The Quimsacocha water, between greed and life

The Quimsacocha water, between greed and life

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By Alberto Acosta, William Sacher

The examination of industrial mining around the planet shows countless multiple and irreversible damages and destruction of Nature. The countries of Latin America, Africa and Asia whose economies depend fundamentally on mineral or oil resources will not get out of poverty.

“Mining is fundamental to the modern era. Without it we return to the time of the caves. We cannot fall into the irresponsibility of being beggars sitting on a bag of gold. Correctly managed mining is positive ”. - Rafael Correa, President of Ecuador - Quimsacocha, October 25, 2011

Can mining be sustainable? Is the underlying question. The answer is easy. Definitely not. Nowhere on the planet is there a "sustainable" mining. This should not be surprising. By definition the exploitation of non-renewable resources is not sustainable. An extractivist process is sustainable when it can be maintained over time, without external help and without the scarcity of existing resources. [1] To argue otherwise is to practice distorting speech.

It is precisely this discourse, which promises a "sustainable mining", designed by the large mining transnationals, within the framework of the Global Mining Initiative, more than 10 years ago, that the government of President Rafael Correa has deployed.

In the National Plan for the Development of the Mining Sector 2011-2015 this transnational message has been assumed. There it is offered to generate "conditions of sustainable development" in large-scale mining activity. It is solemnly said, among many other unfulfilled promises, that this activity would contribute to "the equitable distribution of its benefits, generating new areas of development and contributing to the Good Living model."

Is it possible to believe in a well-done mega-mining that does not cause severe environmental and social impacts and that, furthermore, becomes the path to Good Living? Of course not. Reality contradicts this statement, which is nothing more than crude manipulation.

Mega-mining in the light of reality

The examination of industrial mining around the planet shows countless multiple and irreversible damages and destruction of Nature. The countries of Latin America, Africa and Asia whose economies depend fundamentally on mineral or oil resources will not get out of poverty.

Modern industrial mining implies the massive extraction -and in a very short time-, of the greatest possible quantity of mineral resources; resources that have been formed in processes of very long duration, at tectonic scales. At present, the sites of high mineral concentration are being depleted. However, high world market prices allow mining to be profitable even in deposits where ore is scarce. Hence the highly destructive character of 21st century mining. To produce these deposits, it is necessary to apply a large-scale industrial mining, with massive use of chemicals that are sometimes highly toxic, the abundant consumption of water and the accumulation of large amounts of waste. This is the synthesis of the mega-mining that is envisioned in Ecuador.

This gigantism causes the generation of enormous environmental impacts. Harmful effects are often seen as early as the exploration phase. However, when the exploitation starts, the mega-mining shows its face of a predatory monster: gigantic holes or tunnels are opened in Mother Earth and toxic chemicals are used to process the extracted minerals as a result of which irreversible ecological damage is invariably registered. The mobilization of the extracted material affects large areas of territory.

The water between the mining business and life

Mining pollution is particularly devastating for water. The water ends up being unusable for human consumption and for agriculture. Although these consequences occur to a variable degree depending on the size of the farm and the techniques used, there is always a large-scale contamination of surface and groundwater, by acid rock drainage and with toxic substances, including heavy metals. such as arsenic, lead, cadmium, chromium, cyanide and mercury, and even radioactive substances.

Acid rock drainage is a phenomenon that can occur from the beginning of the mine and last for tens and even thousands of years, and it is particularly destructive to ecosystems. This form of pollution occurs when rainwater, or even air, comes into contact with rocks that have been displaced from the subsoil to the surface and accumulated in the dumps, in the craters of open-cast mines or in the mine waste dikes. Generally, there is a high risk of oxidation of sulfurous rocks due to rain or humid air, which ends up causing unusual acidification of the waters that run over these rocks. There are many cases around the planet in which all these forms of pollution affected entire ecosystems, particularly aquatic life, causing the disappearance of entire species of fish.

