Daniel Santamaría
Mexico Vice President
Minera Gorrión, subsidiary of Almaden Minerals Ltd
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Almaden's Ixtaca: Sustainable Economic Development for Puebla

By Alejandro Ehrenberg | Tue, 07/28/2020 - 14:02

Q: How does Almaden Minerals incorporate ILO 169 and other standards in its operations?

A: Mexico is among the 23 nations that have signed ILO 169. The majority of its signers are Latin American. Only four European nations have joined it, and neither Canada nor the United States participate in it. ILO 169 has served to strengthen indigenous peoples’ human rights, something that Almaden takes very seriously. Mexico’s legal system is inspired in ILO 169, and at Almaden Minerals we conduct our business in full compliance with all local laws. But we also have a track record of going beyond what regulatory compliance requires. At the Ixtaca Project we engaged third-party experts to conduct a social impact study –Trámite de Evaluación de Impacto Social (EVIS)– that current Mexican regulation does not require us to do. The EVIS is based on United Nations and Mexican energy regulation best practices. The independent third-party specialists assisted us in adapting those requirements to a mining context. Also, they conducted those studies, since best practices also dictate that a third-party must undertake them.

After months of work, we came up with a social management program that addresses the needs and human rights of all communities in our impact area. Through our studies, we pinpointed the difference between perception and reality among community members. Thanks to this action, we have been able to design a state-of-the-art water reservoir system for the Ixtaca project. When it is put in place it will be able to serve both the mine and the local communities. The input we received as a result of these social and environmental studies also helped us decide to use a dry-stack tailings facility, which uses much less water than traditional slurry facilities, reduces the mine footprint, allows for better dust control, and enables earlier rehabilitation of the tailings and waste disposal areas.

People might have the perception that a mine is going to destroy their land and damage their water supply. However, the reality today is that modern mining standards require numerous safeguards, state-of-the-art engineering and water-management protocols to monitor and prevent that from happening. The goal is actually to water quality in the area if possible. Our social management program includes tools so that stakeholders and communities can verify that water sources have been protected.

Q: What are the main characteristics of your investment strategy for the Ixtaca project?

A: We have already invested approximately US$40 million, which accounts for previous years of exploration, engineering, and community work. It is all a matter of financing with external groups. We cannot guarantee this investment and future ones without external backing. To advance the project through its development stage and towards its production start date, we need approximately US$200 million, which will include all necessary construction. The capital will come once we obtain all permits. Our permitting process, which includes the submission of our environmental impact report, has passed the evaluation phase, but it is currently unresolved, pending a judicial resolution. We are hopeful that, as soon as the administration and courts resume their activities after the pandemic, the timeline will be reactivated in such a way as to provide the necessary certainty Ixtaca needs.

Almaden’s commitment to Mexico is strong, and has been consistent since the company first arrived in Mexico in 1992. The pandemic has hit the economy hard and a project like Ixtaca would boost the economy of a region that has been traditionally marginalized from development and opportunities.

Q: How will Ixtaca’s technology application plan result in greater sustainability?

A: One of the main concerns that we identified in our social impact evaluation was the question of the tailings dam. Certain parties claimed that it would spill or overflow with catastrophic consequences. That is a natural concern because such things have occurred in other projects before. To address it, we eliminated the risk by means of technology. A tailings dam cannot fail if there is no tailings dam to begin with. Dry tailings technology achieves this goal. It works through a kind of vacuum-sealed oven that dehumidifies your residues and turns them into sand that can be stored safely in engineered dump areas. Specialized international companies provide this technology, and we have been in contact with some of them. However, given this uncertainty and the long permitting road ahead of us, we have not defined any of our operational contractors and suppliers yet.

Almaden also intends to use X-ray Transmission (XRT) ore-sorting at Ixtaca. In this process, crushed and screened mineralized rock is evenly fed over a conveyor belt. An electric X-ray tube creates a broad-band radiation. This x-ray penetrates the material and provides information that is measured with an X-ray camera. The resulting sensor information is then processed to provide a detailed “density image” of the material allowing it to be separated into high and low-density fractions. If the sensor detects material to be sorted out, it signals the control unit to open the appropriate valves of the ejection module at the end of the conveyor belt. The detected materials are separated from the material flow by jets of compressed air. The sorted material is divided into two fractions in the separation chamber: ore and waste material.

XRT technology has the potential to reduce the environmental footprint over the life of mine by reducing tailings, water usage, energy requirements and CO2 emissions. Ixtaca will be at the fore-front of the industry in employing XRT ore-sorting and dry-stack tailings methods.

Q: Why will Ixtaca be a source of development and well-being for Puebla?

A: The mining industry can be a tremendous engine for socioeconomic development in Mexico’s remote regions, which we know is one of the chief objectives of the current federal administration. Furthermore, in 2019 we organized a mining expo with Puebla and Mexico contractors. We are very interested in having a majority of contractors from Puebla so that we can build a statewide value chain. As a consequence, the government of Puebla can measure the project’s contribution to the state’s economy. Ixtaca will be the first modern metal mine in the state of Puebla, so the potential of our project is undeniable, but its development requires the constant support of government authorities.

At Almaden, we firmly believe that permanent social licenses do not really exist. They must be earned and nurtured every single day, working together with local communities, government institutions, media and other relevant stakeholders. We are very proud of what we have been able to achieve in these 20 years together with them. We are now looking forward to materializing a project that will make positive impacts on the economy and well-being of the Ixtaca region, the state of Puebla and Mexico.

​Almaden Minerals is a Canadian mining company. It owns 100 percent of the Tuligtic project in Puebla State, Mexico. Tuligtic covers the Ixtaca gold-silver deposit, which was discovered by Almaden in 2010.  

Alejandro Ehrenberg Alejandro Ehrenberg Journalist and Industry Analyst