Mining, Mining Technology, Projects Tagged

Ecuador Mining – 2023 Country Update

Ecuador is considered relatively untapped in terms of exploration. With only 10% of the country explored, Ecuador has incredible potential due to its location at the northern end of the Andes Mountain range. Ecuador is estimated to have sizeable reserves in numerous minerals but it is gaining a reputation for its world-class copper and gold deposits.

The Ecuadorian Mines and Energy Ministry recently said that the government expects to generate over $4 billion in annual mining exports by 2025 with 4 new operations coming into operation before the end of President Guillermo Lasso’s term in 2025, including the Cascabel project, held by Australia’s SolGold.

Although there is a lot of excitement, the road to becoming a full-fledged mining jurisdiction is still not guaranteed. The country is facing challenges from environmentalist, lack of clear environmental regulations, permitting, and illegal mining. Below is an overview of the most recent updates on the development of Ecuador’s mining sector.

Current Situation – Projects

The country already has two large-scale mines in production – Fruta del Norte owned by Lundin and Mirador by a Chinese consortium. Both mines are the main sources of Ecuador’s mineral exports for copper and gold. This will change over the next two year though with projects advancing to the construction phrase.

Fruta del Norte
  • Lundin Gold is the owner of Fruta del Norte, an underground gold-silver mine in that had its first full year of operations in 2021.
  • 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 current 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.


In February, the Energy and Mines Minister, Fernando Santos, stated that he expects pre-construction works to begin at the Cascabel and Curipamba mining projects by the end of the year, and construction to kick off in 2024.


  • Owned by Adventus Mining and Salazar Resources, Curipamba is an open-pit copper-gold mining operation with proven and probable mineral reserves of 6.47 million tonnes (Mt) grading 2.52g/t gold (Au), 1.93% copper (Cu), 45.69g/t silver (Ag), 0.25% lead (Pb) and 2.49% zinc (Zn).
  • The Feasibility Study shows that Curipamba can be a low-cost supplier of copper gold and zinc. Cash cost of US$1.14/lb and AISC of US$1.26/lb copper equivalent.
  • Construction of the Curipamba mine is expected to start in 2024. The mine is estimated to require an investment of USD$248m.
  • The feasibility study completed suggest an open pit mine that will produce 10,500t/y of copper annually during its first decade before operations move underground. There are sizable underground reserves that will  increase the life of the mine.
  • The company recently signed an Investment Contract with the Ecuadorian government that grants several incentives, such as reductions in income tax, exemption of import duties, tax stability, among others, that will last until March 2033.
  • Alpala is the largest deposit found at the Cascabel concession and could become the largest underground silver mine, third-largest gold and the 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, the USD$2.7b Cascabel project would 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 prefeasibility study was released in April 2022. SolGold is now working on the final engineering studies and permitting to begin construction hopefully in 2024
La Plata
  • La Plata, owned by Atico mining, 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 company recently received approval of the environmental impact assessment (EIA) for the construction, operation, maintenance and closure of the 69-kilovolt powerline and substation required for its 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.
  • La Plata will require an investment of USD$176m. The project consists of a 900 tpd underground mining operation and processed with a state-of-the-art flotation plant while using the latest filtered tailing technology to mitigate its environmental footprint. In addition, the project will need infrastructure upgrades such as new access road and a 69kV powerline. Preconstruction could start in late 2023.
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 initial mining operation is expected to be at the rate of 3,000 tonnes per day (tpd), which will be increased to 3,400tpd from the fifth year. The underground mine will be accessed through a 1.2km ramp, which will also be used for hauling waste and ore as well as for ventilation purposes.
  • Ore will be transported 3.5km from the portal to the process facilities where it will be go through two stages of crushing – primary and secondary, followed by single-stage ball milling.
  • 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. A decision should come in 2023. 


There is excitement about Ecuador but the country is facing challenges. Whether Ecuador is able to move the mining sector to the next stage of maturity will largely depend on how the government manages specfic pressures that the industry is currently facing. Currently, the mining industry is the 4th largest export but it could easily become the largest if projects can advance to production. This will make the sector one of the largest tax contributors to the state coffers. 

Some of the specific issues the country is dealing with includes – 

Environmental groups seeking a referendum to curb metallic mining in Ecuador’s Chocó Andino region, northwest of Quito, expect it to take place no later than the second half of 2023. Chocó Andino is an area rich in biodiversity that in 2018 was declared a biosphere reserve by Unesco. There are some early-stage concessions granted in this area but the only notable projects being affected is the Loma Larga project which sits just outside of the protected area. 

Illegal mining has also grown into a national issue. In recent years, legal concessions have suffered attacks and the burning of camps. It is of such magnitude that recently the government declared illegal mining a threat to national security and indicated that it will support legally established mining concessions. The government will contribute resources to reduce illegal mining and protect legal concessionaires.

Lastly, Ecuador is advancing legislation on indigenous consultations. A decree was announced in November of last year that regulates pre-legislative consultation, a step prior to the environmental consultation that is required before proceeding with construction. Mining players expect the pre-legislative consultation to unlock projects and reduce risks of legal action. Several of the pre-legislative consultation will wrap up this year for the projects listed above. We will not need to keep an eye on because it could siginal if there is trouble that will further delay projects.  


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. The Ecuadorian government is predicting a total investment of around US$11bn for the construction of seven mines that are expected to go into production in the next few years.

There are 4 project that are currently advanced enough to start operations before 2025/26. La Plata, Curipamba, Cascabel projects are expected to start construction first, with msot prediciting in 2024. Loma Larga could not be far behind if it can overcome judicial procedures and consultations.

There is still significant work that needs to be done by both the government and private industry to overcome some of the challenges around community opposition, indigenous rights, and illegal mining. This could be a pivotal year for the mining sector in Ecuador with projects advancing and companies committing to construction start dates.

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