The project, which began in 2015, has been met with environmental concerns from surrounding communities.
A project jointly owned by the world's top copper producer Chilean Codelco, and Ecuadorean miner Enami EP has reached the advanced exploration stage despite receiving strong opposition from nearby communities.
The Llurimagua copper project will be carried out about 80 kilometers northeast of Ecuador's capital, Quito, in the Imbabura Province. Though Codelco considered prospects in Brazil and Mexico, the 982-million-ton copper project in Ecuador will be the Chilean company's first venture abroad.
The project, which began in 2015, has been met with environmental concerns from surrounding communities. Fitch Solutions Macro Research released a report stating the increased risk of exacerbating tensions between locals and companies due to mining expansion and exploration.
Ecuador has witnessed two landmark cases, in the last year, in which courts ruled in favor of Indigenous communities who were not adequately informed about mineral exploitation being conducted in their territories. The 2008 Constitution protects this right.
Ministra Williams junto al presidente de Ecuador, Lenín Moreno, se reúnen para la firma de la “Declaración Conjunta de Cooperación” que impulsará el proyecto minero ecuatoriano Llurimagua, cuyos socios son Codelco y Enami EP de Ecuador pic.twitter.com/3Hc6gDo44u— Ministerio de Minería (@MinMineria_cl) March 10, 2018
While Ecuador's forests are “open to mineral exploration but (are) subject to strict environmental standards and obligations supervised by the Ministry of Environment,” according to the chief executive of Cornerstone Capital Resources Brooke MacDonald, mining activity has been banned in concessions already in operation due to Indigenous resistance.
Just last month, a judge in the province of Sucumbio banned the activity in 52 concessions, including a requirement for reparations to be made for any environmental impacts caused.
Enami has already been slapped with an environmental lawsuit.
Late last year, the Cotacachi government filed a suit against the miner for damaging the protected forest inhabited by the endangered Andean bear, and clearing forest area.
According to experts, the environmental effects of the Llurimagua project are already noticeable, despite still being in the exploration phase. Water quality in the area has been monitored by an independent collective of 70 scientists and locals. They have recorded alarming levels of chemicals such as arsenic, manganese, copper and molybdenum in streams and micro-basins that run downstream from Llurimagua. They have also reported landslides near the exploration zones.
These predictive issues give communities the "right to start questioning what's going to happen once the companies start extracting," William Sacher, leader of the collective and academic at the Simon Bolivar Andean University, said.
President of the Defense and Ecological Conservation of Intag, Silvia Quilumbango points out how "the contamination from extracting metals is much more permanent (than farming).”