In Ecuador, most of the mining deposits to be exploited would be particularly exposed to this problem because they contain sulfurous rocks, known to generate acid drainage.

The contamination of water sources also causes a series of direct and indirect impacts in terms of public health, such as degenerative diseases, skin diseases, etc. Once heavy metals from mines enter the food chain, they remain there. These substances accumulate in fish and other species that absorb these metals. By feeding on these species, human beings also accumulate these substances in their body. The populations most vulnerable to the accumulation of heavy metals are children and pregnant women.

It should be noted that the same Iamgold company, owner of the Quimsacocha project, has been accused of having contaminated the water sources around its African Yatela project in Mali, a sub-Saharan country that opened the door to large-scale mining in the late 1990s. There, according to a government report, abnormal rates of spontaneous abortions have been observed in neighboring communities.

The scale of this devastation is closely linked to the size of the mines and their voracity in terms of energy and water. Modern industrial mining requires enormous amounts of water to function. An average of 7 to 8 thousand liters of water is required to extract one ounce of gold (an amount barely larger than a ring). To produce one ton of copper, between 30 and 500 thousand liters of water are used. After being used in mining, the vital liquid is irreparably contaminated; that is, unusable for human consumption and for food production.

The huge amounts of waste left by modern industrial mines are equally responsible for the large-scale pollution of hydrographic networks. To realize this gigantism, it is worth mentioning the example of Canada, the world leader in the mining sector: in this country, the mining industry generates 60 times more waste than all the cities in the country combined.

On a global scale, the production of one ton of pure copper involves an average of 500 tons of waste (sterile earth, rubble and other mining waste). In the case of gold, the proportions are even scarier: the production of one ounce of gold involves an average of 20 to 60 tons of solid waste, while in certain cases, this figure can rise to more than 400 tons.

In Ecuador, current projects are faithful to this gigantism. To produce a total of 208,800 tons of copper concentrate, the Mirador open-pit mining project of the ECSA (Chinese capital) company in the Cordillera del Cóndor will produce at least 326 million tons of waste over the life of the mine. This amount represents a volume corresponding to more than 4 Panecillos, and is comparable to the garbage collection of the city of Cuenca for almost 5000 years! According to prudent estimates made by Japanese experts, the open-pit mining of the Junín deposit in Íntag would imply the occupation of 600 hectares just for the tailings, and 200 hectares for the tailings dikes.

It should be noted that these large amounts of mining waste, being accumulated over many years, represent a threat to current and future generations. Accidental spills of toxic waste are frequent around the world which led to ecological, economic and social catastrophes. In Ecuador, there is a very strong risk that these types of accidents will occur as a result of the high seismicity and heavy rainfall that is recorded in the country, which could lead to the rupture of the tailings dams.

In the case of Ecuador, these water contaminations will be much more serious in geographic areas characterized by high rainfall and normally rich in biodiversity, such as Intag or particularly the Cordillera del Cóndor where the Mirador, Fruta mega-projects are located. del Norte and Panantza San Carlos. The páramo areas, the formation zones of the country's water sources, are also particularly sensitive. Remember that 12.5% ​​of the páramo areas of the country are already under concession.

Siege of Quimsacocha water

In Quimsacocha, where the activity will be underground, it is estimated that 3,000 tons of material will be moved every day; a volume equivalent to 15 times that of the daily garbage collection of the City of Cuenca. Although it is true that underground mining does not imply such a large disfigurement of the landscape, by removing large amounts of rock, it causes the same harmful impacts on the environment as open-pit mining does.

Therefore, it can be concluded that it is highly probable that rivers and aquifers will be irreversibly contaminated if the gold deposit in Quimsacocha is exploited. This worries. The area of ​​the mining project is located precisely in one of the main sources of water in the city of Cuenca and in many other surrounding towns, whose inhabitants, with good reason, protest against this activity. Residents can rely on UAIE Report 0036-2009 from the State Comptroller General's Office, which established that these "mining concessions would affect the quality and quantity of water in the Yanuncay River basin", which supplies the Drinking Water Treatment Plant SUSTAG of ETAPA In these circumstances, it is a fallacy to say that the exploitation in Quimsacocha "will not contaminate the water sources that feed Cuenca," as President Correa stated on October 25 of this year, when he arrived in said area protected by hundreds of soldiers and policemen.

