Rare Spectacled Bears? Who Cares? Rapacious Mining Company BHP Billiton Tramples its Own Environmental Policies.

Spectacled bear photo by Carlos Zorilla

In some parts of Ecuador, animal and plant diversity is higher than anywhere else in the world. Yet it seems that the world’s largest global mining concern, the Anglo-Australian behemoth known as BHP Billiton, can not see the forest for the copper — and gold, silver and any other shiny, valuable attractions hiding beneath the surface..

Cerro Quebrado, as BHP Billiton calls its local unit, sees Ecuador as an unexploited mineral hotspot. The company also claims to be interested in a healthy future for the planet and its people, and has worked with Conservation International to establish some broad guidelines to ensure that. Unfortunately, it seems this relatively new effort is just another example of pernicious greenwashing. With regards to Ecuador’s dramatic and diverse landscape, clearly, the company hasn’t been listening to its own PR.

As it begins its first, $82 million phase to explore for minerals in Ecuador, it is trampling over its own self-imposed regulations that are meant to protect endangered species that live in remote areas, including the rare spectacled bear.

The big question is why a multinational behemoth, such as BHP, would contradict its own stated environmental regulations. Here are two that they mention, piously, on their website:

  • Not exploring and extracting resources from protected areas.
  • Not operating anywhere where there is a risk to threatened species.
Cloudforest, Zona de Intag, Ecuador by Carlos Zorilla

Each of these regulations is set to be violated by the current exploration and exploitation. And that’s just by the operations. BHP Billiton already the company operates mines next to an important national treasure, The Cotacachi Cayapas National Park, in Northwest Ecuador. BHP is choosing to be openly hypocritical, driven by a craven desire to put profits ahead of the health of the unique and endangered areas of Ecuador.

Some of the most important and beautiful areas in the world are so remote that few people know much about them. Curiously, this remoteness can be a curse, as it gives multinationals a cover of anonymity in which to extract their riches. This is the case in the forested areas of northwest Ecuador, where BHP Billiton is currently violating numerous legal protections of endangered plants and animals. For BHP Billiton, it seems, the desire for minerals like copper supersedes their obligations under Ecuadoran and International law. It also ignores their legal and moral obligations to the hardworking people living in small villages on the land the company intends to exploit.

This promises to be a huge problem for Ecuador’s diverse and still unexplored regions. Mining now is a $1.1 billion business in Ecuador, but it’s pegged to rise seven-fold, to $7.9 billion in 2021.

The company is abetted by the national government of Ecuador, which in the last three years has increased the number of mining concession from 3% to more than 13% of the country’s land area. Many of these new concession are a serious threat to some of Ecuador’s last Andean forests and other biodiverse ecosystems. The highlands of Pichincha Province and northwest towards Colombia and neighboring Imbabura Province, are home to a spectacular array of diverse plants and animals. This is an important region of Ecuador that is directly threatened by BPHs mining interests.

It’s an important, and threatened region of Ecuador.

BHP publicly claims that they won’t work in areas where endangered species might be harmed. Yet the last original Andean forests are found in this swath of highland Ecuador, along with other extremely biodiverse ecosystems. University of Oregon scientist Bitty Roy co-authored a 2018 paper that said mining concessions in this area pose a serious threat to many species, including eight that are critically endangered, 37 classified as endangered, 153 that are vulnerable and 89 that are close to being listed as threatened. This list includes the brown-headed spider monkey, and the white-fronted capuchin. Another species on the brink is the Longnose Harlequin frog, which was considered extinct until four individuals were recently discovered within the Llurimagua mining concession owned by another company, CODELCO of Chile.

The land above the minerals is uniquely rich in plant and animal species that aren’t seen anywhere else on the planet. Places like the Intag valley in Imbabura province are mountainous with heavy rainfall, a condition that leads to high biodiversity but also multiplies the potential devastation of human disturbance; especially of those associated with large-scale mining.

Roy and the other researchers catalogued an extensive network of protected areas (Bosque Protectores — see maps), many of them community owned, which lack government protection from projects such as open-pit mines. These small reserves are currently protecting rare primary forests as well as pristine water sources, and are often linked to community-run tourism projects which provide local sources of income.

BHP earns more every near than the entire annual budget of the country of Ecuador. Does it really need to destroy vital species in order to earn more?