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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 . 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 billion bbl (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).Unidad de Planeacion Minero Energetica - UPME (2004), Boletin Estadistico de Minas y Energia 1994 - 2004. PDF file in Spanish.


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 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 of high-quality oil at the Cusiana and Cupiagua fields, about east of Bogota, 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 Narino.

Total crude oil production averages ; about 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.

Natural gas

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 Alvaro Uribe of Colombia, Martin Torrijos of Panama and Hugo Chavez of Venezuela.


In 1976, Started the development of Cerrejon Coal mine, located in the Guajira Peninsula. It is the largest mining operation in Colombia and among the largest open pit coal mines in the world. The legal entity managing the Cerrejon operation is known as the Cerrejon Coal Company, and is a joint venture of three international mining firms BHP Billiton, Anglo American PLC and Glencore International AG, each with a 33.3% shareholding; in 2006, Glencore's operations were bought by Xstrata Plc. The 2008 coal production in Cerrejon was calculated in 31.2 million tons. Other locations of coal mines in Colombia are: Sogamoso, Tunja, Paipa, Zipaquira, Tabio, Neusa, Chinacota and Chitaga among others.


The Cerromatoso nickel mine, located in Montelibano, Cordoba Department at northern Colombia, combines a lateritic nickel ore deposit with a low cost ferronickel smelter. It produces an average of 52000 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 tonnes. 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 of emeralds during 2008. Emerald mines are located mainly in the Boyaca 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 , 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 Cano Limon-Covenas pipeline which travels 780 km from the Cano Limon to the Atlantic port of Covenas 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.

In 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.

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