It is obvious that in these areas of formation of water sources, as in Quimsacocha, the impacts on the vital liquid are extremely harmful. This explains why, with plenty of arguments, the Cuenca Cantonal Council rejected, on September 22, 2011, the Quimsacocha and Rio Blanco mining projects; projects in which, in addition, prior consultation has not been given.

Of course, mining companies and governments complicit in their interests, boosted by the great press that profits from mining advertising, will always say that contaminated water can be treated, that "water will end up cleaner" after it has been served. to the extraction of metals, and that other environmental problems can also be managed with new technologies.

In their arrogance (and in some cases ignorance) they will never recognize that it is impossible to fully control the impact and the path that mining waste will take. Nor will they accept that the effects of heavy metal pollution and acid rock drainage last for centuries, and sometimes millennia, what company can guarantee water treatment for centuries?

The companies base their claims on the premise that modern technology and current science are capable of diagnosing, anticipating and controlling all the impacts that large-scale mining can cause. Blind belief in the capabilities of science and technology is deeply ingrained in the modern Western imaginary. To this naive belief, it is enough to oppose the recent reality and history of mega-mining in the world, which demonstrate ad nauseam what its enormous and harmful impacts are on Nature and the lives of human beings.

The merry accounts of mega-mining

In Ecuador, in summary, large mining projects threaten to contaminate regions of high biodiversity, one of the most dense in biodiversity on the planet, and sources of water for Ecuador and neighboring countries. Indeed, water transports pollutants very well and the impacts would spread to other areas. And all this without considering the serious social impacts that this mega extractive activity entails.

It should be remembered that normally transnational companies and complicit governments exclusively highlight the “enormous” amounts of existing mining reserves, transformed into monetary values. The Ecuadorian Chamber of Mining speaks of more than 115 billion dollars in strategic projects. With these figures, which are generally highly exaggerated, they want to sensitize public opinion in favor of mining. It does not matter that the existing mining potential is not real. This is said by Pablo Duque, head of the geology department of the National Polytechnic School, one of the greatest connoisseurs of the country's mining reality. Duque is categorical: "It starts from a false premise that Ecuador has great mining potential." And for that very reason, this geologist recommends small mining rather than mega-mining.

Let us leave this debate to geologists for the moment. Let's talk about the supposed economic advantages that would justify so much destruction. Indeed, once the metals have been extracted from the subsoil, one would have to wonder how much the State will really have left. Regarding royalties and taxes, even if the government has every will to collect them, large mining companies are champions in avoiding or evading the payment of taxes, through so-called tax havens. It is undoubtedly for this purpose that several transnational companies present in Ecuador use subsidiaries registered in notorious tax havens such as the Cayman Islands or the Virgin Islands. This is precisely the case of the Canadian company Iamgold, owner of the Quimsacocha project. The Toronto parent company owns Iamgold Ecuador S.A through an intermediary subsidiary, the Iamgold South American Corporation, a company registered in another tax haven: Barbados.

In addition, the Ecuadorian mines will produce the metal in a coarse form, that is, with impurities. For example, the copper concentrate produced at Mirador will be approximately 30% copper, 60% other minerals and 10% water. Because Ecuador does not have metal refineries, the refining process will be carried out abroad, where most of the profits will remain.

