mentioned and all statistical information is publically available.
Sources and Further Reading
This article was updated on the 11th November 2018.