Ecuador, a relatively small Spanish speaking country located in northwest South America, has in recent years seen some truly exceptional gold discoveries including: the 23.6moz Cascabel Copper-Gold-Silver Project, the 17 moz Au Cangrejos and Gran Bestia Gold-Copper Projects, the 7.8moz Au Condor Gold-Silver Project and the 3.38 moz Au Loma Larga Gold-Silver-Copper Project.
These four projects alone contain over 50 million ounces of gold between them and contain an additional 13.2 million tonnes of copper with additional silver.
This highlights just what an exciting jurisdiction Ecuador is for mineral exploration, and given the highly underexplored nature of the ground in Ecuador there could be many more discoveries to come.
With over US$250m raised by exploration companies with projects in Ecuador since 2020, exploration dollars are flowing into the country. Once considered an antimining jurisdiction the current government has set an ambitious plan to boost mining activity to double its current value by 2022.
In this update we take a look at who’s operating in Ecuador and what exciting developments we can expect from these companies.
Lundin Gold has commenced production at the 9.48 moz (12.43g/t Au) Fruta del Norte Gold Project, located in southeastern Ecuador. Fruta del Norte is among the highest-grade operating gold mines in the world. During H121 the mine produced 212,936 oz of gold at an average head grade of 11.21g/t Au.
DUNDEE PRECIOUS METALS
Dundee Precious Metals Inc (TSX:DPM). recently acquired the remaining 76.5% of INV Metals Inc (TSX:INV). for C$104m. INV’s principal asset was the 3.38moz gold equivalent (3.76g/t Au) Loma Larga Gold-Silver-Copper Project, located in southern Ecuador.
Loma Larga has an initial mine life of 12-years and has the potential to produce an annual average of approximately 200,000 Au oz. in the first five years. Life of mine production is estimated to be approximately 170,000 Au oz. per year at an attractive all-in sustaining cost, net of by-products, of approximately US$630/oz.
Dundee intends to explore further optimization studies at Loma Larga while continuing to advance the permitting process and is working to secure an investor protection agreement with the Ecuadorian Government prior to making any significant capital commitments.
Lumina Gold is developing the Cangrejos and Gran Bestia Gold-Copper Projects, located in southern Ecuador.
Cangrejos and Gran Bestia Gold-Copper Projects
The Cangrejos Gold-Copper Project has Ni 43-101 complaint mineral resource estimates of 12.4 Moz Au at a grade of 0.54g/t Au and 768,380t of contained copper at a grade of 0.1% Cu. The Gran Bestia Gold-Copper Project has Ni 43-101 complaint mineral resource estimates of 4.6 Moz Au at a grade of 0.42g/t Au and 248,569t of contained copper at a grade of 0.07% Cu.
A Preliminary Economic Assessment published in June 2020 returned an after-tax NPV (5%) of $2.5 billion and IRR of 21.7% using $1,680 per ounce gold over a 25-year mine life. The initial capital cost including working capital and refundable VAT, was $1 billion with an average cash operating costs of $545/oz and all-in sustaining costs of $604/oz, net of by-product credits.
Luminex Resources Corp. is focused on advancing the Condor Gold-Silver Project, located in southeast Ecuador. Luminex also holds a large and highly prospective land package in Ecuador, including the Tarqui and Pegasus projects, which are being co-developed with BHP Group PLC (LSE:BHP) and Anglo American, respectively.
Condor Gold-Silver Project
Luminex completed a Preliminary Economic Assessment on its 90%-owned 7.8Moz Au (0.73 g/t Au eq.) Condor Gold-Silver Project in July 2021. The PEA returned a post-tax NPV (5%) of $562 million and IRR of 20.3% using $1,760 per ounce gold over a 12-year mine life. The project has an initial capital cost including working capital of $607 million with an average cash operating costs of $748/oz and all-in sustaining costs of $839/oz, net of by-product credits, producing an average annual payable production of 187 koz gold and 758 koz silver.
At the Nayumbi Target within the Condor Project, Luminex has begun drilling the first hole of a 2,000-metre drill programme designed to test the depth extent of the high-grade, low sulphidation gold system identified at surface. At the Prometedor Target within the Condor Project, surface mapping and sampling of the area to the southeast of Los Cuyes and Camp, extending to Prometedor is continuing, with the objective of defining targets for drill testing.
