The value of geological knowledge for Chile’s development

The value of information and geological knowledge for Chile’s development

Chile is a country determined by its geology. The most obvious features of this are: its mineral wealth that has enabled the development of a world-class mining, which has been, and will continue to be, one of its main engines of economic growth; and the existence in its territory of high risk areas due to the constant threat of various natural hazards (earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, mass removals, among others). These elements have continuously marked the evolution of its population. However, its geological history has also impacted other areas of its economic and social development in recent decades. For example, the geographic barriers and the climatic diversity of the country (fruit of great geological processes occurred millions of years ago, such as the rise of the mountain ranges of the Coast and the Andes, the formation of the Atacama Desert, the beginning of Andean volcanism, among others), have led to the emergence of a specialty agroindustry, highly competitive at a global level; and in turn, they give the country the potential to become a key player in the new industrial revolution associated with renewable energies and the green economy.

Therefore, it is surprising (and at the same time worrisome) that there is little interest in Chile about the generation of information and the development of geological knowledge of its territory.

In 2009, the National Geology and Mining Service (SERNAGEOMIN) proposed a National Geological Plan (NGP), with the purpose of filling the coverage gaps and updating the country’s basic geological information. The goal of this plan was to cover the entire national territory with charts of geology, geochemistry, and geophysics until the parallel 47 ° S by 2020. For this, an investment of 20 million dollars per year for 10 years was necessary.

Almost eight years have passed since its inception (2011), and soon to finish its Stage 1, at the Center for Copper and Mining Studies (Cesco) we believe it is good to have a general look at its main figures.

After this period, the NGP will have covered with basic information almost a third of the territory originally proposed (up to the 30 ° S parallel). For this, SERNAGEOMIN has received an average of something like 9 million dollars per year, less than half of what was originally requested. At this rate, SERNAGEOMIN will be able to complete the basic geoscientific information coverage of the country in the middle of the following decade.

In a recent study focused on evaluating the impact of the generation and dissemination of basic geoscientific information by the state of Chile, carried out by researchers from the Department of Mining Engineering UC (DIM-UC) and professionals from SERNAGEOMIN (Gildemeister et al. 2018, published in Resources Policy), shows that for every dollar that our state invests in this type of information, it returns more than USD $ 11 (current value, IRR> 20%) as a concept of exploration, development and future mining production activities which are encouraged by this newly available knowledge.

The current situation of the NGP and the lack of awareness regarding its economic return by decision makers (this study was the first to address this issue in Chile), is a sign of the little concern of our authorities and our society in general have for an area of key knowledge for the integral development of our country.

This is why a group of researchers of the DIM-UC along with SERNAGEOMIN and the Center for Studies of Copper and Mining (Cesco), supported by the Ministry of Mining, the College of Geologists of Chile and the Geological Society of Chile; we have proposed a project to address different aspects of the work of the National Vice Direction of Geology of SERNAGEOMIN and the future development of its NGP. With this project, we hope to transmit and enhance the importance of Earth Sciences for our country.

José Joaquín Jara Donoso

Member of Cesco’s board

Assistant Professor, Department of Mining Engineering UC