The Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) will decide this week on the request of Philex Mining Corp. to extend mining operations at its Padcal copper-gold mine in Benguet.
MGB Director Leo Jasareno said that they are now evaluating Philex’s appeal for an extension of operations to raise the elevation of tailings in Padcal’s tailings storage facility 3 (TSF3) and allow water to naturally flow in mouth of the newly constructed open spillway.
“Within the week, we will come up with an official decision on the matter,” Jasareno said in a telephone interview.
The MGB chief said that the company did not specify in its request the time frame needed to achieve the level of tailings elevation, but company experts have noted that it would take another two years to achieve the “desired” level of safety.
“On Thursday, MGB personnel met with its counterparts from Philex during a technical conference to discuss the conduct of the ongoAing beaching process in TSF3, and they have mentioned that it would take them at least two years to complete the process,” he said.
Philex has been conducting the beaching process over the past four months to fill with fresh tailings the massive conical void in the middle of its tailings facility and create a beach in the pond.
Libby Ricafort, Philex vice president and resident manager of Padcal mine, said that resumption of operations would allow them to “satisfy” and “promote” the long-term stability of the tailings facility.
“The restoration of the stability of our offset dike will need 2 years. We are protecting the condition of the offset dike, until the mine stops,” Ricafort said.
Ricafort, citing technical assessment by third-party experts hired by the company, said that they have to reach a beach elevation of 608 meters above seas level to ensure the structural integrity of its TFS3.
To date, the company was only able to achieve 586 meters above sea level with Padcal producing at a maximum capacity of 25,000 to 26,000 tons of tailings daily.
“Raising the beach elevation at 608 meters will provide us a one percent slope, the natural deposition of the beach, to drain water from the offset dike to the mouth of the new spill way,” Ricafort explain.
“We need to provide a buffer for the water, and we need to keep the main embankment offset dike to be always dry,” he added.
Earlier, Philex Chairman Manuel Pangilinan said that they would ask the government to lift suspension order on its operations at Padcal copper-gold mine, following months of rehabilitation and cleanup operations in the areas affected by the tailings leak.
Jasareno, however, said that they have not received any request for the permanent resumption of operations at Padcal, adding that the company has yet to meet regulatory requirements for the lifting of the suspension order.
“For them to be allowed to permanently resume operations, they still have to address their responsibilities, particularly on the impact of the spill to the surrounding areas,” Jasareno said.
He added that Philex would also have to settle other violations under Republic Act 9275 or the Clean Water Act of 2004.
On March 8, the government regulator allowed Padcal mine to resume operations, following a seven-month voluntary suspension of operations, in order to produce 25,000 cubic meters of fresh tailings daily for the filling and beaching process involving the urgent remediation of TSF3.
The suspension order stemmed from the accidental spill of tailings at the height of torrential rains in late July last year.