Balancing science and economics in mining

Two good reports from Malaya last week.

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From Pro-mining geologist:

Actual mining operates in a miniscule .4 percent of the whole country, he added. “These are the facts: you can actually put all mining operations in one area and they will fit in Quezon City. How can such a small area cause a huge pollution, what’s the big deal when you talk only of a small area?” he noted.

Out of the country’s 30 million hectares total land area, 9 million hectares or 30 percent are thought to have high mineral potential. Of that, only 873,000 hectares or about three percent are covered by mining claims, leases or licenses. 

Arcilla thumbs down the argument that because mining contributes only one percent to gross domestic product (GDP) the country can afford to be rid of it. Since it’s only one percent now, “the tendency has been to refocus policy without realizing that the one percent is practically the only income generated in the remote .4 percent mining areas where mining is happening,” he said. 

He turned around the poverty issue, noting that the poorest areas in the country are not in mining areas but in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao. “Rio Tuba and Bataraza towns in Palawan, Claver in Surigao, Aroroy in Masbate are all first-class municipalities because they host mining operations,” he said.

Mining areas are poor agricultural areas “because they were already poor before mining happened. Corruption and delayed sharing of mining revenues to local governments worsen the situation,” he added. 

Another misconception is that the Philippines is one of the most mineralized countries in the world. Not true, Arcilla said, citing that the grades or concentration of Philippine ore deposits are below that of South Africa’s gold, chromite, nickel and platinum; Russia’s copper, gold and nickel; and Australia’s iron and coal.

He also believes mining and tourism can co-exist, pointing at Palawan where tourism earns P10 billion in revenues, and mining and quarrying, P24 billion. He said: “They co-exist because all mines are in the south, and there are no mines in the tourism area in the north where the geology is different. So why stop when they can co-exist and one gives twice the income of the other?”  

The bottom line to Arcilla: responsible mining is doable when rules and regulations are strictly followed. “If you cannot manage the environment, don’t even start mining,” he said.

And from Mining, a balance,

“My premise is that metals are important, one can’t contemplate civilization as we know it now without metals. If we don’t dig for our own, we will buy it from others. It doesn’t make sense not to use our resources. The challenge is how does one take advantage of mineral resources without the negative effects on the environment,” Javier said.

“Abandoned mine sites that scar the country reflect irresponsible behavior,” he added, pointing out evidence of mismanagement.

 On the other hand, mining sites in Palawan have shown that responsible companies can do their mining as well as safeguard the environment. 

“So it can be done. The challenge for us is to put together our scientists and technologies, miners and regulators, put our heads together and map out a way to put mineral resources to good use and address issues of environmental protection and destruction,” Javier said.

Caloy Arcilla always delivers good points, great mind. I like his basic grasp of economics  despite being a non-economist. He’s a geologist.

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