SolGold's main project in the country is Cascabel, a copper and gold resource in the northwest of Ecuador. How have your operations advanced?
SolGold has advanced rapidly since it arrived in Ecuador in 2012. We have invested over USD150 million in state-of-the-art geoscience and best industry practices with community engagement and social and environmental responsibility. In this short period of time, we have taken what was a stream sediment anomaly to a Tier 1 world-class copper gold deposit at Alpala in the Cascabel concession. We have drilled over 150,000m of diamond core to date and are currently engaged in an intensive program of both exploration and appraisal drilling to increase the size and grade of the Alpala orebody. At the same time, we have commenced feasibility studies with preparation of the preliminary economic analysis. Our head office is in Quito, and we have a base at Rocafuerte and field camp in Alpala. We expect to complete our pre-feasibility study by end-2019 and our feasibility study by end-2020. After that, we will be looking to get a development decision subject to financing and permitting procedures. We are planning a major project and expect the resource size to keep growing along with these plans.
As the largest tenement holder in Ecuador, you explore well over 3,200sqkm in the country. How do you currently run these explorations, and have you found sites where you envision new projects?
Since our experience investing in Ecuador has been so positive from the beginning, we decided early on that we wwwould like to explore other projects in Ecuador and commenced project generation for the most prospective areas in 2013. We currently hold 72 concessions, which are held in four separate SolGold subsidiaries that are 100% owned by SolGold. Each subsidiary is equipped with separate management and exploration teams as well as community liaison and health safety and environment technicians. Our progress across Ecuador has been as rapid as our progress at Cascabel, and we have already identified 11 high priority targets that have the potential to be major discoveries. We have also relinquished four concessions that we found to be low priority after initial exploration work. Subject to permitting, we expect to be drill testing the five best targets as soon as possible.
What is the economic significance of your operations for the secondary industries around your mining project, for example for the local supply chain and economic offset to SMEs?
We currently employ over 450 people, of which 95% are Ecuadorian. We also have a growing team of specialized consultants around the world. Many of our employees are female, including 25% of our Cascabel geology team. At Cascabel, we have contributed to many community development projects in coordination with the local government, which empowers local families, and we endorse all the local industries and businesses in our project areas. When Alpala goes into production, we expect employment to peak at about 7,500 and the flow-on effect to benefit many multiples of this. The economic benefits for Ecuador in royalties and taxes and benefits to local businesses and citizens will be substantial.
What environmental policy have you incorporated in your operations in Ecuador?
We are extremely conscious of environmental responsibility and have put in great effort into operating at the highest industry standards. Our principle concerns are water, fauna, and flora, and the project we are designing will minimize and manage impacts using state-of-the-art technology and techniques. For example, all our drilling rigs use sediment recovery units (SRU), which cleans sediment from water using vibration. When Alpala eventually goes into production, we envisage an underground block cave development, which will have a much smaller environmental footprint than an open cut mine. We want this project to exemplify best practices.
What are your ambitions for the coming year?
We plan to double the size of Alpala, complete prefeasibility studies, progress permitting and fiscal framework discussions, and discover several additional projects throughout Ecuador.