Cascas Copper Project
At the Cascas Copper Project, Luminex has received assay results from the first three holes of the five-hole, 2,017 metre programme at the Shakai porphyry copper-molybdenum target. The first three holes reveal long intercepts of low-grade copper-molybdenum mineralisation. The porphyry intrusive is interpreted to be dissected into wedges by a series of northwest to north-northwest trending fault overlaps that dip to the southwest. The Company expects to receive results from the remaining two drill holes shortly.
At the Tarqui Project, BHP is earning an initial 60% ownership stake by spending US$42 million on the project and paying Luminex US$2.4 million of cash payments between 2019 and 2023. BHP can earn an additional 110% for US$40m. BHP has commenced a 2,000m programme focusing on a copper porphyry target.
The Pegasus A&B concessions are being operated by Anglo American, since beginning work in September 2018, a total of approximately US$7.4 million has been spent as of December 31, 2019. The first earn-in ownership threshold of 25% occurs once US$10 million has been spent across the concessions and US$2.4 million of cash payments have been paid. US$0.8 million in cash payments remain to be paid to satisfy the 25% threshold. Anglo need to spend a total of US$57.3m over 7 years to earn a 60% interest in the project.
Throughout 2019, Anglo American conducted early-stage exploration on the Pegasus A&B concessions (approximately 67,000 ha), completing geological field mapping and sampling, as well as an airborne supported geophysical survey, covering approximately 2,000 line-km. This exploration programme has generated several prospects for follow-up work and potential drilling at Pegasus A, Luminex are currently waiting for Anglo to mobilize to the field.
SolGold is developing the 11.2 Mt of contained copper and 23.6Moz of contained gold (0.35% Cu and 0.24g/t Au) Alpha Deposit at the Cascabel Copper-Gold-Silver Project, located in northeastern Ecuador. A Pre-Feasibility Study for the Alpha Deposit is planned to be published in late 2021.
Tandayama-America Porphyry Copper-Gold Target
The company has also completed drilling at the Tandayama-America (TAM) Porphyry Copper-Gold Target which lies approximately 3km north of the Alpha Deposit with results including:
Hole 1: 531m @ 0.30% CuEq, including 272m @ 0.44% CuEq
Hole 3: 1,040m @ 0.33% CuEq, including 350m @ 0.45% CuEq
Hole 5: 426m @ 0.37% CuEq, including 342m @ 0.43% CuEq
Hole 7: 522m @ 0.38% CuEq, including 230m @ 0.44% CuEq
Assay results from drill holes 8-10 are pending and drilling of Holes 9 and 10 is currently underway. Mineralisation at TAM forms a northwest trending corridor, occupying an area 750m long by 500m wide, and extending from surface to a depth of over 1,200m. Further drilling aims at defining the extent of mineralisation towards the northwest, the southeast and at depth where the deposit remains open. Due to the significance of results achieved thus far at TAM, SolGold plans to mobilise additional diamond drill rigs to expedite drilling. An NI 43-101 compliant Maiden Mineral Resource Estimate is planned for later in 2021.
Cacharposa Porphyry Copper-Gold Target
SolGold has built an exploration portfolio of more than 3,200sq.km in Ecuador and is also undertaking a regional exploration programme, where it has received encouraging results, particularly at the Porvenir Project at the Cacharposa porphyry copper-gold target in southern Ecuador, approximately 100km south of Fruta Del Norte. Strong drilling results to date include:
Hole 1: 928m @ 0.53 % CuEq from 10m, including 644m @ 0.65 % CuEq from 10m.
Hole 2: 818m @ 0.45 % CuEq from surface, including 690m @ 0.51 % CuEq from surface.
Hole 3: 304m @ 0.58 % CuEq from surface, including 264m @ 0.65 % CuEq from surface.
Hole 4: 934m @ 0.26% CuEq from 174m, including 272m @ 0.41 % CuEq from 234m.
An updated 25,000m drilling programme underway and ongoing updates to internal preliminary Resource estimates indicate a significant prospective resource that appears amenable to bulk surface mining methods.
