Tag Archives: tailings management

The Marcopper mine spill and the unending wait for justice in the Philippines

A run-down office building inside the Marcopper mining area, abandoned in 1997, after Placer Dome, Inc. left the Philippines following the mine spill. Erik de Castro

Another example of how quickly ‘World Class’ mining companies abandon their responsibilities when things go wrong with their ‘World Class’ mines, leaving local people to suffer the devastating long term consequences alone

Nikko Dizon | ABS/CBN News | April 02 2019

The people of this island province have endured the brunt of the worst mining disaster in the country, but the bigger heartbreak in their two-decade-long quest for justice might just be the wait for redress that is not sure to come. 

There’s nothing more tragic than to hear stories repeatedly told, but nothing done. It’s been 23 years since March 24, 1996, when a badly- sealed drainage tunnel in Marcopper Mining Corporation’s Taipan pit burst, spilling 1.6 million cubic meters of toxic mine tailings that choked Boac River, flooded villages and killed marine life. 

One village, Barangay Hinapulan, was buried in six feet of muddy floodwater, displacing 400 families. Cows, pigs and sheep including pets were poisoned and died. Crops were destroyed. Boac River, a source of sustenance for surrounding communities, was declared unsafe.

Three years before that, the company’s Maguila-guila siltation dam also burst, flooding the town of Mogpog, where two children drowned in the mine waste.

Soon after the mining disaster, the United States Geological Survey said in a study that the Makulapnit and Maguila-guila siltation dams were in danger of collapsing. 

In 2001, Canadian research firm Klohn Crippen – hired by Marcopper’s Canadian mother company Placer Dome Inc. as consultant – issued a similar warning. 

“They are a clear and present danger to us,” said Joven Lilles of the dams. Lilles is the provincial government’s environmental management specialist and is part of the province’s disaster management council.

Catherine Coumans, research and Asia-Pacific program coordinator of Mining Watch Canada told Vera Files in an email that a lot of mine waste remains at the mine site. Marcopper started operations on Marinduque in 1969.

“The acute danger is being swept away by the waste and drowning in it,” said Coumans, who had lived on the island for two years before the 1996 mine spill.

“The longer-term harm is from the toxicity of the waste,” Coumans said of the highly acidic and metal-laden tailings. “It is extremely environmentally toxic and can destroy productive ecosystems that people rely on.” 

The last known inspection of the Marcopper property was done on January 23, 2017 by the office of Marinduque Representative Lord Allan Jay Velasco, together with engineers and geologists of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and Mines and Geosciences Bureau’s regional office.

The team discovered a leak in the Upper Makulapnit Dam and heavy siltation in the Maguila-guila spillway tunnel. That prompted Velasco to ask the MGB to regularly inspect structures within the Marcopper site, a task that’s not easy because the area is off-limits. But the MGB and provincial officials, managed to find ways to get information.

The Velasco briefing paper listed among MGB’s concerns:

  • “possible seepage” from the Tapian Pit observed at the Lower Makulapnit Dam.
  • monitored seepage in Hinapulan Creek from the plug installed after the 1996 mine spill. “The bright blue discoloration can be attributed to the presence of heavy metal, particularly copper, in the water.” 
  • The Makulapnit Bypass Tunnel was described as a “problematic MMC structure.” Fresh water was leaking from a busted pipe and a build-up of water inside the tunnel “might lead to an eventual flooding of downstream communities along Boac River.”

The Boac River, declared biologically dead after the Marcopper mine spill looks serene at dusk. A dike had been built to prevent it from overflowing where there are heavy rains. Erik de Castro

But what “needs the most immediate attention,” the MGB team said, is the Maguila-guila siltation dam as also pointed out by the USGS and KhlonCrippen reports 20 years ago.

“Since the water flowing through the spillway has no viable exit point due to the siltation clog, there is a possibility that the water pressure will build up and force its way out through the existing structures, causing damage to the latter,” the briefing paper said.

After its last visit to the MMC premises, the MGB team found out water has decreased to ground level. “However, there is still an increased amount of siltation inside the facility which may clog the hole of the down-drain tunnel,” the briefing paper added.

