Ecuador Mining – Project and Exploration Update
Ecuador is considered relatively untapped in terms of exploration. Like Chile and Peru, Ecuador is estimated to have sizeable reserves, including antimony, iron ore, silver, and most notably, world-class copper and gold deposits.
Ecuador is emerging as a mining investment hot spot in Latin America. According to the annual Fraser Institute of Canada survey, the country is ranked 24th among 84 mining jurisdictions. It increased its score to 72.79 out of 100 compared to 57.95 that it reached in 2020.
The Ecuadorian Government expects mining exports to increase by 40% from USD$1.6b in 2021 to USD$2.23b in 2022. The increases in production are mainly comining from two mines that are currently in production: Fruta del Norte and Mirador, both located in Zamora Chinchipe.
Fruta del Norte –
- Lundin Gold is the owner of Fruta del Norte, a gold-silver mine in that had its first full year of operations in 2021.
- The mine had its best quarter of production ending March 2022, producing 121,665 oz. of gold
- Lundin increased the mines reserves by 8% to 5.41 million ounces, due to changes in the planned mining method.
- Based on the new figures, it now expects to produce almost 4.8 million ounces of gold at Fruta del Norte over a 14-year mine life.
- Mirador is a large-scale, open-pit, copper-gold project that went into production in 2019.
- The project contains 3.2 million tonnes (Mt) of copper, 3.4 million ounces (Moz) of gold, and 27.1Moz of silver in proven and probable reserves.
- The designed mining and processing production scale is 20 Mt of ore processed per year, with 60,000 t daily. The annual output of copper concentrate will be 354,000 t and the amount of copper metal 96,000 t.
Advanced Exploration Projects
Ecuador is expected to attract significant investment in exploration that will target gold and copper deposits. The country is still extremely unexplored with less than 10% of its territory currently concessioned. Already, there has been some notable discoveries that will be considered tier 1 assets.
- Alpala is the largest deposit found at the Cascabel concession.
- Ecuador’s Energy Ministry said that it “could become the largest underground silver mine, third-largest gold and sixth-largest copper in the world.”
- It has measured and indicated resources of 2.7 billion tonnes grading 0.53% copper-equivalent (0.37% copper, 0.25 grams gold per tonne, and 1.08 parts per million silver) for 9.9 million tonnes of contained copper, 21.7 million oz. gold and 92.2 million oz. of silver.
- Once in production, Cascabel could produce an average of 150,000 tonnes of copper, 245,000 ounces of gold and 913,000 ounces of silver in concentrate per year during its 55-year life-of-mine.
- The long waited and delayed prefeasibility study will be released today (April 20th, 2022).
Loma Larga –
- Loma Larga is an underground gold-copper-silver project located in the Azuay province of Ecuador.
- The Loma Larga project is expected to produce 139,958 ounces (oz) of gold, 794,561oz of silver and 5.1 million pounds (Mlb) of copper annually over an estimated mine life of 12 years.
- The project currently has complications due to a popular consultation that took place in 2021 which prohibited mining near water sources. The company maintains that it is not located and is going through judicial procedures so that construction and further exploration can advance.
La Plata –
- La Plata is a high-grade gold-rich VMS deposit which supported a small scale mine operation from 1975-1981
- La Plata inferred resources at 1.9 million tons at an average grade of 4.1 g/t Au, 49.4g/t silver, 3.3% Cu, 4.5% Zn, 0.6% Pb
- For 2022, Atico is focused on completing the Feasibility Study, the Environmental Impact Study, and obtaining the necessary permits and licenses to begin construction of the La Plata project.
- The Project has been identified by the Government of Ecuador as one of the next mining operations and also included in its economic recovery plan.
- The Project consists of a high-grade polymetallic VMS which is planned to be extracted using modern underground mining methods and processed with a state-of-the-art flotation plant while using the latest filtered tailing technology to mitigate its environmental footprint.
Ecuador has done a great job of turning around the industry since 2015 and is now starting to see the benefits with 2 projects in production and some world class discoveries that should be built over the next few years.
It is not without its challenges and risks. There are still long wait time for permits and permissions from the government. Community oppositions and recent referendums have tied up projects in courts. Access to skilled workers and service providers poses challenges to companies who are trying to ramp up.
Although Ecuador has initially been successful at rebuilding its reputation and expanding the mining sector, it will likely take significant work by both the government and private industry to overcome early growing pains.
For mining service and technology providers, the success of Ecuador could provide significant opportunities that will add to the already large project pipelines in Chile and Peru. Argentina is increasingly coming into play with sizeable projects being announced. Of course, we cannot forget Brazil which has a strong mining sector and is only a short flight away. All of these together create a massive opportunity for companies that have interesting services and products for the mining industry.
Ax Legal is an advisory firm that works with foreign companies in Latin America. Our team of legal and commercial advisors have a distinguished track record of helping foreign technology and services companies to grow and operate in Latin America. Over the years, we have worked with starts up, mid-size businesses, and publicly listed companies. The one common factor that connects are clients is that they are leaders in their field, providing innovative technologies and services to the industrial sectors.
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