Lucky Minerals’ Fortuna Project covers an area of 550km2 in south central Ecuador. The concessions contain a 22km long section of a Miocene volcanic belt, known as the “Shincata Gold Trend”. The company is focusing its exploration efforts on three main target areas: thee Wayka Epithermal Gold Discovery, Macuche Gold Target and the El Garo Gold Target.
Wayka Epithermal Gold Discovery
Lucky has completed a programme of trenching that demonstrated the presence of significant sections of high- sulfidation epithermal gold mineralisation at surface, including:
7 meters at a grade of 8.08 g/t gold, including 3.0 meters at a grade of 17.63 g/t gold (T-6)
4 meters at a grade of 3.06 g/t gold (T-1)
10 meters at a grade of 0.38 g/t gold (T-5)
Trench 1 is located over 700 meters to the southeast of both Trenches 5 and 6 and gold bearing grab samples, with grades up to 2.9g/t (262670), have been collected c. 800 meters to the north of Trenches 5 and 6. With surficial gold mineralisation now established over a strike length of 1,500 m Lucky’s exploration team is focused on geological mapping and sampling to further increase its understanding of the mineralized system. This work is expected to be followed-up by ground-based magnetics, leading to a maiden scout drilling programme in the coming months.
Macuche Gold Target
At the Macuche Gold Target Lucky has defined the presence of gold mineralisation within quartz-pyrite stockwork type veinlets with grab sampling has returning:
2.19 g/t gold (261598)
1.98 g/t gold (262652)
1.66 g/t gold (261057)
A 20-meter-long trench completed at the target returned an average of 0.33 g/t gold, showed the presence of a large stockwork system and a potential for bulk tonnage gold target. The mineralisation in the trench remains open both to the east and to the west. Lucky is now focusing on mapping and sampling to understand both the scale and controls on the veining.
El Garo Gold Target
The El Garo Gold Target is located 8km to the north of the Wayka Discovery. El Garo contains large area of advanced argillic alteration measuring approximately 2 km by 1 km that is open in all directions. The company is currently completing a soil sampling programme over an area of about 4.4 km by 2 km. Results from this programme will be combined with a programme of trenching and geophysics.
Aurania Resources is focused on the 2,080km2 Lost Cities – Cutucu Project, located in south eastern Ecuador. The Company is currently working in three main areas, targeting sediment hosted copper mineralisation in the Tsenken – Tiria-Shimpia zone, and epithermal gold at the Kuri-Yawi and Kuripan Targets.
Tsenken – Tiria-Shimpia zone
The company is currently drill testing a 45km long fault system that extends from the Tsenken Zinc Target to the north to the Tiria-Shimpia Copper-Silver Target to the south. The company believes the system has the potential to contain a zoned sediment-hosted copper system like the Kupferschiefer. Five drill holes, for a total of 2,184m, have been drilled in the Tsenken N1 target area and hole 6 is underway. Drill results received to date are not economically significant but do show a clear trend with contained copper increasing towards the east. A second drill rig has completed the first hole at Tiria-Shimpia and the second scout drilling hole is underway.
Kuri-Yawi Epithermal Gold – Porphyry Copper Target
Aurania also recently drill tested the Kuri-Yawi Epithermal Gold – Porphyry Copper Target. Around 1,948m in two holes (YW-008 and YW-009) were drilled, revealing epithermal textures and pyrobitumen in banded carbonate-silica veinlets over a vertical interval of approximately 600m in both holes, suggesting close proximity to the core of an epithermal system. The Company is currently using this to constrain the interpretation of MobileMT and magnetic data to refine the location of the epithermal target which lies to the east of Hole 9. Hole 8, which was drilled to a depth of 1,212m, did not intersect the porphyry target interpreted from the MobileMT data.
Kuripan Epithermal Gold Target
At the Kuripan Epithermal Gold Target, Aurania the company has panned gold and pathfinder elements from streams in the area. Soil sampling and mapping teams are currently operating in the Kuripan area to define the area from which the gold is being eroded into the streams.
Titan Minerals Limited
Titan Minerals Limited recently sold its Zaruma mine concessions and the Portovelo Process Plant, located in Ecuador, to Pelorus Minerals Limited (Private) for US$15m in staged cash payments plus a 2% net smelter return royalty on future copper production.
The Company did this so it can focus on the development of its flagship Dynasty Gold Project, and exploration at the Copper Duke Project and the high-grade Linderos Gold Project, all located in Ecuador.
