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TORONTO (TheStreet) -- In agreeing to acquire a 70% stake in a Chilean copper and gold project from the Swiss miner Xstrata, Barrick Gold (ABX) will add another asset to its territory in the mineral-rich Andean nation.

Monday morning, Barrick agreed to buy the stake in the as-yet untapped El Morro mine for $465 million in cash.

Another Canadian miner,

New Gold

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, indirectly owns the other 30% of El Morro. It also holds a right of first refusal, and has until January 11 to decide whether or not it will step in to buy the stake.

Jim Rogers Talks Gold

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In Chile, Barrick already controls a project just now entering construction, called Pascua-Lama, as well as a 50% stake in another mine, the Cerro Casale project. In a press release, Barrick said it will seek "to capture potential construction and future operating synergies" between the various assets, which all lie within 180 kilometers of one another.

With the deal, Barrick would also acquire a feasibility study that Xstrata spent $70 million to complete, as well as the right to explore 800 square kilometers of further land in the Atacama region, a desert plateau sandwiched between the Pacific and the Andes. Considered the driest place on earth, Atacama has long been home to some of the world's largest active copper and gold mines.

According to Xstrata's study, 8.3 million ounces of gold and 6.3 billion pounds of copper lie under the El Morro plot. Still, those 800 square kilometers of unexplored territory outside of El Morro proper are what appear to excite Barrick executives the most.

"Our immediate focus will be on optimizing the current feasibility study and further exploring the associated large land position, which we believe has considerable promise," the company's chief, Aaron Regent, said in a statement.

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Regent ought to know. He was formerly chief of the legacy owner of El Morrow, the Canadian mining concern


, which was acquired by Xstrata in 2006.

Barrick's head of global exploration, Rob Krcmarov, also weighed in on the prospects of hitting more pay dirt in the desert, saying that the company sees "a number of strong drill-ready targets outside of the resource area and

has planned an aggressive exploration program to test these."

Barrick shares were trading Monday afternoon at $39.11, down about 1% from the previous close. New Gold shares, meanwhile, were moving at $4.32, up about 1.2%.

-- Written by Scott Eden in New York

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Scott Eden has covered business -- both large and small -- for more than a decade. Prior to joining, he worked as a features reporter for Dealmaker and Trader Monthly magazines. Before that, he wrote for the Chicago Reader, that city's weekly paper. Early in his career, he was a staff reporter at the Dow Jones News Service. His reporting has appeared in The Wall Street Journal, Men's Journal, the St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times, and the Believer magazine, among other publications. He's also the author of Touchdown Jesus (Simon & Schuster, 2005), a nonfiction book about Notre Dame football fans and the business and politics of big-time college sports. He has degrees from Notre Dame and Washington University in St. Louis.