ECUADOR - Energy & Mining
Country Manager, Lucky Minerals
Santiago Yepez Dávila is currently Country Manager at Lucky Minerals Inc., a Canadian based mining company. He is a mining advisor with over 14 years of experience and specific expertise in developing the mining business in Latin America. He was previously the President at the Ecuadorean Chamber of Mines and a member of the board at the American Mining Association. He was previously CEO of Empresa Nacional Minera (ENAMI EP). His professional specialties include mining financing, project and business development, relationship building, strategy management, negotiation, and government relations. He holds a doctor of law (JD) and a master’s of finance from the Pontificia Universidad Católica del Ecuador as well as a graduate degree in the management of mining projects from the Universidad Central de Chile.
How has the Fortuna Project project evolved over the past two years?
Lucky Minerals is a 100% junior mining company. It is a company that discovers projects, and given the dynamics of the sector in Ecuador, we are perhaps the smallest exploration company. In Ecuador, there are large companies like BHP, First Quantum, and Newcrest conducting explorations. Our expertise lies in going out to the field and discovering projects with our boots on the ground and with no large administrative and bureaucratic structure. After acquiring the Fortuna project, we have found extremely important and prospective targets that will lead us to start a drilling phase in the first semester of 2022. Ecuador, without a doubt, is a country with a privileged geology. It also has the appropriate infrastructure, which makes the development of projects less expensive. That has finally allowed us to start generating important news about a discovery about six months ago, an ambitious discovery in our mining concession Fortuna 3, and the target is called Wayka.
Lucky Minerals is in Wayka, Macuche, and El Garo. Which of the three has the most potential?
The three are the most prospective areas of our 12 concessions by now. We have 55,000ha of exploration, though we have not yet managed to explore the whole territory. However, we have already found three important targets. Because of our strategy, Lucky Minerals has thought of developing a project differently. It is fundamental for a manager in Ecuador or a company that comes to a country to adapt to the circumstances of the local territory. However, above all, it is important that they make a thorough analysis of how each of their areas is. We have our project of 12 contiguous mining concessions that are located in three provinces: Azuay, which is perhaps the most complicated province to develop mining projects; Morona Santiago; and Zamora Chinchipe. One challenge is to coordinate our activities with the three local authorities and governors. We have managed to start our activities in the field. We have placed great emphasis on not only the technical part, but have also done a deep anthropological and social analysis in order to understand where we are settled in a holistic way. It is important to understand the social circumstances of these areas and develop strategies based on that. We have social, community, and communication strategies. In fact, the circumstances in El Garo, Macuche, and Wayka are all completely different. Therefore, we have developed a technique that allows us to individualize each project and apply a different social strategy for each one.
What is Lucky’s strategy to re-engage with local communities after the pandemic?
COVID-19 has presented us with enormous challenges. The mining sector was at a standstill from the onset of the pandemic until mid-August 2020. Then, the Vice-Minister of Mining issued a regulation to reactivate operations. It was a protocol that companies had to present to an emergency committee. Once it was approved, they could restart activities. We have taken important measures so that our workers, their families, and the communities are protected. And that has allowed us to resume almost 100% of our field operations.
What changes has the mining sector seen with the Lasso administration?
It is a more open government, and not only in terms of the mining sector. It is more open to foreign investment. It wants to generate productivity. The mining sector initially had certain doubts and fears about Lasso during his presidential campaign. One of its concerns was the prohibition of mining in water sources and above an altitude of 2,800m as well as in the moorlands (paramos), which would require a binding prior consultation for all projects. These concerns were dispelled with Executive Decree 151. This decree has been one of the most important endorsements of the mining sector in recent years. The national government seeks to encourage the development of a thriving and transparent mining industry. The government wants large-scale mining that protects water sources and whose wealth reaches the communities. This will support the wealth of the state. The president has also requested that companies multiply investment. Given that Lucky Minerals is a young company, we have the advantage of agility and a lack of bureaucratic barriers. We are heavily committed to fulfilling the Sustainable Development Goals. Employment generation is a fundamental issue. In Ecuador, there are important examples of how mining can support job creation and local development. Hiring local labor is fundamental for the development of our project. It is the best way to demonstrate that the stakeholders in that area will ultimately benefit from the development of a project and that the project is socially shielded.
What strategies are you using to attract foreign investment?
At Lucky Minerals, we want to develop a project different from others, an integral project. We have taken measures to generate a positive impact on our activity and a positive image of what we are building. For example, we are eliminating single-use plastics. We have also reduced our vehicle fleet. We have made commuting more efficient so that we can use less fossil fuel. We have also generated a process of efficient use of garbage before we recycle and sort that garbage. We are convinced that a mining project has to be comprehensive. It is not enough that Ecuador is rich in geology. For it to be an investment destination, this natural wealth has to be linked to correct public policies, efficient state control processes, and a reduction of bureaucracy. Our objective is to find or discover deposits. We are doing it in an integral way.
ECUADOR - Energy & Mining
General Manager, Electric Corporation of Ecuador (CELEC EP)