Monday, 8 February 2010

Gov’t earmarks up to P48 million for mines’ rehab


THE MINES and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) has programmed some P48 million to be spent this year for the ongoing rehabilitation of the Bagacay copper mine in Western Samar and to conduct feasibility studies on five other inactive mines that pose "great risk" of pollution.

Rodolfo L. Velasco, Jr., officer-in-charge of MGB’s Mining Environment And Safety Division, said in an interview on Friday that half of the P42 million-P48 million budget this year will go to the Bagacay mine, which topped the Department of Environment and Natural Resources’ priority list for mine rehabilitation.

"[The goal] is to target at least five new areas this year for... assessment if they can be rehabilitated or not. We will conduct a risk assessment, among others, on these five mines and see if we can replicate what we are currently doing in the Bagacay mine," Mr. Velasco said.

The five abandoned mines that will be looked into for possible rehabilitation will come from the seven priority areas -- out of the 21 abandoned mines -- that had been identified by US-based environmental consultancy firm Tetra Tech EM, Inc. as the ones posing "great risk of pollution."

Aside from the Bagacay mine, the priority list includes Consolidated Mines in Marinduque, Quicksilver mine in Palawan, Black Mountain’s Basay mine in Negros Oriental, Thanksgiving Mine in Western Minolco, and Black Mountain mines in the Cordilleras.

"We want to identify if the minerals [in the five mines that we have chosen] have already been exhausted and are no longer profitable for mining. Then we can go and see what kind of intervention is needed," Mr. Velasco said.

But since the Bagacay mine poses the highest pollution risk, MGB deemed it necessary to make it the model for the other mines.

Mr. Velasco said the goal is "to convert the area to its near-possible original state" through reforestation.

He said a team from the Ecosystem Research and Development Bureau in Los Baños, Laguna, is now identifying the right species that can survive on Bagacay’s soil.

"The rehabilitation of the Bagacay mine, [which started in 2007], can already be completed by 2012," Mr. Velasco said.

The Bagacay copper and pyrite mine, occupying 113 hectares of land in Samar, was used to be run by mining companies Marinduque Mining Industrial Corp. (1956-1985) and Philippine Pyrite Corp. (1986-1992).

The Privatization Management Office of the Department of Finance then took over the mine after Philippine Pyrite abandoned the area.

In 2005, the bureau found that dilapidated structures and tailing dams, as well as a buildup of acid mine drainage, could flood the area with toxic sludge. Locals have already blamed the mine’s tailing for pollution of the Taft River in Eastern Samar, one of Samar’s biggest rivers.

But while the other mines are still awaiting the bureau’s feasibility study, Mr. Velasco said the Palawan local government has already started the rehabilitation of Palawan Quicksilver. The plan is to convert the area into a sanitary landfill, he said.

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