Environmental group hits gov’t agency for allowing Surigao’s old mines to operate

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MANILA, May 16, 2013—An environmental group questioned the issuance of permit for unstable old mines to operate in Surigao del Norte by the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) over this week. 

The Alyansa Tigil Mina (ATM) together with their international partners quizzed MGB’s decision to allow the Siana Mines operation to continue in Surigao del Norte despite historical reports of mine flooding and underground fire. 

“The group is also wary of the silence of the government agency pertaining to recent reports of land instability in mines since April,” the group said in a press statement. 

Jaybee Garganera, national coordinator of ATM said, this is appalling that the government has been very careless in its issuances to mining companies. 

“Unfortunately, as in the earlier years of mines, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and MGB seem to have forgotten their role to ensure that the environment is secure in balancing this destructive and exploitative industry,” Garganera added. 

In a research done by ATM members, it was found out that the Siana Mines of Red5 Limited located in Surigao del Norte was an abandoned mine previously operated by Surigao Consolidated Mining Co., Inc. which was opened in the 40’s. 

It was closed during World War II and was re-opened in 1946, producing 4,800 kilograms of gold and 8,000 kilograms of silver but was closed down again due to mine flooding and underground fire. 

In 2002, the abandoned mine site was not rehabilitated until Red5 Limited secured a mining permit and was granted an Environmental Compliance Certificate in April 20009 despite a prior scheduled Final Mine Rehabilitation and Decommissioning Plan expected  in late May of 2009. 

A Social and Environmental Assessment Specialist and member of the London Working Group in the country said Red5 should certainly not have been allowed to reopen and use the old tailings facility. 

“MGB should know better than that before permitting the reopening without rehabilitating the old facilities,” Dr. Robert Goodland added.

Goodland emphasized the need of a transparent emergency action plan is essential. 

“There must be an immediate halt in all milling operations, an immediate alert on local authorities and downstream communities of the big risks and encourage them to get out of the way of any breach that looks likely to happen at any time, and immediately get MGB to conduct an onsite safety/risk assessment to prevent damage and reduce risks to some semblance of acceptability,” Goodland added. 

He stressed that the major lesson to be learned from this risky episode is that old tailings facilities must have safety assessments before new mining is permitted. 

“Furthermore, to guarantee adequate mine closure and restoration, escrow bonds must be created and updated annually before a mining corporation is permitted to abandon a mine site,” Goodland furthered. 

ATM received reports that geotechnical experts representing different parties of Red5 have individually concluded that there is an unquantifiable risk in returning the tailings dam to operating status. 

Meanwhile, Garganera pointed out the mine should be immediately closed down and rehabilitated especially at this time when people are actually facing different threats and risks both natural and man-made. 

“This situation seriously merits a response from the MGB. Consequently, the review of all mining projects in the country should start. Lastly, we urge the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) at the regional and provincial levels to immediately conduct parallel investigations on this continuing event so that we can safely determine if there are risks that face the communities in CARAGA region composed of the provinces of Agusan del Norte, Agusan del Sur, Surigao del Norte, Surigao del Sur, and Dinagat Islands,” Garganera furthered. 

The mining project comprises both open pit and an underground mine which as originally designed, delivers a minimum of 849,000 ounces of gold production at a cash cost of sub US$400.00 per ounce over a ten-year life. (Jandel Posion)

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