philex, marcopper, waste spills

It will be total closure for listed mining firm Philex Mining Corp. if it does not pay within 45 days a P1.034 billion penalty for violations of the Mining Act of 1995 imposed by the Department Environment and Natural Resources.

that’s the good news.  the bad news is, philex spokesperson mike toledo says the company will file a motion for reconsideration.

“We will exhaust all administrative remedies provided for under the law, under the department circulars and administrative orders… We will appeal the MGB decision finding us liable for the payment of this fine,” he said.

Toledo said Philex is aiming to complete a clean up and rehabilitation of Padcal mine by the second quarter of 2013. The company hopes to restart operations by the second half of next year.

so i suppose the media spin goes on:  that it was an accident, that philex responded right away with financial help to victims, that the waste spill is not as toxic as marcopper’s in 1996 — even if this last were true (we have yet to see toxicity studies) the sheer volume of the waste spill, some 20 million metric tons, said to be 10 times that of marcopper’s, still makes it the worse disaster, if not the worst, it would seem, ever.

it was no accident.  it could have been avoided had philex built a new tailings pond instead of continuing to use an old one that was due for decommissioning by june 2012 at the latest.

read bulatlat‘s Philex’s 20 MT mine waste spill, ‘An act of God, or Greed?’

Since day 1 (last Aug 1) of the latest reported leak from the Philex tailings pond in the north, Philex has actively projected an appearance of taking responsibility.

Philex boasted that they shut down operations a day ahead of the government suspension. It also promised it will only continue mining operations at Padcal after assuring the “safety and integrity” of tailings pond 3, Padcal’s sole operational mine tailings pond at the site.

But contrary to Philex’s projection, it is not telling the public that instead of repair and remediation, it should have been decommissioning the Tailings Pond 3 as early as 2010 or at the latest, this June of 2012. The said tailings pond has reached the end of its 18 to 20 years’ lifespan this year, based on DENR data on the dam. An earlier waste spill from the same dam occurred in December 2009, and it should have been warning enough, the Katribu Partylist said in a statement.

victoria fritz, in ricardo saludo’s column space, submits that it would have cost philex much less if it had earlier built a new tailings pond instead.

Environmental Management Bureau (EMB) chief Juan Miguel Cuna said that Philex violated terms in its ECC for discharges “way beyond regulatory levels.” Cuna added that penalties for ECC violations were separate from fines for violation of the Clean Water Act, imposed by the Pollution Adjudication Board.

And if the ECC is revoked, closing the copper and gold mine would mean losing over P10 billion in revenues a year, going by the facility’s 2011 earnings of P9.29 billion from gold alone.

With those kinds of losses, it clearly would have been far cheaper to build a spare pond for P300 million, so tailings could be diverted there after two storms damaged the tailings facility on August 1. Now, on top of suffering massive losses and fines, Philex will still need to build a new pond or repair the old one, as it is considering so as to resume mining sooner.

in developed countries, here’s the drill in preventing and containing mining accidents:

For the Tailings Management Handbook of Australia’s Department of Industry Tourism and Resources, a state-of-the-art tailings storage facility is a safe, stable landform not requiring constant management after mine closure, and blending with the surrounding landscape.

That’s a tall order, since a tailings pool takes up a large area hard to hide. It must store huge volumes of water without letting any contamination to seep into the ground. And there are dust problems. Not to mention the threat of typhoons and floods in the Philippines.

For greater efficiency and economy, the facility’s processing plant must remove excess water from tailings before transport. More water and processed chemicals are recovered for reuse, to lessen the volume discharged to the storage facility. This reduces the risk of seepage to surface waters.

Many mines in Australia use thickened and paste tailings, once difficult due to the cost or lack of thickener technology. Today, expenses are down, and equipment has improved, producing high underflow densities. The thickened or paste tailings improves water and process chemical recovery at the processing plant, reduces storage volume and seepage, and creates a more stable landform.

Mining companies in developing countries like the Philippines should send staff to observe and train in the mines of select developed countries using state-of-the-art technology in minimizing mining risk.

… One cannot and should not force a false choice between prosperity from mining and environmental sustainability. With technology, enlightened management, and earnest, honest dialogue, solutions can be forged to prevent accidents and mitigate their effects. Only then can the national patrimony truly become a blessing for the Filipino people, not a resource exploited for profit to the detriment of nature and nation.

so it’s not true, as suggested by an environment advocate to rina jimenez-david, that “responsible mining” is an oxymoron,  that there cannot ever be a mining operation that is “responsible” or which safeguards the community even as owners profit from it.  responsible mining is doable but it means that both the DENR and the mining industry would have to level-up.


After Philex mine spill, a world of gray
Untold story of Philex’s mine waste spill
Philex spill ‘biggest mining disaster’ in PHL, surpassing Marcopper – DENR


  1. I believe the term “responsible mining” is itself controversial, since it is merely a statement of intent rather than a definition of a type or method of mining. First, is the fact that mining, by its very definition is extractive, and therefore, destructive of nature and its balance. I do not think that statement can be controverted. Second, while it is agreed that man and nature in harmony is a cycle and balance of destruction and creation, and that nature does regenerate itself, I do not believe the efficiency of mineral extraction and the scales it is being done today can ever be regenerated adequately. Third, a cursory inspection of any active mine will demonstrate the social costs of mining, that from a cost benefit ratio analysis, are too great in relation to the actual benefits received, not by the people who do benefit from the limited employment, but the children and communities blighted by any mining activity in a “biodiversity hotspot” whether “responsible” or otherwise. Perhaps more understanding of the social and ecological costs of each project, and a more forceful enforcement of regulatory safeguards may not ever be enough for some of us? Cheers!

  2. Agreed. Mabuhay ka for keeping up the effort to block mining until a more responsible legal and regulatory framework is legistlated to conform to the present green realities. Mining in the PHilippines is still in the gold rush of 1920’s. All these existing mines are remnants left by a previous generation of American carpetbaggers.More power to you Angge!