The inter-agency body tasked to oversee rehabilitation and clean-up operations at the Padcal copper-gold mine said on Monday that Philex Mining Corp. has been able to meet all the regulatory requirements that will allow the mine to resume normal operations.
In a report, the Mining Industry Coordinating Council (MICC) said that Philex Mining has addressed the impact of the tailings spill on the surrounding areas of its Padcal mine 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, have made the remedial measures in accordance with the rehabilitation and clean-up plan,” the MICC said.
An endorsement from the MICC will help pave the way for the permanent lifting of the temporary permit to operate issued by the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB).
Philex voluntarily suspended operations after the accidental spill of mine tailings at the height of torrential rains in late July 2012.
In March 2013, the MGB allowed the Padcal mine to resume operations for four months so Philex Mining could produce 25,000 cubic meters of fresh tailings daily for the filling and beaching process involving the urgent remediation of Tailings Storage Facility No. 3 (TSF3).
In July 2013, the MGB extended indefinitely the temporary operations and tossed the case of Philex Mining to the MICC for the review of all technical inputs, and their request for the resumption of normal operations.
Philex Mining Chairman Manuel Pangilinan earlier said that the company has filed an application with the MGB for the permanent resumption of mining operations at Padcal, after more than a year of rehabilitation and clean-up operations in the areas affected by the tailings leak from its TSF3.
He said that bulk of the rehabilitation was done on the upstream side of the Padcal mine, including the construction of the open spillway, clean-up of the Agno River and Balog creek, as well as the rehabilitation of the tailings dam.
Under its immediate action plan, the MICC said that Philex completed the closure of the tailings storage facility No.3’s Penstock A and its tunnel, as well as the decommissioning of Penstock B.
The mine’s TSF3’s Penstock A and its connecting Tunnel A, where the tailings leak originated, has been closed down, it said.
Philex’s TSF3 has two penstocks, which are hollow elongated structures located at the south end of its main dike. These penstocks have diversion tunnels heading downward east toward the Balog River Creek.
Both penstocks will be replaced by an open spillway, with chutes measuring 12 meters wide and 300 meters long, that will be able to channel up to 1,500 millimeters (mm) of rain over 24 hours—or more than thrice the 455 mm of rain that Typhoon Ondoy dumped over a 24-hour period in 2009.
Social issues addressed
The MICC also said that Philex Mining has addressed its responsibilities towards the communities affected by the tailings spill.
The company also passed technical analysis, including heavy metal content in sediments, water, and wildlife within the affected areas.
In an interview on Monday, MGB Director Leo Jasareno confirmed that the agency has received the MICC report, but stressed that it is still reviewing the recommendations of the mining body.
Jasareno added that the agency is still waiting for the result of discussion between
Philex and the Pollution Adjudication Board (PAB) on the company’s violations under the Republic Act 9275, or the Clean Water Act of 2004.
“Once we have the official result of the talks with PAB, only then we can come up with recommendation on the appeal of Philex,” Jasareno said.
The MGB and PAB are agencies under the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).
Earlier, Eulalio Austin, Philex Mining president and chief executive officer, said that the company is also continuing informal discussions with the PAB, led by DENR Undersecretary Demetrio Ignacio.
PAB, a quasi-judicial body, said earlier that Philex committed three violations of the Clean Water Act of 2004—which includes failing to comply with the effluent standards set by Department Administrative Order (DAO) No. 35; for two counts of violating the water quality criteria contained in DAO 34; and two counts of violating Section 27(a) of RA 9275.
“We are appealing that case with the PAB . . . there are charges that we have a justification for. There are some charges that we think should not have been charged,” Austin said.
The Philex executive added that the company was able to comply with the Clean Water Act within three months after the tailings leak, adding that the water quality in affected areas is already within the required standards.