Sagittarius Mines moves start of Tampakan operations to 2018

Edwin G. Espejo

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Mining firm Sagittarius Mines Inc. (SMI) has moved its target for commercial operations to 2018 following the rejection of its application for government permit and changes in the location of its port and power plant facilities

GENERAL SANTOS CITY, Philippines (UPDATED) – A unit of Swiss global miner Xstrata Plc, the contractor for the $5.9-billion Tampakan copper-gold project in Mindanao, has pushed forward its target for commercial operations to 2018 following the delays on its application for an environmental permit and changes in the location of its infrastructure facilities.

The local firm, Sagittarius Mines Inc. (SMI), earlier announced it would start commercial operations in one of the world’s largest undeveloped copper-gold deposits in 2016.

On Wednesday, August 22, SMI regional affairs manager Elvie Grace Ganchero mentioned the revised production date during a presentation of the firm’s off-lease infrastructure to local stakeholders at the Lagao Gym.

In the same event, the company official also confirmed they are scouting for location for the company’s power plant and port facilities.

“Our project has experienced a number of challenges, particularly in the past 12 months,” SMI spokesperson John Arnaldo said in a statement on Thursday, August 23.  

“While we are hopeful that the recently released Mining Policy for the Philippines will assist the Project and are encouraged by consultations with the affected communities, until we have addressed these challenges, and obtained the necessary approvals from the government and community, it is difficult to nominate a definitive production date,” he added.

MINE SITE. Photo from Sagittarius Mine website

Ban on open pit mining

The company suffered a setback following its local government host’s passage of the South Cotabato Provincial Environment Code, which bans open-pit mining.

The mine site sits atop the mountainous village of Tablu in Tampakan, South Cotabato.

In turn, the national government, through the Environment Management Bureau of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), cited the local ordinance in rejecting the SMI-Xstrata’s bid for an environmental clearance certificate (ECC), a government requirement before it can proceed with its mining operations.

SMI was hoping Executive Order No. 79 signed by President Benigno Aquino last July would have reconciled national mining policies with conflicting local ordinances.

The EO-79, however, imposed a status quo on pending issues. SMI has a pending appeal before Malacanang for the provision of the ECC.

SMI has been pushing for a review of the provincial environment code, citing its proposed environmental plan that exceeds the government’s minimum requirements.   

SMI-Xstrata is already done with the exploration activities, finding a “potential for a copper deposit in the range of 80 to 90 million tonnes.” 

It is the biggest of several mining projects expected to bring in up to $12 billion in new investments to the Philippines in the next 5 years.

Power plant, port

Aside from the delayed required ECC, Arnaldo said they also face “restrictions on field activities resulting from security issues in the Project area,” as well as the “need to reconsider our preferred power supply options for the Project.”

For its port and power plant, SMI has shifted focus to Maasim following security problems the company encountered in Malalag, Davao del Sur where it initially planned to locate them.

In September 2011, SMI offsite land acquisition superintendent Cris Bual was gunned down in Davao City while jogging near his house. Police believed his slaying was work-related.

SMI’s Ganchero said the company will build a 100-kilometer 12-inch underground pipeline to move copper concentrates from its mine site in Tampakan in South Cotabato to Maasim in nearby province of Sarangani.

The pipeline will run through 3 South Cotabato towns and 6 villages in General Santos City.

A filter plant will also be built adjacent to its port facilities.

Ganchero said the copper concentrate will be 55% water, suggesting pressurized water will push the slurry to the filter plant.

She further disclosed that SMI recently entered into an agreement with Alsons Energy Development Corp. for a feasibility study for the development of a proposed coal-fired power plant which will be dedicated solely to SMI.

SMI earlier stated that it will need at least 400-MW of power supply to run its mining operations.

The company also said it will put up its own transmission lines from the power plant to its mining development area in Tampakan. –

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