BAGUIO CITY, Philippines—Manuel V. Pangilinan, chair of Philex Mining Corp., said his company has not been required by the government to clean the mine wastes that may have reached the San Roque Dam in Pangasinan when its tailings dam in the firm’s Benguet mine site broke down on Aug. 1 last year.
San Roque Dam serves as a filtering facility for Agno River before it reaches Pangasinan towns, but officials of Dagupan City have been concerned about the impact of the accidental breach of a tailings storage facility of Philex’s Padcal mine in Itogon, Benguet.
The tailings dam discharged 20 million metric tons of tailings into a creek that flows towards the Agno River. The leak was stopped when Philex workers dropped a concrete ball encased in metal into the vortex.
Built to accommodate
“San Roque Dam has been built to accommodate sediments. It has huge storage facilities that will accommodate the sediments that will flow time to time from the surrounding mountains. It’s difficult to take out the tailings. The dam can accommodate the kind of tailings that were deposited,” Pangilinan said at a news conference here on Thursday.
“Our people were there to check the impact of the wastes on Balog Creek and the entire Agno River system. There were even talks that it went down to Dagupan, but this is all unfounded fear,” he said.
But he admitted that Philex is in talks with the National Power Corp. (Napocor), which oversees the operations of the San Roque Dam.
In a Philex disclosure report to the Philippine Stock Exchange in May, Philex cited a May 10 notification from Napocor that it is billing the mining firm P6.42 billion for pollution that has damaged the San Roque watershed, and “for 13.5 million cubic meters of mine wastes [that currently] occupy significant space in the [San Roque Dam] reservoir … that reduced the volume of water to be used for power generation.”
Caused by accident
Pangilinan said they are disputing Napocor’s claims by asserting that the waste discharge was caused by an accident.
He met reporters at the Baguio Country Club before he and the Philex board of directors inspected the repairs made at Padcal mine on Friday.
He said Philex had complied with all the requirements imposed by the government in rehabilitating the Balog Creek, a tributary of Agno River, and had paid the P1-billion fine.
He said Philex’s combined expenses amounted to P4 billion to clean up the river and to improve the waste facilities of the Padcal mine, Philex’s pioneer mine, which is credited by the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) as the first underground block cave operation in the country beginning in 1958.
Pangilinan said Philex’s efforts should convince government to permanently lift the ban on Padcal mine’s operations.
Padcal was allowed to resume operations on March 8 to produce mine waste to fill up the vacuum that was created when the tailings leaked out of the pond. The resumption order, however, was temporary and would last until July 7.
Fay Apil, MGB Cordillera director, said the mine rehabilitation fund committee, which oversees repairs at Padcal’s tailings storage facility, has concluded that the firm should continue operating to help stabilize its tailings pond, at least for a few more months now that the monsoon has started.
Philex vice president Libby Ricaforte, also Padcal mine resident manager, said the firm’s consultants are scheduled to review the progress made in rehabilitating the tailings pond.
But he said the tailings pond should be able to withstand heavy downpour now that two of three newly constructed spillway chutes are operational.
The spillway replaced the damaged penstock inside the tailings pond, which triggered last year’s breach. Like the penstock, the spillway diverts surface runoff water dumped by rain from the waste facility towards the local waterways, he said.
Unlike the penstock’s 6-meter-wide channel, each of the new spillway chutes are 12 meters wide, increasing the volume of rainwater it is able to divert away from the tailings pond during storms, he said.
“At the end of the day, we have to rely on government to assess the situation, and hopefully arrive at the decision that will allow us to continue operating beyond the deadline date of July 7,” Pangilinan said.
He said Philex is also constructing a fourth tailings storage facility to accommodate waste generated by Padcal mine as it resumes work until 2020.
Padcal mine has 75 million tons of deposits available for extraction until 2020, “but there are indicated resources of about 180 million tons, so we might be able to expand the mine life,” he said. Padcal was due for decommissioning in 2011 until Philex extended its operations. With a report from Vincent Cabreza, Inquirer Northern Luzon