The Dominican Republic is renowned for its sandy beaches. As one of the most popular tourist destinations in the Caribbean, there was always some understandable reluctance to allow mining companies explore the potentially vast array of gold and copper resources generated by the country’s volcanic terrain.
The Dominican Republic, like many of its Caribbean neighbours, is home to a volcanic formation generated by the collision of the Atlantic and the Caribbean plates. The volcanic activity that characterized the formation of the islands also brought significant gold and copper to the surface. Thousands of years later, mining companies were queuing up to partake.
Whatever mining company took on the mantle, it had to be respectful to the local environment – in turn so important to the country’s tourism industry. Canadian firm GoldQuest was chosen among all the contenders, led by Bill Fisher, a well-known stalwart of the mining industry with over 30 years of experience across four continents.
The Sustainable Business Review recently sat down with Mr. Fisher, who was able to tell us about GoldQuest and what it is achieving in the Dominican Republic. What emerged from the conversation was an exciting mining opportunity, which is having impressive knock on benefits in areas you typically might not associate, even from a sustainable mining project.
Mr Fisher joined GoldQuest in 2010 at a time when it was exploring the cost of operating in the Dominican Republic. It was right before the company discovered drill holes in their concession areas.
He says: “These turned out to be the best drill holes in Caribbean history, so it was a fantastic discovery: 700 feet of almost 10 grams of gold. And when we began drilling more, we found that there was around 3,000 ounces of gold and a little bit of copper as well.”
In the 50 kilometer stretch where the company has been exploring, it hopes to develop a mining district, rather than an isolated mine here and there. The results are already there to see: Romero which it began drilling in 2012, Cochimbo which it found at the beginning of 2017 and has already begun drilling now, and the latest mine, Tario, which is still at the feasibility stage and will require work at several levels before being fully ready.
As Mr. Fisher explains: “In terms of timeline, we’re probably looking at a year for an environmental permit and then two further years to build.” It’s a long process but one which the company is prepared for, as Mr. Fisher explains: “First, there’s an environmental feasibility study, then we do a financial feasibility study, which will be used to bring the banks on board. This is a $250 million project, so we’re bringing on some debt in addition to the equity.”
He continues: “The exploration concessions have to be obtained from the Ministry of Mines. These can then be converted into exploration concessions once you’ve carried out your studies and shown the benefits. After this, we deal with the Ministry of the Environment and their job is to regulate both the physical and the social environment.”
Catering for the Physical and Social Environments
Gaining buy-in from the Dominican Republic’s authorities was easier for Tario, now that GoldQuest has built a reputation for sustainability in its existing mines. As Mr. Fisher notes: “
It’s a sustainable mine. We won’t be using cyanide or taking any water from the river. Also, we won’t be disposing of any waste water into the river. Basically, it’s an underground mine so there are no open pits.”
Involving local stakeholders is also important to the success of the project, he says: “There will be local meetings where everybody can have their say. Understandably, the main issue is water. We’re up in the mountains, which is basically the feeder for the plains and that’s where they grow rice, beans and all kinds of agricultural crops so it’s hugely important to reassure these stakeholders that we’re not going to be interfering with the water supply.”
As part of the company’s commitment to being resourceful with water, they’re also providing education and resources on more water-efficient crops. “We’re providing an aid program for water and issuing seeds to grow beans instead of rice, so the whole process becomes more sustainable. We’re also aware of the deforestation going on in the Dominican Republic so we’re setting up a carbon credit to offset this process. We’ll go to the Canadian and American corporations with the carbon credits generated by the forestland and sell it to them on the farmers’ behalf so that they’ve got this revenue stream straight away.”
In terms of generating employment, practically all of the benefits will be felt locally. There are about 800 jobs in the construction phase and 350 permanent jobs thereafter. In the firm’s existing mines, there’s one Australian and literally everyone else is Dominican out of a workforce of around 250 people. GoldQuest is also committed to providing training to the locals rather than bringing in foreign expertise.
Mr Fisher says of this initiative: “As there haven’t been any underground mines in Dominica until now, we’ll have to bring in some underground expertise but we can get that in Peru and Mexico. What we’ll probably do is send some of our Dominican workforce over there to work with the contractors so that they can get some experience during this next phase.” The knock on benefit in employment is about 3,500 jobs created in the area, a ratio of 10-1 to direct employment.
This is notable in itself, but even more so when one considers the high-value employment being created at the mine. High skilled workers at the mine earn around $25 per hour, compared to $15 per day for local agricultural workers. The knock-on benefits for the local community will be huge – creating a raft of opportunities that never previously existed. And this doesn’t even account for the roads, power lines and other infrastructure being developed.
Like all high profile mining companies these days, GoldQuest strictly adheres to the Equator Principles, which require that all mining works ensure that infrastructure is on a par or better with that of Canada or the UK. As Mr. Fisher explains, this meant first class roads and infrastructure for the local communities where the firm operates in the Dominican Republic:
He says: “We’re in this very remote area about 3,000 feet up. There, all of the village of around 70 people are employed with us. We’ve built the church and rebuilt the school. We’ve also built a clinic and have a 24-hour nursing facility. We also pay for the schoolteacher, who we transport in to teach the children in the village.”
Goldquest: Robust and sustainable
With a population of slightly over 10 million people, the Dominican Republic stands to benefit hugely from the mining boom occurring in its territory. The fact that it has chosen a firm with a commitment to sustainability like GoldQuest ensures that this boom can take place with little or no downstream effects on the country’s famous tropical landscape and its tourism industry.
The mining concessions obtained by GoldQuest in the country span for more than 75 years, in which time, the school developed by the firm will have passed through several generations of students, all of whom will contribute to society in the Dominican Republic in their own ways. A country with a poor colonial past looks to have replaced it with a bright and prosperous future.
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29 March 2015