Escondida mine is located 170 km southeast of the city of Antofagasta, at 3,100 meters above sea level.

The Escondida ore access project will involve crushing and conveying facilities currently located inside Escondida’s main pit to improve access to higher grade ore and thereby support higher production from 2013.

BHP Billiton base metals president Peter Beaven said the ongoing exploration program suggests the basin retains a number of options for further development.

"In addition to the project announced today, we are studying a number of additional opportunities to improve access to higher grade ore and increase processing capacity over the years to come." Beaven said.

Work is expected to be complete next year.

BHP Billiton has 57.5% stake in the copper mine with Rio Tinto holding 30%, JECO Corporation 10% and JECO 2 2.5%.