Dynasty Gold Project
The Dynasty Gold Project contains a NI 43-101 compliant mineral resource estimate of 2.1Moz Au averaging 4.5g/t gold. The Company is currently completing a 12,000m drill programme at the Cerro Verde Prospect is ongoing to support an impending JORC Compliant update to the resource estimate.
Copper Duke Project
At the Copper Duke Project, Titan has completed a high-resolution geophysical survey and follow-up geochemistry. A total of 712 soil samples have been collected, extending surface geochemistry coverage a further 12km2 north within the 130km2 project area, which hosts multiple clusters of intrusive centers defined in aerial magnetics.
Linderos Gold Project
At the Linderos Gold Project, Titan has outlined significant epithermal Gold and Copper Porphyry Mineralised Systems.
Historical drill results on epithermal gold targets at Meseta and Loma Alta include:
28.8m @ 2.56 g/t gold; including 5.94m @ 10.8 g/t gold – LDH004
8.88m @ 4.70 g/t gold – LDH004A
14.32m @ 1.43g/t gold – LDH003
6.33m @ 4.65g/t gold – MD3
The tenor of porphyry mineralisation improves with depth, with three of five historical holes ending in mineralisation and open at depth; including:
99.75m @ 0.26% copper from 255m drilled depth, including 19.3m @ 0.39% copper at end of hole (open at depth) – ERIKA01
84.85m @ 0.32% copper (from surface to EOH), including 19.95m @ 0.45% copper from 25.5m drilled depth- ERIKA02
46m @ 0.19% copper from surface, 32m @ 0.11% copper from 53m drilled depth, 67m @ 0.13% copper from 103m drilled depth, and 20m @ 0.21% copper from 181m to end of hole (open at depth) – ERIKA02A
Titan is planning to compile the historic work and then undertake a programme of geochemistry, geophysics and drilling.
Sunstone Metals Ltd (ASX:STM) has two copper-gold porphyry projects located in Ecuador. The Bramaderos Copper-Gold Porphyry Project is located in Southern Ecuador and the Palmar Copper-Gold Porphyry Project, located in northern Ecuador.
Bramaderos Copper-Gold Porphyry Project
Sunstone owns an 87.5% interest in the Bramaderos Copper-Gold Porphyry Project with TSXV listed Cornerstone Capital Resources holding 12.5%.
Drilling at the Brama Prospect, within the Bramaderos Project, targeting a pencil porphyry has returned some interesting results, including:
505.1m at a grade of 0.43g/t gold, 0.1% copper, (0.57g/t AuEq1) and 25.8ppm molybdenum from surface, including 113.4m at 0.37g/t gold, 0.15% copper, (0.58g/t AuEq) and 23.9ppm molybdenum, from 347.1m (BMDD008W1 and BMDD008)
185.3m at a grade of 0.4g/t gold, 0.15% copper, (0.64g/t AuEq1) from 116.8m (BMDD009)
170.65m at a grade of 0.46g/t gold and 0.15% copper. (0.7g/t AuEq1) from 311.75m, including 69.6m at a grade of 0.65g/t gold, 0.2% copper, (0.97g/t AuEq1) from 347m (BMDD010)
404.8m at a grade of 0.32g/t gold, 0.09% copper, (0.46g/t AuEq1) from surface, including 51.3m at a grade of 0.54g/t gold, 0.07% copper (0.65g/t AuEq1) from surface (BMDD011)
98m at a grade of 0.61g/t gold and 0.11% copper (BMDD005)
103.6m at a grade of 0.56g/t gold and 0.13% copper (CURI 13)
A detailed 3-D geological model has been built for the Brama Prospect and will underpin a Mineral Resource Estimate due to be completed in early-2022. Drilling at Brama continues with six more holes planned as part of the initial Mineral Resource drill programme.
