Regional Focus: Chile

Regional Focus: Chile


The early 1990s saw a significant rebound in global mining activity after a mild recession in 1991, and the opening up of mining activity in South America presented new opportunities for Knight Piésold. This was recognized by the operations in the UK, USA, and Canada, all of which had clients looking at new projects in South America. The initial focus was on Chile and Peru, where both countries had a long history of major mining activity, and Argentina, where the Vancouver office had begun working on the Alumbrera project in 1992.

In 1993 Knight Piésold UK put forward a candidate, Mike Froude, to open an office in Santiago, Chile, and the three operations in the UK, USA, and Canada agreed to jointly fund a new office. Froude travelled to the Denver and Vancouver offices to discuss business opportunities in Chile and confirm arrangements for the new office. The office was duly opened on August 19, 1993, as Knight Piésold S.A. Once significant work started to accumulate, a local engineer, Hernán Andrade was hired, and in 1995 he took over as general manager when Froude returned to the UK.

The company’s first major project in Chile was the Guanaco project, where the Santiago office carried out the design and field monitoring for the construction of Phase II of the leaching stack with support from the Denver and Vancouver offices.

The advancement of the Alumbrera project to final design and construction allowed the Santiago office to work in conjunction with the Vancouver office. Later, the coordination of this project was assumed to a greater extent by the Santiago office, which continues to date. Other projects that Knight Piésold Chile were involved in at that time were Quebrada Blanca, Pullalli, Andacollo Copper, which the company continued working on in its successive expansions until 2019, and Refugio, which the company continued working on its expansions and providing other services to until 2015.

An office was established in Buenos Aires, Argentina in 1996 to assist with these projects, and an entity was later registered in San Juan by Knight Piésold Chile in order to carry out work on the Veladero project in San Juan province. This entity, registered as Knight Piésold Argentina Consultores S.A. on September 5, 2005, eventually became Knight Piésold Argentina, with offices later opening in Mendoza and Neuquén.

In the early years of Knight Piésold Chile, engineering work was mainly focused on the geotechnical design of tailings dams and heap leach pads plus the development of basic studies relating to geotechnics, hydrology, and hydrogeology.

In 1997 the company began work in the environmental area. One of the first environmental impact studies (EIS) carried out by Knight Piésold Chile was that of the Lomas Bayas project, where the main work consisted of developing a baseline study focused specifically on archaeology, flora and fauna, and air quality; identifying potential environmental impacts in the area of influence of the aqueduct for drinking water; considering the construction, operation, and closure stages; and developing an environmental management plan.

The Asian financial crisis of 1998 affected the office’s growth, leading to reduced costs, optimizing internal processes, and finding new clients.

The new millennium brought many achievements in the environmental sector, including the first EIS in Argentina and Chile. Given the evolution of the environmental assessment system in Chile, there was a growing number of projects. In 2004 the company developed an EIS for the Mansa Mina project (now the Ministro Hales Mine), as well as Barrick’s Veladero project, which presented the challenge of being the first major mining project in San Juan, Argentina. At that time, the environmental group had grown to around 10 to 12 people.

In the 2000–2005 period, Knight Piésold Chile developed projects relating to tailings storage facilities such as Colquiri in Bolivia; Aguilar in Argentina; and Toromocho, Michiquillay, and Huachuacaja in Peru, and heap leach projects such as Milpillas in Mexico, Kori Chaca in Bolivia, and Cerro Bayo in Chile.

In 2005 Knight Piésold Chile was awarded two environmental audits: (1) an audit to the Integral Development Project of Minera Los Pelambres and (2) a National Environmental Audit to the Valdivia Cellulose Plant (Celulosa Arauco y Constitución). The following year, the company began developing the EIS of the Falconbridge-owned El Morro mining project, which was the first mining project to present a water desalination plant for its mining process, pioneering a strategy in response to the projected water scarcity in the country. The EIS was introduced in 2008 and approved in 2010.

