QUITO – Chinese-owned Ecuacorriente plans to produce 180 million pounds of copper annually at its large open-pit mine in the Ecuadorian Amazon, the firm’s executives said on Wednesday.
They said in a press conference that a total of 60,000 tons of ore will be extracted per day from the Mirador mine, which will be two kilometers (1.2 miles) in diameter and 800 meters (2,620 feet) deep.
The company will export the mineral concentrate, 85 percent of which will be copper and the rest gold and silver, because the country lacks sufficient smelting capacity.
Ecuacorriente signed the concession contract with the government on Monday, opening the door to the first large-scale mining project in the country’s history.
Opponents of the mine, mainly Indian groups, are planning a protest march that is to set out Thursday from El Panqui, the town in southern Ecuador where the mine is located, and arrive in Quito on March 22.
Salvador Quishpe, member of the indigenous opposition party Pachakutik and governor of the Amazon province of Zamora Chinchipe, told Efe Wednesday that the project will pollute water supplies and the environment.
Environment Minister Marcela Aguiñaga, who responded to those complaints on Wednesday, acknowledged that “all activity of this type has an impact” but she said the contract with Ecuacorriente establishes very clear parameters and rules to ensure the effect is minimal.
She also noted that the company has created an environmental mitigation fund and plans to contribute $2.5 million to it annually.
The goal is for the condition of the concession area to be virtually unchanged when Ecuacorriente returns it to the country, the minister said at a press conference, adding that the Chinese company has pledged to reforest 4,000 hectares (9,875 acres), or an area 1,200 hectares bigger than the size of the concession area.
After the mine is fully developed, its crater will be converted into a small lake that will blend in with the natural surroundings, Aguiñaga said.
The company received its mining permit from the Environment Ministry in February after a process lasting “several months,” Ecuacorriente’s deputy environment manager, Raul Brito, said.
The firm also has received the majority of the remaining permits it needs to begin operations, according to Mauricio Nuñez, the company’s legal vice president and lead negotiator.
Last week, Non-Renewable Natural Resources Minister Wilson Pastor said Ecuacorriente will begin its activities “immediately” but he estimated that the “heavy machinery” needed to develop the mine will not arrive from abroad until year’s end.
Ecuacorriente is owned by China Railway Construction Corporation, the world’s fourth-largest construction firm, and Tongling Nonferrous Metals Group Holding, the planet’s sixth-largest copper producer. EFE