World’s Biggest Miner Speeds Hunt for Copper in ‘Last Frontier’ – by David Stringer, Laura Millan Lombrana and Stephan Kueffner (Bloomberg News – July 25, 2017)

BHP Billiton Ltd., the world’s biggest miner, has opened an office and is seeking to add staff in Ecuador as it advances a search for copper in a nation that’s becoming the sector’s exploration hot-spot.

Melbourne-based BHP’s local unit, Cerro Quebrado, will spend about $82 million on exploration, having established a base in the capital, Quito, and advertised for workers including a senior geologist. The value of Ecuador’s mining sector could rise to $7.9 billion by 2021 from $1.1 billion this year as major players arrive, according to Fitch Group’s BMI Research.

BHP joins Australian competitors including billionaire Gina Rinehart’s Hancock Prospecting Pty, Fortescue Metals Group Ltd. and Newcrest Mining Ltd. in establishing offices or adding exploration licenses in the nation, according to Rodrigo Izurieta, president of Ecuador’s Mining Chamber.

The miners are attracted by expectations that the country holds major, undiscovered copper and gold deposits, and assurances that newly installed President Lenin Moreno will continue efforts to woo investment, he said.

“There is no doubt that the interest is increasing, so much so that we can talk about a new phase for mining in Ecuador,” Izurieta said by phone from Quito. “Ecuador is one of the world’s last mining frontiers, but it is under-explored and under-developed. There is a great window of opportunity.”

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