Bolivian President resigns after army tells him to go

Evo Morales, South America’s longest-serving president and a towering figure for the region’s left-wing movements, resigned after election irregularities triggered weeks of violent clashes and intervention from the armed forces. Morales said he was leaving office to avoid violence, adding that he wouldn’t flee the country, since he hadn’t stolen anything. He pointed to the economic progress of the country and said in his resignation speech that he was the victim of a coup and called for the international community to intervene.

Camino Minerals allowed to expand drilling in southern Peru

The Peruvian Ministry of Energy and Mines approved a permit related to Camino Minerals' (TSXV: COR) environmental impact assessment for the Chapitos copper-gold project.

The permit allows for the expansion of drilling activities along the Diva Trend at Chapitos. Drilling is expected to commence during the latter half of 2019.

Camino's 2019 exploration program is ongoing and includes geological mapping and structural analysis, chip/channel and trench sampling, and road building, all in preparation for geophysics and drilling

In a press release, Camino explained that the 200-drill pad permit allows for a maximum of 908 drill holes or 445,200 metres of drilling over a 3.6-year period.

According to the miner, the drilling will further define and potentially expand on the copper mineralized zones at the Adriana, Katty, and Vicky targets, but also includes drilling designed to evaluate the potential for additional zones of copper mineralization along the Diva Trend.

"Camino is excited to have received the EIA permit to continue drilling the Diva Trend copper mineralization along strike and down dip allowing for potential expansion of the mineralized footprint," the firm's CEO, John Williamson, said in the media brief. "The permit will allow the company to better locate drill collars in optimum locations to both test the Diva structure and other structural and stratigraphic copper opportunities while potentially minimizing drill costs."

Camino informed that the exploration program will also include follow-up work on the Atajo Trend where exploratory drilling intersected 0.83 % copper over 16.3 metres, including 2.09 % copper over 5.0 metres.

The Chapitos project is a 22,000-hectare land pack near Chala in southern Peru.

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New Energy to acquire project near Codelco’s and BHP’s mines in Chile

Canada's New Energy Metals (TSXV: ENRG) announced that it entered into a letter of intent with certain arm’s length vendors to be granted the exclusive right and option to acquire an initial 70% royalty-free interest in and to certain exploration and exploitation mineral concessions known as the “Exploradora North project.”

The 84,750-hectare project is located in the II and III Regions of northern Chile along the prolific West Fissure fault system between the open-pit Escondida mine, the largest copper mine in the world which is owned by BHP and Rio Tinto, and Codelco’s El Salvador underground copper mine.

In a press release, New Energy explained that Exploradora North is also located immediately north and east of Codelco’s Exploradora deep drilling project, where near-surface resource reported 100 Mt of 0.3 Cu and 0.2 g/t gold.

According to New Energy, Minera Activa, a private Chilean company, recently announced positive results in the Exploradora district, and Brazil’s Vale is also actively drilling to the west of Exploradora North.

To move forward with the acquisition, New Energy Metals, through a wholly-owned Chilean subsidiary, will enter into a formal option to purchase agreement which contemplates that the Vancouver-based firm has to incur in exploration expenditures on the project of at least $15 million within 48 months of the effective date. The company will also have to pay $8.5 million an issue an aggregate of 11,500,000 common shares of New Energy Metals, all of which will be done in different installments or phases.

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Bonus schemes play a role in tailings dams failures – research

A paper published in the journal Resources Policy states that bonus schemes for middle management employees in mining companies play a role in tailings dams failures.

According to the research article, such compensation packages actively encourage managers to cut costs and increase production, as the material decisions that put into motion such measures lay in their hands and positive results would increase their annual bonuses.

Although most mining companies don’t make public the compensation packages they give their middle management personnel, such incentives are known to be a common practice in the industry. Thus, using the information provided by the two companies that do report them, Newmont Goldcorp (NYSE: NEM, TSX: NGT) and AngloGold Ashanti (JSE:ANG, NYSE:AU), the authors of the study found that some schemes are equivalent, in financial terms, to an equity payment plus a put option.

The number of tailings dam failures has doubled in recent years from 8 in the period 1999–2003 to 16 in 2014–2018

“So the bonus is highly leveraged. Like investment bankers, the person stands to gain a lot if his/her performance is above target, but loses little, if it falls below target,” the study reads. “Year after year, managers keep taking risks with a low probability of occurrence but with potentially catastrophic consequences. These risks are compounded by shortages of experienced staff due to the cyclic nature of the industry and the retirement of the baby-boomer generation.”

Authors Margaret Armstrong, Renato Petterd and Carlos Petterd connected their observations to those in earlier research papers that analyzed certain cases of tailings dams failures and found that either production was increased or costs were significantly reduced in the years leading to the accidents.

