The Cerrejon coal mine is a high quality thermal coal mining operation located in La Guajira, Colombia. Image courtesy of Tanenhaus.
The coal output of the Cerrejon mine is transported over 150km to the port of Puerto Bolivar. Image courtesy of Cerrejon.
The Cerrejon coal mine produced 25.8Mt of coal in 2019. Image courtesy of Cerrejon.

The Cerrejon coal mine in Colombia is the biggest open-cast coal mine in Latin America and one of the largest surface coal mining operations in the world.

It is a high-quality thermal coal mining operation jointly owned by Anglo American, BHP, and Glencore each holding one-third of the shares.

Although the mining activities at Cerrejon were started in 1976, a direct-loading system was implemented at the port of Puerto Bolivar for exporting the coal output of the mine in 1985.

The Cerrejon coal mine produced 25.8 million tonnes (Mt) of coal in 2019. However, the production during 2020 has been disrupted because of the COVID-19 pandemic as well as the temporary suspension of the mining operations due to the labour union strike in September 2020.

The remaining mine life of Cerrejon is estimated to be until 2033 with the mineral claims within the project area scheduled to expire progressively from 2028 onwards.

Project location and geology

The Cerrejon coal mine is located in the department of La Guajira in Colombia. The mining concession covers an area of approximately 69,000ha, spanning over the municipalities of Albania, and Barrancas y Hatonuevo.

The coal mine lies within the El Cerrejon sub-basin which is dominated by deltaic rocks of the Paleogene-age sequence, containing up to 40 economic coal beds intercalated between shale and siltstone.

The Cerrejon formation is subdivided into the lower, middle, and upper sub-groups with the coal bed thickness ranging from 0.7m to 10m.

The coalfield as a whole comprises the north, central, and southern zones, of which the north zone is the largest.

The Cerrejon coal mine was also the site of the discovery of the world’s largest-ever fossilised vertebra of a snake (Titanoboa Cerrejonensis) in 2007.

Coal reserves at Cerrejon

The Cerrejon coal mine was estimated to hold 337.9Mt of proven and probable coal reserves grading 6040 kcal/kg as of December 2019.

The total measured and indicated resources at the mine was estimated to be 4156.3Mt.

Mining and coal handling

The Cerrejon coal mine has a total of 6 open-pits in operation. The conventional open-pit mining methods of drill and blast are used for overburden removal and coal extraction, while the shovel and loading operations are carried out with the use of a P&H2800 XPC excavator with 63.5t bucket payload, and a fleet of 190t trucks to transfer the extracted coal for processing.

The waste and rock removal are done by shovels while 240t and 320t haul trucks are used to transfer it to the dumpsites for land reclamation.

Approximately 65% of the mined coal is transported to the hoppers for crushing and processing while the remaining 35% is stockpiled. The crushing hoppers feed two crushing plants with a capacity of 6000tph and 2200tph respectively. The crushed ore is transported via conveyor belts to two storage silos, each with a capacity of 10,500t.

The coal from the silos is loaded on to 120t train wagons and is railed over 150km to the port of Puerto Bolivar for export. The mine dispatches up to nine train trips a day to Puerto Bolivar.

Contractors involved

SNC Lavalin was engaged in a major mining infrastructure upgrade and operation optimisation project in 2011 that involved the mine facility upgrades, railway network expansion, as well as the improvement of port material handling facilities at Puerto Bolivar.