Mining concessionaires in three sectors have plans to mitigate irregular activity. The idea is to prevent the same thing happening in Buenos Aires.
The Ecuadorian government aims for mining to replace oil as the main generator of economic income for the country. With this premise, the macroeconomic planning of the Executive is directed to three emblematic projects in mining. Of these, two will start producing at the end of the year: Fruta del Norte and Mirador, both in the south of the Amazon region.
In contrast, mineral extraction in the Loma Larga project in Azuay is planned for the end of 2021 (see infographic). These and other projects will help generate investments in the country for $ 3,800 million between 2018 and 2021. While $ 3,600 million will be generated for exports. With this panorama, the companies that concessioned in these three zones hope to be the pioneers in large-scale mining.
However, during that time they will have to face challenges, among them, to prevent illegal exploitation from being concentrated in mines. Their representatives work so that they do not generate problems like the ones existing in Buenos Aires, a gold deposit in Imbabura, which is exploited illegally and that brings with it the presence of armed groups and the commission of crimes.
The concessioned projects have contingency plans in the event of this situation. Augusto Flores is the Security, Health and Environment manager of Ecuacorriente. That is the company that carries out the Mirador project. Flores warns the possibility that “in the slightest oversight” the illegal mining enters that concession area. So far, five cases have been reported to the Mining Regulation and Control Agency (Arcom).
Those people were cleared from the site with the support of the locals. The official believes that this illegal activity, unlike large-scale mining, “does contaminate the environment and affects health.” To mitigate the intrusion to the place, the company relies on surveillance through drones; with private security and with the support of the Police and the military. “So far we have not militarized the place,” said the manager.
In contrast, in the Fruta del Norte project there is greater flexibility with the artisanal mining activity. Nathan Monash, Vice President of Business Sustainability at Lundin Gold, which holds the concession for that area, says that informal activity is registered there. The strategy to dispel this informal activity is the “coexistence with artisanal miners”.
That is, if an invasion is observed by inhabitants of the area, the company officials would seek an agreement to “coexist”. But in case the miners come from other places, Lundin Gold will notify Arcom to process the respective eviction operations. To date, that company has granted 16 artisan operations in the concessions it has.
Monash states that these attributions are possible at the exploration stage. Recognizes that by law the company has the right to allow artisanal mining, but not small-scale mining.
Loma Larga Case
The Loma Larga project, in Azuay, will begin to be exploited at the end of 2021 and is in charge of INV Minerales. The manager of that company, Jorge Barreno, says that they have a plan to mitigate illegal mining. Although he does not detail numbers or dates, Barreno maintains that there have been cases of illegal mining in that area. For those cases, the company joined with the community (workers) and thus be able to remove those people from the concession.
In addition there are field controls, especially in access to the mine. If necessary, they will ask for help from law enforcement. “There are people who came to the place to test if they find mineral,” he says. In the first quarter of 2019, Arcom has carried out 79 illegal mining operations. Last year, however, it complied with 156 operations, a figure that was higher than in 2017, which reached 118 cases. (I)