The academics report that, for example, prior to the collapse of the tailings facility at the gold and copper Mount Polley mine in British Columbia in August 2014, which resulted in 24 million cubic meters of contaminated sludge and mine waste going into nearby lakes and rivers, Canada’s Imperial Metals (TSX: III) had grown its production by 23% in Q2-2014 from the previous quarter.

Boliden Apirsa, on the other hand, had flat revenues from 1995 to 1997, just before the tailings dam crashed at the Los Frailes lead and zinc mine in Aznalcóllar, Spain, in April 1998. But capital expenditures doubled during this period from $55.4 million to $112.3 million and operating income increased spectacularly from $2.3 million to $84.9 million. “So production costs must have dropped significantly over the period.”

The aftermath of the disaster in Brumardinho following Vale's tailings dam collapse. Photo by Vinícius Mendonça/Ibama, Wikimedia Commons.

In Brazil, production at Vale’s (NYSE:VALE) Samarco iron ore mine had increased by almost 40% in the five quarters just before the accident there in 2015, which killed 19 people and became the country’s worst-ever environmental disaster. Similarly, at the Paraopeba subsection of the Southern System where the Corrego do Feijão dam was located, production was risen by 12% in the five quarters before the Brumardinho catastrophe where almost 300 people died.

“The next question we asked ourselves was: Had an extra tailings dam been constructed to handle this additional quantity of rejects, or was it being pumped into existing tailings facilities? Alternatively, had filter presses or high capacity thickening been introduced to reduce the quantity of water?”, the authors of the paper ask.

After reviewing Vale’s quarterly reports for investors, which list all the major projects in progress, they found that there is no mention of building a new tailings dam or of filter presses. “This means that the existing ones had to cope with the waste from the extra production.”

Off the hook

Except for $42.5 million for the initial clean-up, the paper in Resources Policy highlights the fact that Boliden Apirsa succeeded in avoiding paying for the pollution caused by the tailings dam breach.

“Boliden's legal team and expert witnesses convinced a Spanish court of law that the tailings dam failure was due to geotechnical problems, thereby transferring the responsibility to the companies that had designed and built the dam. An epic legal battle ensued in which the Spanish Ministry of the Environment and the local government of Andalusia attempted to get Boliden to pay for the damage, but failed due to loopholes in the Spanish legal system,” the document reads.

In the case of the Mount Polley mine, Armstrong and her colleagues bring to the forefront the fact that the Independent Expert Engineering Investigation and Review Panel established after the accident found that the failure was caused by the design, which did not take into account the complexity of the sub-glacial and pre-glacial geological environment associated with the Perimeter Embankment foundation.

This has meant that no one has been held responsible for the disaster and, on top of this, the 3-year deadline to lay charges under British Columbia laws passed in 2017, while there is only one year left to lay charges under federal environmental and fisheries law.

The authors of the study refrained from commenting on the legal proceedings involving Vale’s tailings dam failures as they are still in progress.

In their recommendations of what would be needed to stop tailings dam failures, the researchers suggest, besides changes in the processing technology and wider adoption of the Mining Association of Canada’s guidelines issued in 2017, heavier fines and penalties.

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Sweden eyes Peruvian lithium

Sweden’s Deputy Minister of Foreign Trade and Promotion Niklas Johansson said this week that his country is interested in helping Peru develop its lithium mining industry.

According to Johansson, Sweden has become lithium-thirsty due to an increase in demand for electric cars, bolstered by government efforts to reduce carbon emissions and promote clean energy solutions.

EVs’ batteries have an intercalated lithium compound as one electrode material.

Experts predict that the mining industry will need to invest $12 billion within five years to meet the global demand for lithium

Even though Peru is not part of the so-called ‘Lithium Triangle’ formed by Bolivia, Chile and Argentina, just a year ago Macusani Yellowcake, the Peruvian subsidiary of Canada’s Plateau Energy Metals (TSX-V: PLU), found 2.5 million tonnes of high-grade lithium resources at its Falchani hard rock deposit in the southern Puno region.

According to Reuters, companies such as US-based Albemarle, the world’s No. 1 producer of the metal, and China’s Tianqi Lithium, the No. 3, may be waiting for Plateau to confirm the size of its reserves before showing their interest in Peru.

Sweden doesn’t seem to be waiting, though. Speaking in Lima at a conference called “Mining for the future: The Swedish experience,” which was organized by the embassy of the European country and the mining division of the Engineers College of Peru, Johansson said that the lithium demand from companies such as Volvo and Scania is in an upward trend and that Swedish miners are eager to develop responsible and sustainable lithium projects.

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