Open pit extraction and Tampakan project

In August 2013, I have a brief debate with a friend in fb, he posted this poster soliciting anti-Tampakan mining signatures from the public. It says that “Almost 4,000 hectares of lush rainforest will be cleared and dug.”

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I said that it disinformation. If you have a 4,000 hectares mining permit area, you don’t clear cut and dig a hole in all of it in one or five years. Usually you clear only 50 hectares or less, dig for 10 years or so, then close it with top soil, plant trees as stipulated in the contract with MGB-DENR, then you clear and dig again on another 50 hectares or so.

That day, I checked the website of the Tampakan project owned by Sagittarius Mines, Inc. (SMI). Their plan is to have the copper and gold ore extraction in just one area, projected to be about 2.5 kms. wide, 3 kms. long and about 0.8 km deep, after 17 years of operation.

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My friend asked why it should be open pit and not underground or tunnel mining. Personally I am in favor of open pit mining because it is less costly, so the company will have excess funds to build a school, a hospital, and housing for the employees and their dependents, roads and street lights for the rest of community. It is also less dangerous to workers compared to tunnel mining.

People opposed to any form of large corporate metallic mining often cite the case of the Marcopper Mining in Marinduque tailings disaster. True that it was indeed a big environmental disaster, I saw the tv clips many years ago but I am not updated what penalties were done to the mining company there.

Then there was the The Padcal tailings destruction in 2012 after heavy rains in Northern Luzon, Benguet Mining was heavily penalized by the MGB and LGUs.  Aside from these two, I am not updated if there are other cases of big mine tailings going to river systems. All of them are still contained and many have already dried up.

I saw two tailings pond in Rio Tuba Mining in southern Palawan. One active and one closed/dried up. Nickel mining there has been  in operation since the 1970s and it seems there was zero incidence of mine tailings going to the river. Barangay Rio Tuba is more developed than Bataraza town proper, a few kilometers away. Dozens of people are applying for work in Rio Tuba every month, even as street sweepers to reduce dust pollution so they can have stable source of income. In nearby barangays and towns where there is no mining, life is poor and pathetic.

The Mining Act of 1995 itself, not the BIR nor LGUs, mandates the large metallic mining firms to spend on Social Develoment and Management Project (SDMP, like hospital, public school, roads, skills training, etc.) on top of paying national and local taxes and fees. In a sense it is a good law. If LGUs and the national government (NG) will just get the money from dozen plus types of mining taxes and fees, most likely they will not do their job properly.

The Tampakan mining project is projected to cover nearly 10,000 hectares, but not all, not even one-fourth (1/4) of that area will be cleared and dug. Here’s the project map as of 2013. It is projected to give jobs to max of 10,000 employees during the project construction, and about 2,000 jobs in regular operation.

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Metallic mining is a highly capital intensive business project. Workers there hardly touch the rocks and soil that contain the metallic objects. Bulldozers, backhoes, trucks and other big machines do. It therefore creates skilled labor like drivers, operators and mechanics of those huge trucks and machines. Then another batch of workers who will do the forest rehabilitation of mined out areas.

There were concerns about killing related to the Tampakan project. It is a criminal act that must be pursued and the criminals should be penalized. Whether killings happened in a mining area or in a ktv bar or in a private house drinking session, the details are less important. Any act of killing or attempted murder should be penalized.

One myth in mining is that mineral resources are non-renewable and hence, should be kept untapped whenever possible. A review of Earth Science subject in our high school or college years would show that magma or molten rock from the Earth’s core keep finding their way to the mantle and then to the crust, where our land and sea surfaces are located. That is how volcanoes erupt and partly how earthquakes happen.

This movement of magma and super-hot gases from the core to the crust mineralizes ordinary rocks and soil. And since such movement is endless, been happening since planet Earth was born some 4.6 B years ago, then the creation of mineral products is also endless and forever, especially in the Pacific Rim of Fire where about 80 percent of all volcanic and earthquake activities occur.

Thus, the term “non-renewable” mineral resource is technically wrong. But since such processes take thousands of years, for practical purposes, that term is considered correct. But banning or strictly limiting mining is a non-option. All materials in modern society – cars and buses, knives and spoon, hammer and nails, planes and boats, cell phones and computers, TV and DVD players, and so on – come from mining. Not one of them came from farming, forestry or fishery. Things that cannot be grown must be mined.

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