Exploration forms part of Capstone's strategy to grow our production profile. In addition to exploration at, or in the vicinity of, our mines aimed at increasing mine life, we typically hold a portfolio of early stage base metals exploration projects that have the potential to add to production over the longer term.
Our exploration focus is in mining friendly jurisdictions, with preference given to areas where a team is in place and the permitting process is well understood. In addition to our own exploration properties, investments have been made in exploration partnerships and joint ventures with exploration-focused companies and we continue to evaluate additional opportunities on an ongoing basis.
Our continued focus on developing exploration opportunities at our operating mines has yielded great results with the Cozamin Mine mill throughput tripling since start up in 2006, and the mine life extending from three years at start up to six years currently in reserve, with further exploration opportunities. At Minto Mine, our discovery of ten deposits in six years has allowed us to more than double the mill throughput since start up in 2007 and has extended the mine life with further underground exploration opportunities. We aim to continue ongoing exploration programs at our mines to provide organic mineral resource growth.
The Iron Oxide-Copper-Gold (IOCG) belt stretches over a length of almost 1,200 kilometres from just north of Santiago in the south, to the city of Antofagasta in the north along the coastal cordillera of Chile. The belt is one of the most prospective IOCG provinces in the world and hosts numerous large copper deposits, including Candelaria operated by Freeport-McMoRan (470Mt at 0.95% Cu) and Manto Verde operated by Anglo American (350Mt at 0.75% Cu).
The Chilean IOCG belt has traditionally been under explored and the exploration potential for IOCG deposits remains high. Large parts of the belt are under cover similar to Santo Domingo and, using the knowledge obtained through the 2005 Santo Domingo discovery, Capstone is continuing exploration activities.
Capstone has an option agreement with Sociedad Química y Minera de Chile S.A. (SQM) to earn up to 70% of Project Providencia by spending on exploration and land holding costs. The project is located 50 kilometres east of the city of Taltal in Region II, approximately half way between Capstone's Santo Domingo Project and Anglo American's Mantos Blancos copper mine at a mean elevation of 1,800 metres above sea level with mostly gentle topography and the Pan-American Highway cutting through the centre of the block. The initial option was on 350,000 hectares (3,500 square kilometres), reducing over time to a maximum of 50,000 hectares if a joint venture is ultimately formed.
Capstone may earn up to a 65% interest in Project Providencia by making option payments of $2 million in 2017, payable in Capstone shares, and spending an additional $5 million in exploration expenditures by 2020. Capstone has the right to increase its ownership interest to 70% by making additional option payments of $4 million and completing a prefeasibility study by January 23, 2024.
Work at Project Providencia in Q4 2016 centered on testing the extension of the Julia-Angela Iron Oxide Copper Gold (IOCG) prospect located 18km to the southwest of Nitona, one of the Project Providencia’s top ranked targets within the Stratabound Corridor. Six reverse circulation (RC) holes of moderate depth were completed to the NE and SW of Julia-Angela. Additionally, late in the quarter, Capstone submitted an Environmental Impact Declaration for Nitona in order to obtain the necessary permits to advance the project in 2017 and beyond.