MANILA, Philippines - Executives from the country's largest mining firm Philex are finally showing pictures of a tailings spill at their Benguet mine.
In early August, tailings from the Padcal mine began leaking into Balog creek, which flows into the larger Agno river.
A government engineer tells the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines this was once a clean Class A river.
The river is the lifeblood of 42 households of indigenous people who mainly support themselves with fishing or mining.
Philex supplied these photos and has openly engaged with the media.
The spokesman for Philex says the spill was not the result of negligence but an unpredictably large rainfall.
An accident happened. It had nothing to do with the integrity of the tailings pond. It had something to do with force majeure, too much rain. And it was not the pond that was breached, it was not the dam, it was the penstock. Now that's being addressed.
This diagram shows the steps Philex took to stop the leak.
This long hollow tube is a penstock.
When water in the tailings pond overflows it drains into the penstock and out the drainage tunnel below.
Philex asserts that heavy rain increased pressure on the penstock causing a leak.
Within days, spill samples reveal the suspended solids in the two penstocks are almost a hundred to a thousand times the allowable level.
The company begins dropping large rocks into the tailings pond to plug the leak.
For nearly 40 days Philex tries this approach. The leaks continue.
A source sends Rapler this video taken at the site.
A government engineer tells the CBCP that dropping these concrete boulders into the pond is a trial and error approach.
A Philex engineer says they wedged a thousand ton concrete sphere into the sink hole. It works.
From about 2 inches thick of flowing slurry, it immediately went down to less than an inch and the density from as high has 50 to 60% went down to 15.
VP FOR OPERATIONS, PHILEX
They pour concrete over the plug to keep it in place and commission a new spillway to filter out some of the tailings from the penstock.
They spray the creek banks to flush out the tailings and manually bag sediment and carry it away.
Despite losing up to P40 million a day Philex keeps the mine closed.
It is a welcome that one big company that has taken bold steps, even gone to the extent of saying they are suspending operations. This is an example of what responsible mining companies are and I think we owe it to the company to commend them publicly although we are still looking at the result of that.
JESUS G. DUREZA
EX PRESIDENTIAL ADVISER FOR MINDANAO
Philex says they already paid about P800,000 to the neighboring community to cover damages, mostly to fishing traps, fishing boats and livestock.
The company says it will cover damages for the community but will contest a P1 billion fine the government wants to impose.
The Mines and Geosciences Bureau chief says the bureau is ready to face the challenge in court.
The question is: will Philex remain the Philippines' poster firm for responsible mining after this?
Katherine Visconti, Rappler Manila. -Rappler.com
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