The so-called hidden costs -environmental and social- should be added to this, for example the economic value of pollution. There are studies from the United States and Canada, which estimate that remediation of mining waste from abandoned mines would cost between $ 5 and $ 67 per ton of material removed. Let's do the calculation for the Mirador project, owned by the ECSA company, in the Cordillera del Cóndor: it is expected to process at least 326 million tons of material, which would mean a remediation cost of between $ 1.63 billion and $ 21.84 billion. It should be remembered that the income that the State would obtain from royalties in Mirador is estimated at approximately 700 million dollars, an amount much less than the cost of remediation. It follows from this why companies do not want to take over this remediation stage.

These are economic accounts that normally do not appear in projects and that companies invariably transfer to society; remember the oil devastation in the northeast of the Amazon, caused by the Chevron-Texaco company. The so-called “perverse subsidies”, which are expressed through the delivery of energy at lower prices, free or reduced cost water, and even transportation infrastructure, should also enter the cost list. Have these evaluations been submitted? No. Probably because assuming these costs would significantly reduce the profitability of the companies and the meager benefits for the State would be highlighted.

Mega-mining or Good Living? That is the question!

In Ecuador, as it happens in many countries of the world, industrial mining will leave dead rivers, deforested mountain ranges, communities in conflict, diseases, violations of Human Rights and Rights of Nature, armies of the unemployed, as well as landless peasants and indigenous people.

Furthermore, mega-mining will strengthen the violent and authoritarian roots of extractivism. In other words, the exploitation of this type of natural asset generates serious social tensions in the regions where it is carried out. The economic and social impacts cause the division of communities, fights between them and within families, intra-family violence, the violation of community and human rights, increases in crime and insecurity, land trafficking, etc. Additionally, the great social tensions in the regions grow through other perverse forms of domination that occur when, for example, extractivist companies are formed in which indigenous groups participate to exploit these non-renewable natural resources in conflictive areas. This type of situation increases the confusion of the peoples and generates more internal ruptures.

Violence surfaces even when governments, even those self-proclaimed and mistakenly considered progressive, as in the case of Ecuador, criminalize the popular protest that emerges against extractivist activities, with the sole purpose of guaranteeing them ... in order to reduce poverty, as justified by the official message. An objective that, moreover, is not achieved by forcing extractivism. With his statements that “we cannot fall into the irresponsibility of being beggars sitting on a bag of gold”, President Correa demonstrated that he maintains the illusion of extractivism, imposed since the colony and figuratively expressed in the same terms two centuries ago, shortly before the beginning of the Republic, by the famous German scientist Alexander von Humboldt. [2]

In short, as the opposite of multiple violence, the list of repressions tied to extractivism is long. This could be one of the backdrops in the history of our peoples, which began more than five hundred years ago, when this form of extractivist accumulation was inaugurated that condemned us to poverty. Large-scale mining, no doubt, does not contribute to the construction of Good Living.-

November 1, 2011- ALAI

Alberto Acosta placeholder image: Ecuadorian economist. Professor and researcher at FLACSO. Minister of Energy and Mines. President of the Constituent Assembly.

William Sacher: PhD in atmospheric and ocean science. Researcher of the group of academic authors African Resources, Montreal, Canada.


[1] Sustainable development is, then, that process that allows meeting current needs without compromising the possibilities of future generations. For the construction of Good Living, it is necessary to go even far beyond sustainable development, it is necessary to assume Nature as a subject of rights, as provided by the Constitution of Montecristi.

[2] When Alejandro von Humboldt arrived in what is now Ecuador, on his historic tour of American lands, more than two hundred years ago, he was amazed by the geography, flora and fauna of the region. They say that he saw its inhabitants as if they were beggars sitting on a bag of gold, referring to their immeasurable untapped natural riches. Since then, attached to this vision, as the Spaniards did when they conquered these lands, time and again the governments of Ecuador have tried to extract the treasures that exist in said bag ...

Video: Alberto Acosta, sobre consulta popular acerca de minería en #Quimsacocha (June 2022).


  1. Macauliffe

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  2. Ridwan

    Yes, in time to reply, this is important

  3. Skeat

    Infinite discussion :)

  4. Myeshia

    You speak factually

  5. Moogulabar

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