In 1990, residents of Mogpog town, comprised of 13 villages, had opposed the building of the Maguila-guila dam, but Marcopper was allowed to construct it the next year. The dam was needed as another repository for the San Antonio pit’s waste which the Tapian pit would not be able to hold. 

Marcopper denied responsibility when the Maguila-guila dam burst in 1993. Mining officials blamed an unusual rainfall brought by a typhoon. But the Velasco paper noted that when the dam was rebuilt, “an overflow was added for the first time, in an implicit acknowledgment of faulty engineering.”

Trees now swallow the collapsed copper belt conveyor that leads to the primary crushing area. Erik de Castro

Repairing dams, tricky ownership issues

MGB’s regional director Roland de Jesus said his office plans to secure the dams and waterways near the mining site. However, the safety features, estimated to cost some P25 million, will be built outside the Marcopper property because “legalities” prevent even government officials from entering the site.

De Jesus said P5 million has been earmarked for the safety measures’ design. With no project bidder, the MGB initiated a negotiated one “to start the ball rolling.”

“There’s a continuous monitoring being done in the area. There’s sufficient time to install the prevention design,” De Jesus said.

But who is really responsible for the dams’ repair? 

“This question is critically important,” Coumans said.

It leads to the complicated and tricky ownership of the Marcopper mining site, the structures inside it, and everything left behind by MMC and Placer Dome, Inc., and Placer Dome Technical Services Inc., a subsidiary set up by Placer Dome in 1997 to clean up the mine spill.

Placer Dome, Inc. owned 40 percent of Marcopper shares but divested from it a year after the mine spill. Five years later, it closed its Philippine office. In 2006, the Toronto-based Barrick Gold Corporation, the world’s largest gold mining company, acquired Placer Dome, Inc.’s remaining common shares.

Coumans said Placer Dome divested to F Holdings, known as the Bernardino Group, “through its wholly-owned Cayman Islands subsidiary—MR Holdings.”

The Supreme Court, in a 2012 ruling, described MR Holdings, Ltd. as “a non-resident foreign corporation, organized and existing under the laws of Cayman Island.”

“It is a subsidiary corporation of Placer Dome, Inc. (Placer Dome), a foreign corporation which owns 40% of respondent Marcopper Mining Corporation,” it said.

Coumans said she would have been unaware that MR Holdings was exercising ownership over the Marcopper property “if not for the lawsuit by the Solid Bank to recover money it had lent Marcopper before the Boac Spill.”

She said MR Holdings, possibly still the legal owner of assets and mineral rights at the site, has not maintained the area and neither has F Holdings.

“Unless Marinduqueños find a way to hold MR Holdings’ parent company, now presumably Barrick Gold, to account, the state will likely have to step in to maintain the mine structures in order to protect Marinduqueños,” she added.

Ghost town

Mine tailings remain in the Tapian pit, where the spill originated on March 24, 1996 and caused one of the worst environment disaster in the Philippines. Erik de Castro

More often than not, it is difficult to enter Marcopper’s abandoned mine site. Provincial officers like Lilles had been denied entry several times. Even then Environment Secretary Gina Lopez was said to not have been allowed to inspect the area. 

But there was no guard in sight when Vera Files went there one afternoon in February. The guide surmised the guards may have skipped work that day.

The area looked like a ghost town. The power lines had collapsed, the wires a tangled mess on the ground. The doors of a warehouse, a backhoe, a couple of vehicles, even the crushing machinery were decaying and rusty. “MR Holdings” was painted on the primary crusher. 

In its heyday, the Marcopper site was like a “city within the forest” with first class apartments and amenities, including a golf course, the guide said. No trace of that upscale community remains.

This used to be Marcopper’s busy primary crusher chute, where trucks dumped the ore to start the process of extracting copper. Erik de Castro

From a hill, Tapian and San Antonio pits looked like serene lakes surrounded by lush trees. 

But Coumans cautioned that the bluish green water is highly toxic. “The pit water will be acidic and the strange color in the shallower areas is metal leaching, likely copper sulphate,” she said.

Heavily silted with mine tailings, Boac and Mogpog rivers are both considered biologically dead. Lilles said no carabao drinks water from Mogpog river because of its high acidity. Even the coconut trees along Mogpog river have been slowly poisoned, dying one by one. 

Boac river is less acidic because of the mix of “mineral and criminal water” that it gets from two different tributaries.

