DIEGO BENALCÁZAR

Ecuador 2020 | MINING | INTERVIEW

With a management team with a track record of successful projects across South America, Lumina Gold is keen to bring another large-scale mining project to Ecuador.

Diego Benalcázar
BIOGRAPHY

Diego Benalcázar has approximately 30 years of mining and project management experience across Latin America. He was instrumental in bringing the publicly listed Canadian firm Lumina Gold to Ecuador, his home country, when the opportunity arose. He obtained his degrees in geology at the North Carolina State University and program for management development at Harvard University.

How are the drilling results of Lumina's Cangrejos deposit expected to accelerate the project life cycle?

Cangrejos is a world-class gold-copper porphyry deposit. It is estimated that the life of the mine can be anywhere from 16 to 20 years, with a production of 373,000 oz of gold and 43 million pounds of copper per annum. In 2019, an important area adjacent to the Cangrejos main deposit was also drilled, and this will significantly increase the mineral resource of this project. The next steps will be to run a drilling program to define if the two deposits are connected and can become a single open pit in the future. In the next few years, Lumina Gold will continue to advance the project to take it to the pre-feasibility, feasibility, and bankable stages. These steps will move the inferred mineral resource amount to a proven resource. We originally expected to be ready in six years but now expect to start production five years from now. Cangrejos could potentially become a large-scale mining project in Ecuador, similar to the size of ongoing projects, such as Fruta del Norte or Mirador.

How are you approaching environmental and social responsibility?

Lumina Gold has put in place a holistic approach addressing current and future needs. One of our more active action lines is education, environment, and productivity. We have contributed to a partnership between Missouri University of Science and Technology (MS&T) and Universidad San Francisco de Quito (USFQ). It will create a professional mining school in Ecuador with an undergraduate program. In the environmental aspect, Lumina Gold has planted 12,000 native trees with the participation of the community. On the productivity angle, an organic bio-garden has been built in the community of influence for women and elderly to produce for their own consumption and to sell.

How can Lumina Gold's successful story in Ecuador be replicated in other mining projects in the country?

Mining projects require capital at early stages in order to carry out assessments and feasibility studies, as well as to carry out the permitting processes. To raise capital abroad, it is key to show the quality of the project, demonstrate the high-level of the professionals in the company, and establish a track record showing how the exploration group has a high return of investment to its shareholders. Investors follow the development of our projects. We have fortunately been successful throughout South America. We have a story to tell about bringing another large-scale mining project to an incipient mining country such as Ecuador.

What strategy are you following by dividing the concessions in Ecuador into two corporate entities: Lumina Gold and Luminex?

Lumina Group decided to invest in Ecuador in 2014, obtaining the Cangrejos project and the Condor project one year later. In 2016, we obtained 32 new concessions, making us one of the largest hectare holders in Ecuador, with 147,000ha. These concessions eventually turned into 11 projects. Looking at the evolution of each projects, we realized Cangrejos was a more advanced project that could yield benefits at an earlier stage and decided to spin off this project from the rest. The remaining projects were assessed according to their potential. Three joint ventures were signed, which include Anglo American, First Quantum, and BHP. From the remaining Luminex Resources projects, the most advanced one is the Condor project, which contains two porphyry systems and an epithermal gold-silver system. The project includes the deposit Santa Bárbara, with 4 million oz, and Los Cuyes, with 1.7 million oz, among others.

What is your opinion on the future of mining in Ecuador?

The mining industry will become a reality in Ecuador soon. It will have potential to balance the weight of oil in our economy and diversify our source of revenue. The sector agrees it is feasible for mining to make up 12% of Ecuador's GDP in the following decade. The country now needs to set up a clear regulatory framework for responsible mining and enforce its application.