Drilling at Espiritu Prospect, within the Bramaderos Project, has intersected more high-grade silver with gold, zinc and lead within a polymetallic epithermal system
Drill hole ESDD006 intersected 5 significant lodes of silver-gold-zinc-lead mineralisation along with multiple lower grade intervals. High grade intercepts include:
3.75m at 11.8g/t silver, 1.54g/t gold from 102m
0.4m at 355g/t silver, 0.36g/t gold, 3.55% zinc from 173m
0.5m at 187g/t silver, 1.44g/t gold from 206m
0.5m at 550g/t silver, 0.26g/t gold from 278m
0.5 at 93g/t silver, 0.68g/t gold, 2.45% zinc from 313m
Palmar Copper-Gold Porphyry Project
Sunstone is acquiring its interest in the Palmar Copper-Gold Porphyry Project through a Staged Acquisition Agreement, which will ultimately deliver 100%-ownership to Sunstone.
Sunstone has just commenced its Phase 1 drill programme at the Palmar Project. The initial programme will consist of 2,000m of drilling targeting the upper 400m of a significant circular magnetic anomaly interpreted to be a mineralised porphyry body. Drilling will continue beyond 400m if mineralisation and alteration are encountered in the upper portions of the hole. Four drill pads have now been prepared at El Palmar to allow for an expanded drill programme should the early results warrant
Solaris Resources Inc. is advancing the The Warintza Polymetallic Porhpry Project, which covers ~700m of a 7km x 5km cluster of porphyry targets defined on the property, with a number of untested, multiple-km scale gold targets. Warintza has an in-Pit Inferred Resource: 124 Mt @ 0.70% CuEq1 (0.56% Cu, 0.03% Mo, 0.1 g/t Au) based on minimal historical drilling to 200m.
The company currently has 12 rigs completing a 40km drill programme at the project. This programme has already resulted in the discovery at Warintza West (SLSW-01: 798m of 0.31% CuEq, incl. 260m of 0.42% CuEq from 32m depth) and another new discovery at Warintza East (SLSE-01: First assays return 320m of 0.46% CuEq of 1,213m hole, incl. 54m of 0.70% CuEq). Maiden drilling results from Warintza South, Yawi, Caya, and regional targets is due to commence in H221.
CORNERSTONE CAPITAL RESOURCES
Cornerstone Capital Resources, is a project generator with interest in several projects that are being advanced by other parties.
Cascabel Copper-Gold Porphyry Project
Cornerstone holds a 20.8% direct and indirect interest in SolGold’s Cascabel Copper-Gold Porphyry Project, located in northern Ecuador. Subject to the satisfaction of certain conditions, including SolGold fully funding the project through to feasibility, SolGold PLC (LSE:SOLG, TSX:SOLG, OTC:SLGGF, FRA:S8F) will own 85% of the equity of ENSA and Cornerstone will own the remaining 15% of ENSA. SolGold and Cornstone have recently agreed to work cooperatively to advance the Cascabel Project and to explore and evaluate a range of strategic and financing options focused on maximizing value for their respective shareholders
Bramaderos Gold-Copper Project
Cornerstone also owns a 12.5% interest carried interest in Sunstone Metals’ Bramaderos Gold-Copper Project, located in southern Ecuador.
Espejo Copper-Molybdenum Project
The Espejo Copper-Molybdenum Project is a joint venture with ENAMI EP, Ecuador’s state mining company, in which ENAMI has the option to earn an 84% interest. Several high priority porphyry Cu-Mo (Au) drill targets have been identified within two main target areas based on 3D magnetic inversion modelling. These anomalies are large 1.9km by 1.3km ESP #1 anomaly and 1.0km to 0.7km ESP #2 anomaly. Systematic soil sampling is coincident with the magnetics. A Phase 1 drilling programme (30 holes and 17,000 metres) has been defined
Adventus Mining Corporation
Adventus Mining Corporation is earning a has a 75% interest in the El Domo (NASDAQ:DOMO) Polymetallic Mine, located in central Ecuador. It also has interests in two projects that are part of an exploration Alliance with Salazar Resources.
El Domo Polymetallic Deposit (Curipamba Project)
El Domo has a contained copper resource of 198.8kt Cu at a grade of 1.95% Cu. Adventus can earn 75% of the project by funding exploration and development expenditures of US$25 million before October 2022. A Feasibility Study is expected to be completed during Q421, after which Adventus is required to fund 100% of the development and construction expenditures to commercial production. A 2019 PEA for the operation retuned a post-tax NPV (8%) of US$288m and a post-tax IRR of 40% assuming a copper price of US$3.15/lb over a mine life of 15-years. The project has an initial capex of US$185m and a C1 cost of US$0.96/lbs Cu.