“The mineral, or clean, water comes from its upper tributaries in the villages of Canat, Bayote, and Tambunan. The criminal water is from Upper Hinapulan and Makulapnit, and the Bol river, all of which have been contaminated by the mine tailings,” Lilles said. 

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Norway to allow new mine waste dumping in national salmon fjord

2,500 Norwegians have signed up for civil disobedience against the mine waste dumping

“ONE OF THE MOST ENVIRONMENTALLY DAMAGING INDUSTRIAL PROJECTS IN NORWEGIAN HISTORY”

Aled Dilwyn Fisher | Naturvernforbundet | 14 February 2019

• Norway one of five countries still dumping mine waste in the oceans. • Strong opposition from indigenous communities. • Civil disobedience planned.

The Norwegian government has granted a permit for a new copper mine at Repparfjord, Finnmark, that will dump its waste into a protected national salmon fjord.

“This is one of the most environmentally damaging industrial projects in Norwegian history,” commented Silje Ask Lundberg, leader of Friends of the Earth Norway.

Two million tonnes of heavy metal waste will be dumped every year by the company Nussir – the equivalent of 17 lorry loads every hour – into a fjord given special protection to conserve the salmon population. Populations of cod, pollock, Atlantic herring, haddock, halibut, and flatfish will also be affected.

“Dumping of mining waste will kill every living thing on the ocean floor in the immediate area and disturb spawning grounds over a much greater distance. Scientists have repeatedly warned against dumping. This decision shows conclusively that the government does not take the fight to conserve ocean life seriously, and would rather prioritise short-term profit over conservation and sustainability,” added Ask Lundberg.

Earlier mine waste dumping in the same fjord, at a lower level than planned in the project approved today, led to a large drop in the salmon populations that took 13 years to recover. Cod populations have still not returned to their former spawning grounds.

2,500 Norwegians have signed up for civil disobedience against the project should it go ahead, including members of Nature and Youth (Young Friends of the Earth Norway). The Sami Parliament, representing the indigenous Sami people, has also opposed the plans. The Norwegian government itself has agreed a four-year moratorium on new projects planning to dump mine waste in other fjords. Norway is one of only five countries in the world that still allows mine waste dumping in its seas.

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The human cost of globalization

Barzil’s latest mining tragedy should be a wake-up call for citizens at both ends of the supply chain. Photograph: Douglas Magno/AFP/Getty Images

Eric Silverman | Metro West | 17 February 2019

Last month, a massive dam holding back a lake of waste from an iron ore mine collapsed in rural Brazil. The exact toll from the tsunami of metallic sludge is still unknown. At least 130 are confirmed dead but, as one elderly woman said, “It’s easier to count the living.” Hundreds remain missing. Some bodies will likely never be exhumed from the muck. Surely you heard about the disaster, expressed momentary horror, then went about your daily life as if such matters did not concern you. They do.

Like it or not, your hand – all of our hands – helped breach that dam. Those who benefit most from the global economy have equally global moral responsibility.

If you’re reading this newspaper in Massachusetts, glance outside your window. See any mines? Count yourself lucky. The largest such chasm in Boston was the Big Hole formerly occupied by Filene’s Basement. Actually, we’re not lucky at all, just rich. Most of us in MetroWest don’t want mining. We prefer other, far safer jobs, never mind backyards unblighted by large-scale resource extraction. And we have the affluence and power to make corporate and government leaders take heed. Not so the poor souls recently entombed in the mud.

Most Americans look to nature for rest and relaxation. We sojourn in the forest, like Thoreau, to “learn what it had to teach.” Others sell their woods and hills to survive. It is far better to be on the buying end of consumerism than the giving end of iron ore and other raw materials. Just ask the people of Vila Ferteco, the community downstream from the shattered dam.

Or ask anybody at the fringes of the world system. I know some of them well, having lived and studied as an anthropologist in a community along the Sepik River in Papua New Guinea. They have little political voice, less money, and no position of privilege that would cause corporate directors or public officials to take notice. That’s why their society is at risk from one of the largest gold and copper deposits in the Asia-Pacific region, the Frieda River mine, now under development by an Australian company, PanAust, which is a subsidiary of a Chinese government entity. Many people along the Sepik River are speaking out against this mine. Few seem to care or listen, especially shareholders and consumers on the other side of the world who will someday reap the lion’s share of the mine’s benefits.

