COLOMBIA’S GOLD MINES

Colombia 2018 | ENERGY & MINING | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Darren Bowden, President of Minesa, on coexistence operations, combating illegal mining, and tapping into Colombia's potential.

Darren Bowden
BIOGRAPHY
Darren Bowden has been the CEO of Minesa since December 2015. He has more than 22 years of experience developing and managing mines. Before Minesa, he served as the Vice President of Operations at Nyrstar USA Inc., with seven underground mining projects in six countries in his portfolio. Bowden received his BE with honors from the University of New South Wales, Australia. He is a graduate of the Australian Defense Force Academy.

What were the main highlights, accomplishments, and challenges for the company in 2017?

2017 was a year of technical work around licensing; we submitted both our environmental and social impact assessment (ESIA) and our mining contract license (PTO). The PTO was approved in September; however, we cannot start work until the environmental license has been approved. The challenges for us is the political environment, as we are in an election year. Mining is always the easiest target for political votes. This has caused us some difficulty with the federal government and our communication strategies have been ramped up to combat that negative press.

What are the peculiarities of the collaborative model applied by Minesa?

In terms of the technology we have implemented in our plant, we produce a gold concentrate based on a flotation process, not a chemical process, so there is no chemical transformation of the mineral. We export the concentrate that is later chemically transformed into gold, copper, or silver somewhere else. In addition, we have created a model that every mining company needs to look into in terms of bringing into the fold those miners who cause damage to the local environment while protecting their traditions and their history. The coexistence plan involves giving them the opportunity to work in a safe environment by developing a plan incorporating the same level of technology that we use, training them on safer and better activities, and developing a cooperative. We have a detailed mine plan for the coexistence operations for traditional miners and are currently completing the technical and environmental studies required for licensing. This collaborative approach goes beyond current formalization structures as we invest in the environment through technology improving the livelihoods of not only the miners but the community at large.

How do you plan to become the leader in the mining sector in Colombia?

With regard to the technology that we use in the project, our mine is fully developed to be the most automated underground mine in the world, and we apply the highest and most sophisticated technologies that exist in underground mining today, including fully automated trucks. Our sustainability models and our investment in local communities beyond the coexistence model are centered around education and sustainable industries outside of mining.

What can be done to better utilize the great potential in the sector?
There have been figures published that around 250,000 people work in illegal mining, and that approximately 2 million ounces of gold is produced in illegal mines each year. To combat this significant environmental impact, the federal government needs to encourage and proactively manage the licensing of responsible mining in a timely manner. Formal responsible mining is currently losing the foot race with illegal mining due to the timeframes between being able to establish a mining project. An illegal mine can take weeks to establish; however, being able to license a formal responsible mining project takes five-plus years. Unless the government can promote a more efficient process, Colombia will not be able to realize its huge potential in a responsible and environmentally friendly manner.

What more should be done to fight illegal mining?

Once there is understanding that the government will deliver, confidence will grow, investment will come and things will change. Our business model aims to promote not only local communities but also an integrated harmonious mining scale strategy. Combating illegal mining requires an integrated approach from both the government and private companies and will take time and requires an effective business model but is not impossible.

What are your main goals and targets for 2018?

Our main goal is to get our environmental license before the change of government. If that happens, then by early 2019 we will be well into construction. Our current goals are to finalize construction by end 2020 and operate in 2021. In the next five years, we will invest nearly USD1 billion in Minesa to get this project operational.