Dominican Republic , Panama , Nicaragua and Guatemala

Miners face permit hurdles at CentAm, Dominican Rep projects

Bnamericas Published: Monday, July 11, 2022
Miners face permit hurdles at CentAm, Dominican Rep projects

Mining companies are aiming to deliver a surge in production across Central America and the Caribbean, as they push ahead with permitting for gold and copper projects in a strong price environment.

The subregion hosts nine projects for which spending estimates have been given, with combined capex of almost US$3.8bn, spread over the Dominican Republic, Panama, Nicaragua and Guatemala, according to BNamericas’ database.

Permitting decisions are expected at at least five by end-2022.

Other areas of focus for companies at the projects this year include advancing technical reports, exploration, construction progress and community engagement.

Updates were not available for the Mayaníquel or Santa Rita projects in Guatemala and Nicaragua, respectively.


1. Pueblo Viejo expansion, Dominican Republic

Metal: Gold

Capex: US$1.30bn

2H22 focus: Permit approval, construction advances

Barrick Gold is targeting a permitting breakthrough at the Pueblo Viejo expansion this year, which has been plagued by community opposition to a tailings storage facility (TSF).

The expansion – which aims to maintain production at around 800,000oz/y gold at Latin America’s biggest gold mine, a 60:40 JV with Newmont – comprises two main components.

Firstly, a processing plant expansion, construction of which reached 39% at end-Q1.

But the company has had setbacks at the TSF, which will be vital to continued operations at Pueblo Viejo in the coming decades.

Following violent protests last year, the company and the Dominican Republic government decided to conduct independent reviews to consider alternative locations for the dam.

Two options have now been shortlisted.

Barrick plans to submit an environmental permit application for the final option early this quarter, and hopes to receive a decision by authorities around end-2022 or early next year, CEO Mark Bristow told a conference call in May.

2. Cerro Blanco, Guatemala

Metal: Gold

Capex: US$572mn

2H22 focus: Permit approval, community engagement

Bluestone Resources demonstrated the economic viability of its Cerro Blanco project (in picture) in a 2022 feasibility study, which showed a 30% post-tax IRR for a US$572mn open-pit operation producing 2.6Moz gold and 10.6Moz silver over an initial 14-year mine life.

But the company faces a number of potential pitfalls on the path to production – and the development timeline has slipped.

On the permitting front, Bluestone submitted an environmental permit amendment application to Guatemalan authorities last year, to reflect the change to open-pit from underground operations.

“The company has been monitoring progress with the relevant authorities and currently anticipates receiving approval of the environmental permit amendment by end-2022, followed by a construction license and forestry permits,” the company said in a June update.

But with financing contingent on the approval of the permit amendment, the company has decided to delay committing capital to long lead items.

“Waiting for the approval of the environmental permit amendment will impact previously communicated timelines,” Bluestone added.

Work on a new bridge is ongoing, and due for completion in the coming months, while pricing has been received for major equipment including the mining fleet, grinding mills and filter presses, which have been in line with estimates in the feasibility study.

But the company also reported a rise in anti-mining activities, mainly from outside of the region of the project, and directed at influencing surrounding communities.

3. Cobre Panamá expansion, Panama

Metals: Copper, gold

Capex: US$450mn

2H22 focus: Construction

First Quantum Minerals is on target to deliver its Cobre Panamá Expansion or CP100 project – which will boost the processing rate at the Cobre Panamá mine to 100Mt/y from 85Mt/y currently by 2024.

The project involves investment of US$450mn to expand the capacity of the processing plant, including a primary screening plant, the addition of a sixth ball mill, upgrades to the water system and increased mining capacity to meet the higher rates.

All expansion works are scheduled for completion in 1Q23, so that the mine will be operating at a 100Mt/y from 2024 onwards, the company said in a May presentation.

4. Cerro Quema/Caballito, Panama

Metal: Gold

Capex: US$164mn

2H22 focus: Exploration

Orla Mining is investing US$5.0mn in drilling at its Panama properties in 2022, consist of infill and expansion drilling of known deposits, drill testing exploration targets, geophysical surveys, bedrock mapping and prospecting.

“Our focus in Panama for 2022 is exploration, while we await our environmental permit,” CEO Jason Simpson told a conference call in May.

The company expects the Panama government to consider its environmental permit application once authorities have passed a new contract agreement for First Quantum’s Cobre Panamá.

A prefeasibility study for the Cerro Quema oxide project last year showed production of 81,000oz/y gold over a six-year mine life, with initial capex estimated at US$164mn.

A separate resource estimate has been released for Orla’s Caballito copper-gold deposit.

5. La India, Nicaragua

Metal: Gold

Capex: Up to US$160m

2H22 focus: Feasibility work

Condor Gold’s main area of focus at La India this year has been to complete work for a feasibility study, while continuing to acquire land to allow the project to advance.

The company has completed feasibility level design of the infrastructure for the support of the mine and plant, while processing plant designs have been finalized to feasibility study standard, according to its latest MD&A report.

The company raised 3.25mn British pounds (US$3.88mn) in June, mainly to support feasibility work.

The company is evaluating a number of potential production scenarios at La India, including a 1.4Mt/y-throughput open-pit and underground operation, producing around 150,000oz/y gold in the first nine of a 12-year mine life, requiring US$160mn of initial capex.

6. Romero, Dominican Republic

Metal: Gold

Capex: US$159mn

2H22 focus: Permitting

GoldQuest Mining’s development aims at Romero have to date been thwarted by delays in the approval of an exploitation license, which run into several years.

While there have been some positive signs under the current administration – with energy and mines minister Antonio Almonte expressing support for the project in a meeting with GoldQuest CEO Dave Massola in March – no timeline has been given for its approval.

The project is expected to produce 109,000oz/y gold.

GoldQuest has said its new CEO, Dominican citizen Luis Santana Pereyra, will initially be responsible for working towards achieving the Romero exploitation license when he takes up the role in September.

But the company is also considering opportunities in other countries as a priority, given the permitting uncertainty at Romero.

7. Neita (Candelones)

Metal: Gold 

Capex: US$36mn

2H22 focus: Permit approval, studies

Unigold is targeting a string of milestones at its Neita (Candelones) project this year.

The aim is to deliver a feasibility study, an environmental and social impact assessment and an approved exploitation license during Q3.

Authorities are finalizing a review of the exploitation license application, which Unigold expects to be favorable, after which it will be passed to the energy and mines ministry for review and ultimately sent for presidential review.

The feasibility study is for the Candelones oxide project, located within the Neita concessions.

The 2021 PEA showed production of 31,000oz/y gold with initial capex at US$36mn, and a post-tax IRR of 35%.

Unigold is continuing to expand and evaluate the larger sulfide resources at Neita, which offers a longer-term development opportunity.

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