Salazar Resources Limited has a 25% free carried interest in the El Domo Polymetallic Mine, located in central Ecuador that is currently being developed by Adventus Mining Corporation. It also has two projects that are part of an exploration Alliance with Adventus and several 100% owned exploration projects.
Pijili Polymetallic Project
The Pijili Project, located in central Ecuador, is part of the exploration alliance between Salazar and Adventus. The drill holes intersected maiden drilling programme finished in March 2021 for a total of 7,031 metres on the first of multiple porphyry targets identified in the district. Ten of the twelve holes returned results greater than 100 metres of low-grade porphyry mineralisation ranging between 100 to 424 metres with one exception being hole MERC-011, which returned:
18.55 metres, grading 0.99% copper, 0.25 g/t gold, 0.03% molybdenum, 189.8 g/t silver and 0.23% tungsten
In terms of hydrothermal alteration, the intensity of alteration in MERC-012 increased downhole, which is coincident with an increase in magnetite modal content, thereby suggesting a possible transition towards potassic alteration at depth.
Given the positive results from the drilling programme on the Mercy concession intersecting porphyry mineralisation in all twelve drill holes, the Partners are assessing opportunities for a second phase of exploration drilling for later in 2021, or early 2022, to focus on expanding the areas of higher-grade mineralisation.
Los Osos Project
Los Osos is 100%-owned by Salazar Resources. Drilling is underway at the project with 3,113 metres of drilling completed to date in five holes, results to date include:
240 m @ 0.4 g/t Au, 0.1% Cu, and 7.1 g/t Ag from 7m (OSO-03)
244.7 m @ 0.31 g/t Au and 0.06% Cu, from surface (OSO-01)
Drill hole OSO-05 has been completed but not assayed, visual inspection of the core shows mineralisation to a depth of over 800 m downhole. This hole is located approximately 200 m northeast of OSO-03 and was planned to be 500-600 m long but was completed at a depth of 864 m due to continued mineralisation. The rig is now being moved 500 m back to Pad 1 (collar of OSO-01) to drill west
Challenger Exploration, is farming into the El Guayabo Copper-Gold Project, located in southern Ecuador.
The Company has now completed its programme of logging and assaying of a series of 60 historical holes drilled by CEL’s farm-in partner, assays are pending. Previous drilling at the project returned results including:
156m @ 2.6 g/t Au + 9.7 g/t Ag + 0.2% Cu
112m @ 0.6 % Cu +0.7 g/t Au +14.7 g/t Ag
116m @ 0.4% Cu + 0.6 g/t Au + 8.9 g/t Ag
215m @ 0.4% Cu + 0.2 g/t Au + 9.6 g/t Ag
Challenger has completed soil geochemistry and surface mapping across the Company’s 35 square kilometres of concessions with results expected to be available in the current quarter. As at the end of the quarter the Company was ranking its drill prospects to determine which would be tested during the maiden 15,000m drill programme commencing this quarter.
Atico Mining Corporation
Atico Mining Corporation is earning up to a 75%-interest in the La Plata Polymetallic VMS Project, located in central Ecuador. The Project has a NI 43-101 compliant mineral resource estimate of 736koz Au eq at a grade of 12.9g/t Au eq. Around 8,000m of a 12,000m ongoing drill programme at the project has been completed, returning:
9.8 metres, grading 3.77% copper, 2.81 g/t gold, 3.29 g/t silver and 3.47% zinc from 214m (CMLP-21-189)
9.6 metres, grading 3.32% copper, 5.91 g/t gold, 3.32 g/t silver and 4.70% zinc from 191.15m (CMLP-21-190)
6 metres, grading 2.03% copper, 3.00 g/t gold, 171.22 g/t silver and 11.87% zinc from 268.34m (CMLP-21-189)
Tempus Resources owns the Zamora Projects, located in southern Ecuador. The company is focused on its Candain Projects but recently completed a Phase I geochemical sampling programme at its Valle del Tigre Project (VdT) located in south eastern Ecuador. This programme returned anomalous gold and copper observations that identify several trends over 2km, correlating with previous geophysics, mobile metal ion (MMI) and structural surveys suggesting a larger mineralised system with north-south and northeast-southwest trends at VdT.
*a private company associated with the author holds an interest in the shares of this company