Interview: Maria Constanza García

How is the ANM applying mining regulations?

MARIA CONSTANZA GARCÍA: In granting mining rights, the ANM is applying the principle of “first in time, first in right”. The government established 11 strategic elements within the National Development Plan, which define strategic mining areas. This will help us grant new mining titles through a “Mining Round”, a bidding process in which 20.5m ha will be auctioned for mineral exploration.

To develop this process, we have taken as references the work of the National Hydrocarbons Agency and several international models such as the US, Canada, Chile, Australia, Europe and Asia. The success of our model depends largely on the available information on the tendered areas, which will determine whether this round will be suitable for juniors or majors. We work in association with communities and comply with environmental standards, in line with international best practices. Additionally, since April 2013, the ANM has taken responsibility for the declaration and delimitation of Special Reserve Areas, traditionally informal mining sites that are now temporarily closed to new proposals. This procedure was in response to mining communities that worked in collaboration with the Ministry of Mines and Energy, the Colombian Geological Service and the Presidency of the Republic. This is only one example of the initiatives undertaken to streamline decision-making in the support of mining.

In what way is illegal mining being addressed?

GARCÍA: The illegal extraction of minerals is an offence under the Criminal Code and is thus a responsibility of the Ministry of Defence. However, these practices affect us directly, since illegally extracted gold earns royalties when sold and is used for money laundering purposes. Thus, the ANM is working to increase monitoring of gold commercialisation to stop the sale of illegally extracted gold. With regard to informal mining, the formalisation of artisanal miners is an ANM competence and we are addressing it at several stages. Our first priority is to legalise the miners by granting titles and ensuring that newly formalised miners meet social, procedural and environmental responsibilities. To achieve this, we have the support of chambers of commerce and local authorities. The area of Chocó is an example of a recent success, where the state is formalising miners by offering support, but also considering the interests of Afro and indigenous communities.

What can be done to speed up licence issuing?

GARCÍA:The Presidency of the Republic and ANM officials are aware of the need to improve bureaucratic efficiency in the area of environmental licensing. To that end, the government has established working groups where industry players, including ANM, the National Authority of Environmental Licensing, the Regional Environmental Authority and the Ministry of Environment are working on issues hindering the provision of licences. We know the licensing process is complex and inefficient, which is partly due to the autonomy of the actors involved. This is why we are working conscientiously to achieve better institutional coordination.

How dependent is Colombia on thermal coal?

GARCÍA: Thermal coal is currently not performing well for several reasons, including changes in the world’s energy basket and the new US energy policy. Nevertheless, Colombia has a remarkable variety of minerals. Metallurgical coal, which is performing better in the commodities market, is being explored in central areas of the country. Thanks to the extension of the licence granted to Minas Paz del Río, production of metallurgical coal is assured and with the development of the Carare railroad, it can now be transported either to the Atlantic coast – via the Magdalena River – or to the Pacific, for exports to Asian powers like China.

The subsurface study being carried out by the National Geological Institute should ensure 100% knowledge of the subsoil before the end of 2013. This will help the sector maximise the commercial benefits from the 11 minerals with potential discussed in the National Plan.