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Colombian Mining: Opportunities for Junior Miners and METS Companies
The Colombian mining sector is seeing an improvement in its fortunes and interest thanks to increased government support and rising commodity prices; there remain a number of attractive and available projects suitable for junior mining companies and ever-growing opportunities for mining equipment, technology and services (METS) companies.
Broadly speaking, the Colombian mining sector consists of three groups of primary products (coal, gold and emeralds); a brief summary of each has been provided below.
Coal. The coal sector in Colombia is characterized by large thermal deposits in the north of the country, where operators such as Cerrejón, Drummond and Prodeco are located, and smaller thin-layer metallurgical deposits located both in the center of the country and along the Venezuelan border. In practice, the vast majority of mined thermal coal is transported by rail to ship loading facilities, while mined metallurgical coal is often transported by truck and/or a truck/barge combination. Due to the scale, low operating costs and good logistics systems, the production cost per ton of thermal coal is low, while due to the smaller scale and logistical difficulties, the production cost metallurgical coal in Colombia exceeds industry standards. Nonetheless, recent increases in the price of coal mean that these metallurgical deposits can be mined well below cost to sell, making them an attractive investment/purchase opportunity for the junior mining sector. Accordingly, this represents an opportunity for the METS sector if it can contribute systems, equipment and/or procedures that improve efficiency, increase recovery and reduce production costs.
Emerald. The emerald sector is rarely understood or known in Colombia, even though it has recently grown to become the largest producer of emeralds in the world. Historically, the sector (located just a few hundred kilometers north of Bogota in the province of Boyaca) has had a tumultuous past, marked by crime, unsafe work practices and corruption, but the sector is changing and evolving rapidly. In recent years, the government has made considerable efforts to promote the region and what it has to offer to foreign mining companies, and they have been successful. To date, three international mining groups have entered the region bringing money, a willingness to bring best practices and increased transparency, a particular example is Mineria Texas Colombia which has purchased the Muzo mine, the largest mine emerald from Colombia. The effect of these “newcomers” has been an effort to formalize the sector and bring an essentially hands-on mining industry to a world-class mining region with the best practices, procedures and equipment. With this in mind, the sector is perfectly positioned for METS companies looking to enter the Colombian market, because everything is needed.
Gold. The gold mining sector is one of the best known and best understood sectors in Colombia, although there has been a long history (and there still is) of artisanal gold mining. In large-scale gold, there have also been a number of foreign mining companies that have entered the sector, such as Red Eagle Mining, AngloGold Ashanti and Continental Gold. Especially in the mid-2000s, a large number of foreign junior mining companies were active in Colombia to find and develop a number of potential projects, but with the GFC and falling commodity prices, many of these companies eventually exited the market, either by selling projects exist or returning them to their original owners, meaning that a number of exploration projects (some with drilling and resource surveys) exist, and some still without an investor or company advancing the project. This presents an opportunity for new mining companies looking for a project in Colombia.
The mining sector in Colombia remains an attractive place for foreign mining companies looking for projects and/or METS looking for new clients. While there are certain complexities and a lot to learn and understand for new businesses entering the market, the opportunities exist and the potential is huge. At the same time, the government is increasingly interested in helping foreign companies enter the Colombian market, removing legislative barriers, streamlining visa processes and constantly striving to improve the process of application for permit and approval of mining projects.
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