The Pollution Adjudication Board (PAB) has officially lifted the cease-and-desist order issued against Philex Mining Corp., paving the way for the company to permanently resume normal operations at its Padcal copper-gold mine in Benguet.
The PAB’s June 9 decision was coursed through the Baguio City-based Regional Office of the Environment Management Bureau (EMB).
PAB, a quasi-judicial body not covered by the authority of the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB), also noted in its two-page decision a report by the EMB stating that the company has cleared all environmental requirements and complied with the remediation measures at Padcal’s Tailings Storage Facility No. 3 (TSF3).
It took the company over a year of complete rehabilitation and cleanup operations to restore areas affected by the tailings leak from its TSF3.
Michael Toledo, senior vice president for corporate affairs at Philex, welcomed the decision, saying the company will continue to be a responsible miner by marching on with its environmental-stewardship advocacy through various forestation and reforestation activities, as well as the rehabilitation of TSF3, including completion of an open spillway.
It will be recalled that TSF3, which is located in the town of Itogon, discharged nontoxic water and sediment into the Balog Creek, a tributary of the Agno River, on August 1, 2012 following historically unprecedented rainfall brought about by two successive typhoons.
Philex had voluntarily suspended operations immediately, resuming production only from March 8, 2013 based on a four-month temporary lifting order issued by the government which was extended indefinitely afterwards.
For his part, MGB Director Leo Jasareno said that the PAB decision is only one side of the process, noting that Philex still has to pass a review by the agency of its compliance with the rehabilitation and cleanup plan for Padcal.
“We will review all documentary requirements if they were able to comply with the rehab plan that they submitted to the MGB,” Jasareno said, adding that the report by the Mining Industry Coordinating Council (MICC) will be included in the review.
The MICC, an interagency body tasked to oversee rehabilitation and cleanup operations at the Padcal copper-gold mine, earlier said that Philex was able to complete all the regulatory requirements for the company to resume normal operations.
It also said that Philex has addressed its responsibilities, particularly on the impact of the tailings spill to the surrounding areas of Padcal in Benguet Province.
“The Technical Working Group on Environmental Protection and Legislation finds that Philex Mining Corp., based on the understanding of the nature of the incident and the direct and indirect interventions surrounding it, has undertaken remedial measures in accordance with the rehabilitation and cleanup plan,” the MICC said in its report.
Toledo, on the other hand, said that the company has since complied with government requirements for the resumption of its operations at Padcal, including payment of P188.6 million as environmental obligation to the PAB for violating Republic Act 9275, or the Clean Water Act; and P1.034 billion to the MGB as fees over the accidental discharge of sediment.
The PAB imposed the charges after ensuring that all the effluent and water samples collected from Balog and Agno on March 14-15, 2013 were within the water quality criteria required by government.
These samples were collected and analyzed by the designated Joint Multipartite Monitoring Team. For its part, the MGB had asked for P1.034 billion in fees while it was studying the pertinent details of TSF3’s remediation.
Aside from the construction of a P500-million open spillway, which replaces TSF3’s underground drainage system, the urgent remediation measures at Padcal include the filling up (with fresh tails) of the conical void at the pond left behind by the tailings leak accident as well as the creation of a beach that would push the accumulated water away from the pond, which is designed to hold solids, and onto the spillway.
TSF3’s third and last chute will be finished in July, enabling the pond to accommodate an unusual rainfall of 1,500 millimeters (mm) over a 24-hour period—more than thrice the 455 mm of rain dumped by Typhoon Ondoy in 24 hours in 2009.
The pond’s Penstock A, from which water discharges into the Balog Creek via Tunnel A, had been sealed off with concrete after the accident while Penstock B, which connects to Tunnel B, will also be sealed off with concrete once the third chute is completed.