Nickel Asia Corp. (NIKL), the country biggest nickel producer, on Thursday said its wholly owned subsidiary Hinatuan Mining Corp. (HMC) is already compliant with all the recommendations made by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) in the agency’s audit of HMC’s operations, disputing the finding of two alleged violations of HMC’s Environmental Compliance Certificate (ECC).
The mine is located on Hinatuan Island, Surigao del Norte.
In a disclosure to the Philippine Stock Exchange, NAC said that it has already received the copy of the official findings and recommendations of the audit conducted by the DENR audit team, which cited alleged violations of two conditions in the ECC.
DENR told HMC to limit clearing of vegetation to within planned areas to be mined and to conduct revegetation or reforestation with endemic species on idle lands within the site to provide carbon sink and restore biodiversity.
“HMC has not conducted clearing of vegetation outside of the planned areas to be mined, and in addition, has rehabilitated 55 hectares of mined-out areas and has forested 368 hectares outside of mined-out areas that had no forest cover due to the poor soil condition,” Nickel Asia said.
The company added that a total of 811,000 seedlings of various species including those endemic to the island were planted. Furthermore, HMC has planted 53 hectares of mangroves in coastal areas surrounding Hinatuan Island with 236,000 propagules.
Another recommendation set by the government was for HMC to commission an independent third party auditor to undertake an environmental and safety audit.
“This condition (underlying ours) is recommendatory, not mandatory,” NAC said.
“In any event the audits, which were part of the process for HMC to secure its ISO 14001 on Environmental Management Systems, were undertaken and HMC indeed obtained its ISO 14001 Certification in the 2nd quarter of 2016,” it added.
In fact, NAC said that HMC is now in the process of securing an ISO 45001 certification for Occupational Health and Safety Management.
“Furthermore, yet another environmental and safety audit was conducted by another independent 3rd party in the 3rd quarter of 2016, which has now been completed,” it added.
It also said that the environmental standards of HMC is on par with NAC’s other operations, namely Rio Tuba Nickel Mining Corporation (RTN), Taganito Mining Corporation (TMC), and Cagdianao Mining Corporation (CMC).
“The audit reports for NIKL’s largest operations, RTN and TMC, have also been received and are positive,” NAC said.
To recall, the DENR-Mines and Geosciences Bureau suspended HMC’s operations to remove stockpiles from its Manicani mine in Leyte. HMC has not conducted mining operations at the site since the late 1990s and the project is on a care and maintenance status.
The stockpiles for the most part consist of low-grade limonite ore that was not saleable during the time that mining operations was conducted in the late 1990s, but can now be disposed of given current market conditions. The request by HMC to the MGB to dispose of the stockpiles was made to avoid any possible environmental impacts that the stockpiles might cause, and to generate economic activity in Manicani.
In its letter dated 01 July 2014, the MGB directed and authorized HMC to transport and dispose of the nickel ore stockpiles, which had been accumulated from past mining operations.
Environment Secretary Regina Paz Lopez issued the suspension order after an audit of the mine, saying that it would be more detrimental to the island’s environment if the mining waste removal continued.
“Our audit shows that they are taking too much soil, which goes to China. We are suspending the retrieving of the stockpiles, to address the ecological balance,” Lopez earlier said.
Instead of shipping the ore to China, the DENR chief said she will order HMC to use the nickel ore for mine restoration and conduct the necessary remediation measures to prevent the nickel ore stockpiles from siltating and polluting the water bodies in the Island.
“Put it back in the hole,” Lopez said.