There are few opportunities for a paycheck in the developing world, never mind a job that would pass muster by the workplace safety regulations that protect your own labor. More than 750 million people, mostly in the Global South, have less than a $1.90 a day in their pockets. What they have, however, are the natural resources – minerals, timber, oil, and gas – that are fed to factories in Nigeria, India, and Guangzhou, then shipped as the myriad products that arrive by Amazon on our doorsteps. It’s not so far from Bangladesh or Brumadinho to the local mall.

Nobody gives up their land because they find pleasure in open-pit mining. They do so because they have as much choice in the matter as they do clout in the boardroom or parliament. Corporations know this well, and so do as they please in distant places beneath the palm trees, at least those that remain standing after clearcutting for palm oil plantations. The end result is what just happened in Brazil.

The Global South is the resource Wal-Mart for the industrialized world, only with worse wages and no health care benefits.

The poisonous sludge that murdered a town last week came from a mine owned by a Brazilian company, Vale SA. The same firm, together with the Anglo-Australian giant BHP Billiton, owned another Brazilian mine where a collapsed dam killed more than a dozen in 2015. BHP Billiton once operated the Ok Tedi Mine in Papua New Guinea that discharged 90 million tons of waste into the local river system – about 500 square miles – for more than a decade. Half the river, reported The Australian Conservation Foundation, was “almost biologically dead.” The cultural survival of its indigenous communities remains at risk. Across the border in the Indonesian province of Papua, the U.S.-based company Freeport-McMoRan runs the world’s most profitable gold mine. Some of those profits, reported by The New York Times, went into the pockets of military and police officials to ‘secure’ the site.

Needless to say, major Western banks and investment firms, such as Vanguard, Blackrock, State Street, Fidelity, Citicorp, Bank of America, and John Hancock, pour assets into these mines, maybe even some of your own retirement funds, just as the mines pour their toxic waste down nearby hills and waterways.

There is no shortage of blame. Corrupt politicians. Greedy Wall Street financiers. Multinational corporations and the glossy PR firms they hire to promote ‘global citizenship.’ But most of the blame rests with you and I – everyday people content with our own lives and things, and thus unwilling to consider the human cost of globalization and to demand a more ethical capitalism. It’s time we did. Before another town in a far-flung place most of us can’t find on a map is buried beneath indifference.

Eric Silverman, a former Research Professor of Anthropology, lives in Framingham. He is now affiliated with the Women’s Studies Research Center at Brandies University.

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Half of the world’s biggest miners do not keep track of their tailings risk management measures -report

Brumadinho, where Vale SA’s dam collapsed. Photo Jeso Carneiro | Flickr.

Valentina Ruiz Leotaud | Mining.com | 11 February 2018

Following last month’s tailings dam disaster at Vale’s Córrego do Feijão mining complex, which left at least 140 dead, Amsterdam-based Responsible Mining Foundation issued a statement highlighting the findings of its 2018 Responsible Mining Index report related to miners’ tailing dams.

According to the report, many of the world’s largest mining companies are not able to ‘know and show’ how effectively they are addressing the risks of tailings dam failure and seepage.

“The 30 mining companies assessed in RMI 2018 scored an average of only 22% on tracking, reviewing and acting to improve their tailings risk management, with Vale scoring slightly above average. Fifteen of the 30 companies showed no evidence of keeping track of how effectively they are addressing these risks. And while 17 companies showed some sign of reviewing the effectiveness of their tailings risk management measures, no evidence was found of any of these companies publicly disclosing the extent to which they have taken systematic action on the basis of these reviews, to improve how they address tailings-related risks,” the document reads.

The RMF states that the deficiencies many miners show when it comes to sharing information is not limited to their tailings dams. In general, the organization’s study found that most companies fail to adequately share information on how they are managing social and environmental risks. In particular, they fail to provide meaningful site-level performance information.

“Too often, workers, mining-affected communities, governments and investors are kept in the dark about the risks involved and how well companies are addressing these risks. Companies may be reticent to publicly reveal this potentially detrimental and sensitive information, yet it is workers and communities whose lives and livelihoods depend on adequate protection measures being in place,” the report reads.

