Andrew A. Irvine Fulfills Fulbright U.S. Scholar Grant to Ecuador in Environmental and Natural Resources Law

At the end of April 2017, Andrew A. Irvine fulfilled his Fulbright U.S. Scholar grant to Ecuador in environmental and natural resources law and returned to his law practice in the United States. The Fulbright U.S. Scholar project involved the design and implementation of a study if illegal and informal artisanal and small-mining (“ASM”) in Ecuador, focusing first on Ecuador’s legal framework regulating ASM and then researching implementation of the law at ASM operations and mineral processing plants across the country. A significant portion of the project involved working with government officials, mining companies, and environmental and community organizations to identify and evaluate mining-related environmental and social problems, understand the causes of the problems, and work collaboratively to design and implement solutions to the problems.

A family of artisanal miners pans for gold on the banks of the Río Jatunyacu.

A family of artisanal miners pans for gold on the banks of the Río Jatunyacu.

The primary case study for the project concerned a mining site on the Río Jatunyacu in Ecuador’s Amazon region. Following investigation of the site, including detail of the resultant environmental impacts, research on the government’s permitting of the mine and subsequent monitoring and enforcement of environmental requirements was conducted. Then, the effects of the permitting and environmental management processes were analyzed, and recommendations were provided for improvements to the legal regime for ASM and its implementation by the government and local communities. Promoting best management practices amongst miners and building institutional capacity within the government and affected communities to monitor and enforce the mining law were determined crucial to the success of ASM regulation in Ecuador.

Another "artisanal" mining operation on the Río Jatunyacu.

Another “artisanal” mining operation on the Río Jatunyacu.

Following completion of his research, Mr. Irvine prepared an extensive report presenting and analyzing Ecuador law on ASM, discussing the effects and shortcomings of the law, and providing recommendations to improve effectiveness of the law, reduce illegal mining activity and better protect the natural environment. He presented his report on “Artisanal and Small-Scale Mining in Ecuador—Building and Implementing an Effective Legal Framework” at the Rocky Mountain Mineral Law Foundation Special Institute on International Mining and Oil & Gas Law, Development and Investment in Quito, Ecuador in April 2017. The report was first published with the proceedings of the Special Institute.

The abstract of the report is provided below. A copy of the report is available here:  Artisanal and Small-Scale Mining in Ecuador–Building and Implementing an Effective Legal Framework.

Community members panning for gold under precarious conditions.

Community members panning for gold in active mine.

Abstract:  Mining industries in Latin America and across the world are often dominated by artisanal and small-scale mining (“ASM”) operations, which are marred by myriad health, social, economic, and environmental problems. Even with significant economic and social contributions, these operations are often considered illegal because they operate informally, outside legal frameworks. While approaches to addressing problems resulting from ASM have varied, scholars recognize that legalization of ASM is a fundamental condition for a legitimate, stable and responsible ASM sector.

More unregulated mining operations along the Río Jatuyacu.

More unregulated mining along the Río Jatuyacu.


New mining legislation in Ecuador provides for the regularization of ASM in an attempt to combat illegal mining in the country and solve many of the resultant problems. The impact of the new law on illegal mining, however, has been limited. With respect to gold laundering, the law may actually be contributing to this illegal activity rather than reducing it.

Uncontrolled sedimentation from mining operations entering the Río Jatunyacu.

Uncontrolled sedimentation from mining operations entering the Río Jatunyacu.



This paper provides an overview of the prevalence of illegal mining in Latin America and discusses the attendant problems, with a focus on Ecuador. Ecuador’s law formalizing ASM is then presented and analyzed in the contexts of its contribution to gold laundering in the country and degradation of a popular river in Ecuador’s “whitewater capital.” The law’s effects on mercury reduction and the coexistence between ASM and large-scale mining in Ecuador are also discussed. Based on these analyses, recommendations are made to improve the effectiveness of Ecuador’s new mining law, both to reduce illegal mining activity in the country and to better protect Ecuador’s natural environment. Overall, enhancement of Ecuador’s legal framework for ASM is intended to contribute to the advancement of ASM as a formalized, socially and environmentally responsible means of livelihood in the country.