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Hancock Prospecting now Major 'Owner' of Ecuadorian State Mining Company

Hanrine (a subsidiary of Gina Rinehart's Hancock Prospecting) has recently invested $150 million in the Ecuadorian state mining company Enami.  This now gives Rinehart, a 49% stake in 6 mining concessions, totalling 30,000 hectares in the Intag region in northern Ecuador surrounding the controversial Llurimagua concession. Llurimagua has been fiercely resisted by local residents and environmentalists since the 1990's. Some of the most biodiverse forests in the world are in the Intag region and many are under threat now by Australian mining companies such as Hanrine.


Valle de Santa Rosa, Intag. Image Carlos Zorrilla

ENAMI’s strategy appears to be to milk their transnational investors for mining expertise and groundwork. The Intag concessions have now been labelled “ENAMI” on the Ecuadorian mining cadastre map, so one can assume that Hanrine will be actively moving in there as soon as possible. Hanrine has long been having problems with its other concessions in northern Ecuador.

Hanrine already has a big stake in Llurimagua and they have been interested in Llurimagua since 2017. If successful that will then mean Hanrine will have access to over 40,000 hectares of contiguous mining claims in the region. Hancock’s move is brazen because of Intag’s 40 year history of mining resistance (the longest running resistance against mining in Latin America).

Additionally, Australian mining company SolGold reputedly has interest in three ENAMI concessions in Cuellaje shire, while BHP is still holding onto its concessions in Apuela. Sunstone Metals is hoping to buy the rights to the old El Corazon mine south of Los Cedros, combining it with their Goex Manduriacu concessions.

The world famous Biological Reserve Los Cedros was established with a grant from AusAid in the 1980's and contains some of the most biodiverse cloud forest in the world. It is ominous that the two ENAMI concessions (now 49% owned by SolGold) covering Los Cedros have not been removed from the cadastre. They are still listed as active concessions.

Taking this all into account, Hanrine’s stake in Intag means that the entirety of Imbabura province is soon likely to be owned by four Australian mining companies, all scrambling after the region’s highly lucrative copper-gold deposits. How much rainforest will be destroyed to facilitate this mining?

Transport 'Headaches'

A map of north western Ecuador. Colombian border marked in yellow. L=Llurimagua. B=Buenos Aires. C=Solgold's Cascabel Project. The distance of Llurimagua to Esmereldas is about 130km 'as the crow flies'.

For some years the State Government has been progressively upgrading and widening the road from southern Intag which joins the main Quito-coast road and will link mining transport, including trucks and heavy machinery.

Ore and slurry pipelines that will transport mining materials from northern Imbabura (ie, Cascabel and any mines developed by SolGold or Hanrine) will most likely go to the port of San Lorenzo, which is Ecuador’s most dangerous port. Esmeraldas has been quite lawless and controlled by gangs, namely ex-FARC, paramilitaries, and drug gangs such as Los Lobos, however that situation may have improved recently, but for how long?

Given the topography and criminal control issues of the region, ore and waste transport may be beset by problems that Rinehart's companies may not have properly anticipated in planning. International media were alerted to security problems that inundated Hanrine operations near the small village of Buenos Aires, but cracking the security issues at San Lorenzo for instance may make the problems at Buenos Aires appear trivial in comparison.

Two hydroelectric projects are also in the pipelines for Intag – 1) Intag River and 2) Río Magdalena. Both projects proposed/managed by an Ecuadorian company called NASCA. Plan is not to use dams but “tube blasting”, meaning water will be piped from areas of highest flow in pipes 15-20m diameter, through turbines and sent to the existing hydro dam and power station, Cielo Verde, on the Manduriacu River. This electricity will of course be prioritised for mining and industrial use. Another hydro project could also occur to provide energy to Solgold's Cascabel project in the north of Imbabura.

Los Cedros Biological Reserve is still under Australian Mining Concessions. Image:

Updates for Buenos Aires and Hanrine's Imba concessions

Hanrine's operation, Imba 2 was suspended by the Ministry of Environment in March 2022 for failing to secure a valid water license. The government kept quiet about this and local campaigners weren't informed until APT Norte requested the paperwork to be made publicly available in October. Despite Hanrine’s repeated illegal efforts to restart operations, they couldn’t, and from November 2023 began to remove all machinery from their controversial mining camps near the village of Buenos Aires. (Was this also a major reason why they have bought into Enami)?

When Hanrine moved out, an upsurge in illegal mining occurred – because Hanrine laid off their workers, people immediately went over to the illegal mines (eg those at Ciudad de Plástico, Olivos, and Mina Nueva) to work there instead. At one point there were an estimated 3000 illegal miners in the region. Now, after several military operations, around 500 remain.

The military operations have been marginally successful – suggesting that the state (who benefits economically from the illegal mining) isn't entirely intent on removing the 'illegal' miners. Military have raided camps, but the miners disappear into the bush, then come back and rebuild the illegal operations once the army has gone.

The village of Buenos Aires town is now a sad case - once a quiet and peaceful town, in just a few years it has become over-run with brothels, night clubs and liquor outlets and the social fabric has completely been destroyed by the mining industry.

For more information contact Rainforest Action Group and Rainforest Information Centre

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