Cerrejon Coal is Colombia's largest coal exporting company. All coal is exported through the Puerto Bolivar terminal, which is linked to the operations by a rail line dedicated to coal transport.
The operation is a joint venture owned in equal parts by a consortium comprising BHP Billiton, Anglo American and Xstrata.
Cerrejón is the world's largest export open pit coal mining operation and it is located in La Guajira state, in the north-eastern part of Colombia.
This area of these coal deposits is 69,000 hectares, in which five areas are contracted:
North Zone, Patilla, Oreganal and South Zone with the Colombian State and Central Zone with Comunidad de El Cerrejón.
Open pit mining is an operation that starts with the cleaning of the surface and the careful removal of the topsoil layer, which is stored for future rehabilitation of the land used. Then drilling and blasting are carried out, followed by the removal of overburden material, until the coal seams are exposed.
Coal is loaded and transported in trucks from the mine to the stock piles and crushers, and then is taken to two silos that load the train.
The equipment and machinery used at the mine are among the largest and most modern. There are also shops on site for carrying out maintenance of trucks, tractors and scrapers. Other facilities include reconstruction shops, administrative offices and telecommunications systems between the mine, the railway, the port and Bogotá.
The mine is located in La Guajira state of north-eastern Colombia. Cerrejon mine is connected to the Caribbean port of Puerto Bolivar by a 150 km long standard-gauge railroad. The port is 45 minutes away from Uribia. Both the mine and the port have airports.
Geology and Mineralization
Some 60 to 58 million years ago a neo-tropical multistratified rainforest developed in the Guajira region. The tropical swampy environment evolved from an estuarine coastal plain to a fluvial influenced coastal plain.
Palynological studies noted that the swamps hosted distinct vegetation consisting of few species of plants that were well adapted to the wet and brackish environment. The plants would become the source of the Guajira coal deposits.
The Cerrejon Basin was subsequently subjected to different periods of tectonic movement that generated faults and thrusts. The basin itself is bounded by faults, some of which divide it into blocks also affected by folding.
Cerrejon coal deposits cover an area of 69,000 ha. The mine exploits over 40 important coal seams. Seam thickness range from just less than 1 m to 10 m and dip at 16 degree.
The coal is characterized as a tertiary low sulfur (0.7 percent) and ash (7.5 percent), non-caking bituminous coal. It is used in power generation plants and also by the steel industry for pulverized fuel injection (PFI) applications. Total proven in-situ reserves amounted to almost 1 billion tones to 100 m depth. Surface run-of-mine reserves covered by the present contract totaled 876 million tones.
The amalgamation of Carbones del Cerrejon (CdelC) and Cerrejon Zona Norte (CZN) created one of the world's foremost producers of export energy coal, consolidating Colombia's position as a leading supplier of energy coal to the European market.
The Cerrejon coal deposits are located in the Guajira region of northern Colombia.
Cerrejon's open cut mines now represent one of the biggest earthmoving operations worldwide. Approximately one million tonnes of material are moved every day, 365 days per year. To achieve this, the operation runs one of the biggest fleets of shovels and trucks in the world. The company employs nearly 4,000 people, with approximately the same number engaged as contractors.
Approximately 70% of the coal mined is crushed immediately and then railed, while the remaining 30% is stockpiled, according to calorific value and ash and sulphur contents. This coal is subsequently reclaimed, crushed and blended to adjust the quality of coal being railed at any particular time. At the mine and after crushing, coal quality is measured by analyzing samples taken by an automatic sampler. Rapid laboratory analysis techniques provide feedback on proximate quality parameters within a two-hour period, before being loaded into trains.
Once at the port, the coal is stockpiled and reclaimed such the overall variability within the coal shipment is minimized. Cerrejon's certified sampling station, operated by a third party Inspection Company, certifies the coal quality being loaded into vessels. The port of Puerto Bolívar is capable of loading ocean-going vessels from handysize of 25 kt up to capesize of 175 kt. subject to acceptance by port authorities.
Environment and Community
The integrated mining operation has in place an extensive environmental management program of water, air, soil, vegetation and fauna resources. Air quality is monitored by a network of 18 stations.
Rehabilitation of the mining areas involves stope backfilling, soil stabilization by planting local species of grass followed by re-planting of native trees and wood producing forest.
Cerrejon mine manages to use only 30% of the groundwater granted by the environmental authority. In 2003 the operation has been ISO 14001 certified.
The integrated operation employs about 10,400 people and during its existence provided royalty payments that have totaled US$870 million. Seventy percent of its workforce is made of Guajira residents and the local union enlisted some 3,600 members.