Note: The first part appeared in last week's Net News, and the final instalment can be read next week.
Anti-mining issues topped the agenda in Peru. The government pushed a mine closure law through Congress, dealing with some aspects of opposition to the industry, but struggled to come up with concrete measures to make mining contribute to sustainable development.
Canada's Manhattan Minerals hit a major roadblock for its Tambo Grande polymetallic project after state miner Centromin ruled in December that it failed to meet the option contract conditions. Fierce local opposition to the project obstructed the legally required environmental impact statement public hearing and most likely hindered Manhattan's efforts to sign up a needed partner to comply with the requirements.
Phelps Dodge's majority-owned Cerro Verde copper mine launched a feasibility study on the approximately US$400-million primary sulphide project to produce around 110,000 t/y copper.
BHP Billiton resumed the 90,000-t/y sulphide operation at its Tintaya copper mine, originally suspended in January 2002 due to weak demand.
The Lima stock market launched a venture exchange in September for junior mining companies wanting to raise funds for exploration.
Barrick Gold's board approved the draft feasibility study for its 7.2-million-oz Alto Chicama project in northwest Peru. The mine is forecast to produce 540,000 oz/y at cash costs of US$135/oz over the first decade of the mine's life for a capital expenditure of US$340 million. Construction start-up is slated for the first half of 2004.
London-based Monterrico Metals launched a bankable feasibility study at its Rio Blanco copper project in northern Peru, after pre-feasibility work indicated that a US$191-million mine could support about 100,000 t/y copper in concentrate for the first seven years.
The government's plans to export natural gas sparked political turmoil and violence, in which discontented small-scale miners played an important role, leading to the resignation of Bolivian president Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada in October.
Miners are already putting pressure on new interim president Carlos Mesa, giving the government 60 days to find solutions to problems facing the sector or else face demonstrations. Meanwhile, little headway was made in Bolivian state miner Comibol's plans to sell off some of the country's mining assets, including El Mutun iron ore deposit.
The year showed a slow but steady increase in exploration interest in Ecuador, boosted by greater political stability and a reformed mining law. Community issues, however, remain a potential dark cloud on the horizon.
Vancouver-based Corriente Resources launched a feasibility study at its Mirador copper-gold project in October, due for completion mid-2004, while Arizona-based junior International Minerals started feasibility work at its Rio Blanco gold-silver project.
Colombia's government spent much of the year reorganizing the state mining sector to increase competitiveness, improve mining data and establish stable rules of the game for investors. It wound up state coal company Carbocol and, likewise, intends to dissolve state mining company Minercol and merge the two agencies into a single entity.
Canada's Greystar Resources raised US$15.4 million to start a three-phase, 65,000-m exploration drill program at its Angostura gold property to take the project to feasibility stage.
Despite Venezuela's continued unstable political situation, and the threat of mining concessions being withdraw under a government review, some important projects made significant ground over the year.
A feasibility study for Toronto-based Crystallex International's 10.2-million-oz Las Cristinas gold project estimated average production of 266,000 oz/y gold for 43 years at total cash costs of US$196/oz, based on a 20,000-t/d operation, for a capital expenditure of US$243 million. Crystallex is now considering expanding the operation to 40,000 t/d.
A bankable feasibility study for Toronto-based Bolivar Gold's Choco 10 property showed average production of 125,000 oz/y gold over 6.5 years at total cash costs of US$146/oz for a capital expense of US$38.6 million. Mill commissioning is earmarked for September 2004.