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Tampakan mine can be sustainable – geologist

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Amid concerns about open-pit mining, a geologist says Tampakan can be an example of sustainable mining

MANILA, Philippines – A geologist says he supports the controversial open-pit Tampakan copper-gold mine in South Cotabato as long as its impact to the environment is managed properly. 

The key is limiting “impact in the form of tailings or disturbance of the environment that may lead to landslides,” Dr. Carlos Arcilla, a geology expert at the National Institute on Geological Sciences – University of the Philippines, said.

He pointed out that the project, which is operated by one of the world’s largest copper producer Xstrata Plc, is not worth passing up since it means progress for Mindanao and more revenue for the country.

The gold and copper mine is expected to add 1% to national gross domestic product for every year that it operates. The government is expected to earn $7.2 billion over the estimated 17 year life of the mine.

“Mindanao is very rich with mineral deposits, gold, copper, nickel, chrome, name it you have it, and the Tampakan project will trigger growth for a sustainable mining industry in the region,” said Arcilla. 

He said that proper engineering, geological considerations and proper mining methods could help avoid geological problems. 

“By studying the environmental impact assessment prepared for the Tampakan project, we will know what to prepare for in terms of risk management,” Arcilla said.

“You cannot just say that the Tampakan project will cause earthquake and volcanic eruptions without considering proper engineering and existing baseline data,” he added.

While small-scale miners often don’t have the resources to invest in proper tailings ponds or dams, he said, “Xstrata has a pretty good reputation worldwide. It is known to be very strict with its corporate culture.”

A provincial ordinance against open-pit mining has stopped Sagittarius Mines Inc. (SMI), the Philippine unit of Xstrata, from progressing on the Tampakan project.

The company is maintaining its taget date of 2016 for start of operations and hopes the Aquino administration’s delayed Executive Order on mining will resolve the conflict between national laws permiting open-pit mining and local ordinances banning it. 

Residents who will be losing their homes on the almost 4,000-hectare mining area have raised resistance to the project. SMI announced that as many as 4,000 families would need to be relocated away from the village centers of Folu Bato (not Pula Bato), Danlag, Tablu and Bong Mal in Tampakan. In April, 3 drill men under contract with SMI were killed by armed tribes men. 

Balancing environmental, social and revenue concerns will be crucial if the project hopes to move forward. – 

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