They aren't athletes and a trip to Beijing isn't in the cards, but geologists working for one of the world's leading copper producers are on a quest for gold. In Peru.

Southern Copper's (NYSE:PCU) focus is on -- you guessed it -- copper, but since copper and gold are often found in shared geological structures, and given the forecasts for continued strength for gold, the company now appears to be molding gold into a strategic objective.

At a mining conference in Peru this week, Southern Copper CEO Oscar Gonzalez informed reporters that geologists will be working in three separate regions of Peru. If a commercially viable gold deposit is found, the company envisions a joint venture with a gold mining company, where Southern Copper would maintain a nonoperating majority stake.

Southern Copper is currently developing a copper/gold project called Tantahuatay, and is targeting production to mid-2010. The property is located just 30 kilometers (18.6 miles) from the prolific Yanacocha mine, which is operated by Newmont Mining (NYSE:NEM) in a joint venture with Peruvian miner Buenaventura (NYSE:BVN). With an estimated 1 million ounces of gold in the ground, Tantahuatay is small potatoes compared to Newmont's 27.5 million-ounce Yanacocha mine, but those are some tasty potatoes.

Because of the geology, Southern Copper has devised an unusual joint venture with Buenaventura to develop Tantahuatay. The Tantahuatay deposit consists of a clearly delineated layer of gold-bearing material set atop a layer of copper ore. According to Gonzales, the plan under consideration would have Buenaventura mine the gold, after which Southern Copper would step in to mine the copper. As envisioned, the venture draws logically upon the strengths of each company, and looks to this Fool to be an efficient strategy for production.

Between the tantalizing Tantahuatay project and the concerted effort to locate additional gold deposits in Peru, Southern Copper continues to impress me with its profit potential. Toss in the roughly 18 million ounces of silver and 36 million pounds of molybdenum sold in 2007, and it might be time for the company to consider a more inclusive name.

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