The Responsible Mining Foundation is convinced that public disclosure would not only save thousands of lives but would also improve the safety of mining projects by allowing for the expert advice of the community which, in turn, would result in improved knowledge of the terrain.

Based on a 2001 report by the International Commission on Large Dams which found that 221 tailings dam failures could have been prevented, the RMF states that by really incorporating the input of all stakeholders in the design, planning and building phases of their projects, miners can learn to refrain from mining in areas where tailings dam failures are most likely to happen and achieve a shared zero-failure objective to tailings storage facilities.

The foundation’s research, on the other hand, has shown that failure risks are greatest for large, steep and old tailings dams in tropical zones where seismic activity and extreme weather events can precipitate dam collapses.

In the case of Vale’s facility, the RMF explained that it was built as part of a series of dams constructed upstream from the original dyke, which makes it the most likely type of tailings dam to fail.

“Vale has now committed to decommissioning all dams built by the upstream method and other companies can clearly follow suit,” the NGO suggested.

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Naive Sepik MPs put their trust in lawyers to avert tailings disaster

The mighty Sepik river is under threat from toxic mine tailings

“For the tailings we will make sure we get independent legal experts to inform the government independently that the dam will not collapse under any earthquake or whatever scale of disaster,” Mr Maru said.

Sepik leaders support Frieda River Mine Project

PNG Today | January 19, 2019

Three Sepik leaders have openly thrown their support for the Frieda mine project to proceed.

Yangoru-Saussia MP and National Planning Minister, Richard Maru, Telefomin MP and Defense Minister, Solan Mirism and Ambunti-Dreikiki MP Johnson Wapunai gave their public support in a conference with the media in Port Moresby.

The leaders believe the project will unlock the vast economic potentials in some of the most remote areas in both East and West Sepik provinces:

“We are here to tell the nation, as Sepik leaders, we are right behind this project, and no cheap politics and no one will compromise this interest.

“This project must go on, provided that the environment is not compromised in any way.

“So I say to the developer, we the Sepik leaders will make sure the Sepik River is not compromised, and we’re happy the slurry is coming down by pipeline.

“For the tailings we will make sure we get independent legal experts to inform the government independently that the dam will not collapse under any earthquake or whatever scale of disaster,” Mr Maru said.

Frieda River Project is located in the provinces of West Sepik and East Sepik.

It is one of the biggest copper and gold deposits found in the Asia-Pacific region.

The mine is jointly owned by PanAust (80%) and Highlands Pacific (20%).

PanAust acquired the majority stake earlier held by Glencore in August 2014, becoming operator of the mine.

The acquisition agreement was made in October 2013.

The mine will be developed as an open cut operation.

Based on the pre-feasibility study completed in October 2010, the mine was expected to produce 246,000t of copper and 379,000 ounces (oz) of gold annually.

The estimated mine lifespan was more than 20 years.

A due diligence evaluation held by PanAust and Highlands Pacific however estimated average annual production of 125,000t of copper and 200,000oz of gold in concentrate assuming a processing rate of 30 million tonnes per annum.

Six main deposits, namely Horse, Ivaal, Truki, Nena, Koki and Ekwai, have been identified at the Frieda River copper and gold mine.

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Indonesia government asked to recalculate Freeport mine damage

FILE PHOTO: Trucks operate in the open-pit mine of PT Freeport’s Grasberg copper and gold mine complex near Timika, in the eastern region of Papua, Indonesia on September 19, 2015 in this photo taken by Antara Foto. REUTERS/Muhammad Adimaja/Antara Foto/File Photo

Reuters | 26 July, 2018

Indonesia’s parliament has asked the government to recalculate damage to the environment from the giant Grasberg copper mine operated by the local unit of Freeport McMoRan Inc, the environment ministry said.

A 2017 report by Indonesia’s Supreme Audit Agency (BPK) calculated that Freeport’s decades-long operations at the mine in Indonesia’s remote easternmost province of Papua had caused environmental damage worth $13.25 billion.

That damage, it said, was largely a result of tailings from the mine that had extended beyond previously agreed limits and which had polluted coastal areas.

The audit also said Freeport Indonesia (PT FI) had missed royalty payments, cleared thousands of hectares of protected forest and began mining underground without environmental clearance.

