Ecuador’s constitutional court approved a popular consultation on an eventual ban on large-scale metal mining in southern Ecuador.
However, the ruling indicates that, if the ban is upheld in consultation, its effects will not be applied retroactively and the concessions in force will continue.
The Loma Larga gold and silver project of Canada’s INV Metals is in an area that would be affected by a mining ban.
INV’s general manager for Ecuador, Jorge Barreno, tells BNamericas that the court’s resolution strengthens the company’s rights and that the project will continue in line with the established schedule.
According to the miner’s plans, construction of the mine and other production facilities should begin in 2H21 with an initial investment of US$315 million.
At the moment, Loma Larga is in the economic evaluation stage.
BNamericas: What does the constitutional court ruling imply for INV and its Loma Larga project?
Barreno: Although we must regret the environment that has been generated for the development of the industry in the medium and long term, the opinion has ratified the fundamental right of all mining concessionaires in Ecuador to legal security. It affirms that this is transversal to all other rights and the rules of the game cannot be changed.
BNamericas: So the projects that are already underway, like Loma Larga, will not be affected?
Barreno: That is the legal interpretation. In its ruling, the court clearly confirms that the popular consultation can only have future effects and is not a consultation on the rights previously acquired by the companies. Therefore, ongoing mining projects can continue.
With the opinion, the validity of the mining rights and all the stages involved in the activity have been ratified.
The mining titles granted by the state guarantee companies that they will be able to carry out prospecting, exploration, production, benefitting, transportation and commercialization of minerals included in the concession.
BNamericas: The mayor of Cuenca, Pedro Palacios, intends to hold the consultation in February. Could this mean a stoppage of the project or a modification of the schedule?
Auger: At this time we do not have much field activity, as we are focused on the issue of permits.
We do not believe that there is any risk to the development of the necessary activities in the project. There are also no reasons to change established schedules.
BNamericas: Anti-mining groups have always talked about affected water sources and now they mention water recharge zones. Can Loma Larga affect these areas?
Auger: The concept is quite manipulated. In the country, the water recharge zones are vertically distributed on the flanks of the Andes mountain range, which longitudinally crosses the territory with different climatic levels and water behaviors.
Our project is not located in the main watersheds of the Machángara, Tomebamba and Yanuncay Rivers, responsible for more than 90% of the water supply of the city of Cuenca.
We have monitored the project for 15 years, both in our area of influence and downstream. We have a water balance between surface water, groundwater and evapotranspiration water. In our project, the water has a surface flow above 90%.
BNamericas: How many hectares does the Loma Larga project occupy?
Auger: Although our concessions currently cover around 7,200ha, the project’s operational area, including single water catchment and discharge points, reaches 180ha. The intervention area with production facilities reaches 75ha. The mine is underground.
BNamericas: What is the opposition based on, or is it fundamentally a political issue?
Auger: My job is technical. I can speak of technique, of facts, of legal bases, of good environmental practices, of technology. Those are our concerns. However, I call for putting aside political views and building a better country within the framework of respect for the law and rights.