Philippines’ Lopez takes aim at Tampakan copper-gold project

Regina Lopez, the Philippine environment secretary spearheading a mine audit in the country, has vowed to block the Tampakan copper-gold project – said to be the largest of its sort in Southeast Asia – if it operates as an open-pit mine, which she said is highly destructive of the environment.

“I don’t really like Tampakan at all. I have to live by my set of principles. And there is no way I would ever, ever, ever allow… open pit mine [the size of 700 football fields] on top of agricultural land,” Lopez said in a statement from the Philippine Department of Environmental and Natural Resources (DENR) this week. 

“It’s immoral. For me it’s socially unjust to allow business companies to make money and put the lives of all the farmers and indigenous people there at risk,” she said.

The $5.9-billion Tampakan project, which straddles the provinces of South Cotabato, Saranggani, Sultan and Davao del Sur, has estimated reserves of 18 million tonnes of gold and 15 million tonnes of copper, according to the DENR.

The project is being developed by Sagittarius Mines Inc (SMI), which is in turn owned by the Philippines’ Alcantara Group, which bought SMI last year from Glencore.

If approved, the mine will produce an estimated average of 375,000 tonnes per year of copper and 360,000 ounces per year of gold in concentrate over a 17-year mine life, according to SMI’s website.

The mining review in the Philippines has largely cast a spotlight on nickel miners in the country given its status as the largest exporter of nickel ore to China after Indonesia implemented a ban on unprocessed ore in 2014. Still, the month-long mining review is not aimed solely at nickel mines but all mines in the country.

Last week, in a meeting with Lopez, farmers from Cagayan Valley alleged that Australia-listed Oceanagold had caused water pollution and deforestation, according to the DENR. Lopez assured the farmers that the DENR will look into the issues and complaints they have.

Oceanagold, which operates the Didipio gold-copper mine in the Philippine island of Luzon, has said it welcomes the audit, describing itself as a “‘green’ environment-friendly mining company” whose agroforestry arm has already reforested more than 1,300 hectares of land and which operates a water-treatment plant equipped with clarifying systems that exceed national environmental standards.

The Philippines’ gold production rose 12 percent to 20.6 tonnes of gold last year, according to data from the Mines & Geosciences Bureau. The country also produced 83,835 tonnes of copper in concentrate, down nine percent on the previous year, and 49,151 tonnes of mixed nickel-cobalt sulphide metal last year, a drop of three percent.

It shipped 32.3 million dry metric tonnes of nickel ore (nickel content of 415,366 tonnes) in 2015, a decline of two percent from 2014.

(Editing by Mark Shaw)