Several energy projects also began to be developed, and in 2008 Knight Piésold Chile was awarded the EIS for the Cuervo Hydropower Plant, located in the Aysén Region. The project presented the challenge of being the first EIS of a major energy project, located in an extreme zone in the south of Chile and with growing opposition to the installation of this type of project because of the biodiversity in the area.

The hydrogeological area also continued to grow with the addition of key professionals. Some work was carried out in Chile, and support was provided to Knight Piésold Peru, after the development of the hydrogeological model of the Talabre dam in 2010.

After the global financial crisis of 2008–2009, the economy rebounded between 2010 and 2012 with the boom in the price of copper. Some key work included the Chuquicamata underground mine, Río Blanco hydropower plant, electric transmission lines, and run-of-river plants, among others. The team at that time consisted of around 30 people.

In the 2005–2010 period, Knight Piésold Chile led or participated in a series of tailings dam projects such as Talabre, Aguas Blancas, Zaldívar, and Ovejería in Chile; El Pachón in Argentina; Galeno in Peru; and Pinos Altos in Mexico, and heap leach projects such as Tía María in Peru, Kori Chaca in Bolivia, and Antucoya in Chile.

In the 2010–2015 period, Knight Piésold Chile led or participated in a series of tailings dam projects such as Angostura in Colombia; San Bartolomé and San Cristóbal in Bolivia; and Caspiche, El Espino, Talabre, Santo Domingo, and Sierra Gorda in Chile, and leaching projects such Leached Ore Chuquicamata and Franke in Chile.

Mario Lazo joined the company in 2016 and succeeded Hernán Andrade, who left the role of general manager after 21 years of managing the company. Lazo had served as the chief executive officer of Alpina Chile for two years prior to joining the company and as the general manager of MWH Chile for eight years following his three-year role as operations manager. With the arrival of the new management, there was a significant strengthening of the professional team in the engineering area and with it, access to large multidisciplinary projects such as the IX Stage of the Talabre TMF construction, among others.

Knight Piésold Chile was awarded the pre-feasibility study of the IX Stage of the Talabre TMF in 2018 and then the feasibility level design in March 2020. The design included auxiliary and complementary works that allow operational continuity at the deposit while reducing the CAPEX obtained in the pre-feasibility study by at least 20%. The project involved more than 130,000 person-hours of engineering and served as the basis for the development of Building Information Modelling (BIM)—becoming the first Knight Piésold office to implement this technology.

At the end of 2019, Knight Piésold Chile and Knight Piésold USA teamed up to strategically develop an office in Mexico. This coincided with the interests of a very important client in Mexico that contracted Knight Piésold's services to update the design and construction standards of more than 41 tailings dams. Since January 2020, both operations have been working together in developing high-level technical engineering for the client’s projects and opening an office in Mexico City in mid-August 2020.

ISO 9001 certification was obtained in 2020, a process that had been in preparation for several years, with the implementation of the quality management system beginning in 2018.

For over 28 years, Knight Piésold Chile has grown from one person to over 60 professional staff serving clients in Chile and South America in the engineering and environmental areas. Through various global financial crises and slowdowns to the 2020–2021 COVID-19 pandemic, the company has adapted, overcoming challenges and maintaining competitiveness in the Chilean mining and hydropower industries.

"It is an amazing achievement to be part of this journey with Knight Piésold. We are always looking forward to continue working together with our colleagues and clients around the world," says General Manager Mario Lazo.


Office in:

Key Projects:

  • El Morro
  • Santo Domingo
  • El Way
  • IX Stage of Talabre TMF Construction
  • Alumbrera
  • Cuervo Hydroelectric
  • Salares Norte
  • Celulosa Arauco
  • La Coipa
  • Refugio
  • Sierra Gorda
  • Pascua Lama
  • Andacollo
  • Ministro Hales
  • Carén
  • Agua Rica
  • Knight Piésold Mexico Development (Peñoles Program Management)