Huge New Income Source for Panama
The Panama Canal has long been “the feather in this country’s cap” not only for its generation of huge income, but for its benefit to shipping worldwide. Even accounting for a few setbacks such as the recent need to decrease the draft of incoming ships, due to the long drought, it remains Panama’s main source of income. Not to mention a very significant tourism draw.
Now once again Panama is the proud home of another mega project which will generate millions for the coffers, as well as providing employment for 13,000 people thus far, with more imminent.
Cobre Panama, the largest new copper mine in the world today, owned by Canadian company First Quantum, is now in full operation, as of February of this year. It is the largest foreign investment project in Panama’s history. This project involves investors from other countries besides Canada such as South Korea, the United States, Australia, Europe, and Asia.
At the opening, President Varela spoke to local authorities, hundreds of workers, and Philip Pascall, co-founder and CEO of First Quantum, stating that this project is a success story for Panama. He concluded that the challenge and commitment now is to care for and manage this powerful project with prudence, complying with environmental standards, with the quality of supervision, legal and administrative guarantees that allow it to develop all of its potential.
Sprawling in the jungle at Donoso, Colon province, it is 120 kilometers west of Panama City and 20 kilometers from the Caribbean coast and consists of four zones totalling 13,600 hectares. This gargantuan open pit mine will export 375,000 metric tons of copper concentrate annually upon reaching full capacity in 2021, making it one of the top six copper producers worldwide. This will triple Panama’s exports. This also includes the construction of an international port on the Caribbean, Punta Rincon. The company also built a road connecting the Atlantic and Pacific which will be of incomparable value to Panama.
Access to this impressive site is by the Pan American highway from Panama City to Penonome, then subsidiary roads to Llano Grande, finishing on gravel roads via the town of Coclesito.
Copper has many and varied uses due to its malleability, durability and heat resistance. Consumption of the product by Asian countries has increased demand for this metal, leading to higher prices.
Copper deposits were first discovered here fifty years ago. However they remained untouched until six years ago when First Quantum obtained it from Inmet Mining. In 2017 they spent close to $1 billion on construction and invested another $830 million in 2018. They are now planning a $327 million expansion of this massive project, involving the Colina Pit, the addition of the ninth mill, a larger fleet of mining equipment, more conveyors, and an in-pit crusher.
This Toronto based company has gone “all in” for Cobre (copper in Spanish). The site is composed of the mine, the processing plant, the power plant, and the international port.
As in most projects of this size and scope, it was not completed without a few road blocks along the way. The biggest of these was a workers’ strike in February of 2018. However after four days of intense negotiations, the 5000 striking workers were able to see the conflict resolved with an agreement signed by the Union of Construction Workers (SUNTRACS) of Panama and the Canadian company First Quantum Minerals. Some of the concessions involved salary increases, health and safety conditions, medical care and medicines for all.
Environmental issues are high on their list of priorities. “We have people committed to the preservation of the environment programs for the sustainable development of nearby communities and comply with the commitments of the environmental impact study. We developed a mitigation and compensation strategy for environmental sustainability.” So states their website.
Case in point: The gigantic trucks necessary for hauling huge loads of rock uphill consume 400 liters of diesel fuel per hour. Not so within First Quantum. They will operate as an electric trolley system similar to street cars, dropping fuel consumption down to a mere 40 liters per hour at double the speed.
Thus Panama enters the world copper market, a stable commodity which will not only generate approximately $2 billion worth of exports annually throughout its thirty four years of life, but will benefit the economy in countless additional ways. The mining operation itself will generate thousands of jobs and ancillary businesses, which in turn will boost the real estate sector as well as the entire local economy. First Quantum has websites posted online for those seeking employment in all departments. A short sample is below but the list, in fact, is very long.
31 May 2019
To ensure timely and accurate processing of fortnightly and bi-weekly payroll for MPSA and FCD employees.
On-going, Fixed Term
30 Apr 2019
Reporting to the Project Engineer, the Project Supervisor is responsible for onsite civil and structural engineering work and for coordinating with the Construction team, to ensure the best construction strategies and practices are applied during the Operations phase are completed safely and on time order to meet safety cost and productivity targets.
Provide Mentoring and leadership to all team members within the group. To coordinate the activities of the Maintenance and Contractor work across shifts and to ensure that adequate resources are available to meet production and maintenance needs.Provides maintenance support to the site teams carrying out a range of reliability improvement projects and larger routine maintenance activities as directed by the Maintenance Superintendent.
17 May 2019
Power Plant Field Technician
15 May 2019
Reporting to the Foreman, supporting Power Plant Operation.
Senior Mining Engineer
To support the Mine Planning team in all aspects of the mine planning process from three months to five years.
31 May 2019
To transport Company personnel; material; equipment; etc. applying driving regulations and roads in the area. The driver will be responsible for driving to and from designated locations, maintaining record of duty status according to Company Policies and Procedures and performing pre-trip and post-trip inspections. To transfer seriously injured or ill patients to and from the Project Clinics. He/she is expected to reach the accident spots as soon as possible to transport the victims. Ambulance drivers also sometimes transfer non-urgent patients and outpatients to other facilities.
In short, this copper mine will allow Panama to once again be the leader in Latin American economic growth.