The environmental issues have presented problems for Freeport and Indonesia, whose state-owned mining holding company, PT Inalum, hopes to finalize a $3.9 billion deal to acquire a majority stake in Grasberg this year.

In a meeting with Environment Minister Siti Nurbaya on Tuesday, parliament urged the minister to “ensure that PT FI fulfils governmental administrative penalties” in accordance with the law, the ministry said in a statement late on Tuesday.

“Commission VII asks the Environment Minister to calculate the value of environmental losses resulting from damage and pollution from PT FI operations, as per the findings of the BPK,” Commission VII chairman Gus Irawan Pasaribu said, according to the statement.

Jakarta-based spokesmen for PTFI and Inalum did not immediately respond to a written request for comment.

Freeport CEO Richard Adkerson said on a call with analysts on July 12 the company had been “working very closely” with the environment ministry and had “received assurance that we will find a resolution of the environmental issues that will be acceptable for all parties. So we’re very encouraged by that.”

Since then he said Freeport had “entered into very productive discussions with the ministry and are making progress with the ministry in addressing these issues and working toward a resolution that we do not expect and the ministry does not expect to adversely affect our operations.”

Parliament also urged the ministry to “conduct environmental risk analysis and environmental audits on a regular basis”, and plans to hold meetings with the ministries of mining and the environment on the matter.

A spokesman for the environment ministry declined to comment further on the parliament request or provide and estimate on how long this process could take.

Indonesia’s mining minister said earlier this month the environmental matters must be resolved before his office could issue a new mining permit for PT-FI up to 2031.

Inalum CEO Budi Gunadi Sadikin told parliament on Monday that “regarding the environment, we told Freeport ‘the past problems are your sins’. In future we will take responsibility together.”

Sadikin added the environmental damage from Grasberg was a shared responsibility as the government already held a 9.36 percent stake in the mine.

Sadikin said a forestry permit for the mine still needed to be issued, and “the 185 trillion rupiah ($12.80 billion) from tailings damage still needs to be cleared up” although he was confident that all the environmental problems could be resolved.

There are 13 of 48 sanctions related to the environmental audit that have not been met yet, according to the environment ministry.

In April, Freeport shares fell to a four-month low after the environment ministry announced tough new rules intended to comply with the BPK audit, just before the company announced its first quarter earnings.

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Commission Of Inquiry Into OK Tedi

The Ok Tedi river was destroyed by Australian miner BHP

A COMMISSION of inquiry into the OK Tedi issue, the environment damage and the establishment of the PNG Sustainable Development Program will be set up.

Prime Minister Peter O’Neill announced this in Parliament yesterday.

“Papua New Guineans deserve to know the truth, not just colouring of the truth so that it suits somebody’s interest, they deserve to know the truth and that’s why I have decided to establish a commission of inquiry,” he said.

Mr O’Neill said he would get an independent person, possibly an Australian judge, to carry out the investigation.

He also said the State had also engaged the biggest environmental law firm in Australia, Slater and Gordon, to review the case that was done by Rex Dagi so that the PNG Government itself takes out the court case against BHP.

“We have to sue this company for the substantial environmental damage they have caused to our people,” he said.

Mr O’Neill was answering questions from South Fly MP Sekie Agisa who, during Question Time, asked the PM what the government and OK Tedi were doing to mitigate the environment damage to Western Province.

Mr O’Neill said the issue about the environmental damage to Western Province has been well publicised, well debated and well documented.

“It is certainly a sad story which successive governments had no due care for the welfare of their own people and protected the interest of the big mining giants and was given protection in fact by legislations passed by this parliament,” he said.

He said the saga is continuing with the PNG Sustainable Development Program that was established as part of that compensation program by the then Morauta Government while giving indemnity and legislative protection to BHP.

“BHP walked away unchallenged for their responsibilities that they had to the people of Western Province on the massive environmental damage they have conducted while they were managing OK Tedi, that is a proven fact.

“I know that our people have now taken over the mine and I know there are certain improvements in the way they manage their waste in OK Tedi, but I feel that this is a question that still lingers in the mindset of our people,” he said.

He said PNGSDP is now subject to a court case in Singapore between the State and the directors of PNGSDP.

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