The Tampakan Mine has a High Potential for Loss of Life and High Environmental Damage if the Facilities fail
March 24, 2012 · By Working Group on Mining in the Philippines
Our working group have repeatedly warned Xstrata about the dangers of the Tampakan SMI mining project  and commented on the inadequate environmental studies but they have failed to listen. We are told that they have not even consulted the current Secretary of the Department of Agriculture. The result is that the proposed Tampakan mine represents all that was wrong about mining under the previous Philippine administrations which made mining a priority program of the government, undermining the Department of Agriculture¹s responsibilities for food production and causing rampant human rights and environmental violations and anxiety for affected communities.
In our view it is not Œresponsible¹ to mine in vital water catchments in the mountains of Tampakan in South Cotabato which support agricultural production in the provinces of South Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat, Sarangani and Davao del Sur. We believe the Tampakan copper-gold project will become one of the most dangerous mines in the world if it is approved. We totally agree with the SMI¹s consultant engineers who determined that: ³The Tampakan Mine has a high potential for loss of life and high environmental damage if the facilities fail² [page 42 Waste Management Report. Appendix A. SMI Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA) 2011]. We totally disagree that Xstrata/Indophil/SMI can design the facilities to survive seismic activity and climate change including tropical cyclones forever.
The facilities include the mine itself which will leave an 800 meter deep pit (mine void) which we believe will leak acid mine drainage into the surrounding water tables and water courses and a 300 meter high pile of 1.35 billion tons of waste rock, high in arsenic and with a high potential for acid mine drainage. That area covers 500 hectares. The other mine facilities include two dams, one of which is 0.8 km long and 150 meters high; the other is 2.1 kms long and 280 meters high, covering over 1,000 hectares and situated just above the Mal River NIA irrigation dam. One dam will store fresh water while the tailings dam will store some 1.35 billion tons of toxic waste rock and tailings rich in arsenic and water with high potential for acid mine drainage. Any spill is likely to cause loss of life, damage to aquifers, to other water resources and to agriculture. The Tampakan mine is envisaged in an area of high seismic activity and the concession area itself is situated over geological fault lines and a cluster of dormant strato volcanoes within 12 kms of Mount Matutum, an active volcano. All these factors are a sure recipe for disaster in the not too distant future. Hundreds of tailings dams have failed as reported by UNEP.  We do not believe that dams can be designed to last forever where tropical storms, typhoons, heavy rains and seismic activity are a constant threat. Induced seismic activity can cause even more damage.
Approximately 4,000 hectares of forest, including 1,350 hectares of Rainforest, are targeted to be destroyed to make way for the project according the ESIA. Presidential Executive Order No. 23 forbids forest destruction. The Climate Change Commission predicts that Central Mindanao will have 20% less water in 20 years so the remaining forest cover is essential to maintain water supplies. Now that the facts are known, why are SMI/Xstrata/Indophil still trying to proceed and endeavouring to change the law and judgement of the Provincial authorities in South Cotabato? Surely, this is not responsible mining?
Ordinances Banning Open Pit Mines. The Provincial Government of South Cotabato to up-hold Philippine laws designed to protect water catchments and Human Rights passed a comprehensive Environment Code in June 2010 banning open pit mining in the province. This we commend. Indeed the other affected Provinces should take similar action as the known and unknown risks are too high to do otherwise. In enacting open-cast mining ban ordinances, local governments are acting in accordance with their obligations and autonomous powers under both the Constitution, and the Local Government Code of 1991. They also act as a check and balance mechanism on national government powers and policies and they should be supported for upholding environmental and human rights laws.
Inducements. Miners should be prevented from providing financial support or inducements to politicians and others to support mining against those who oppose and seek to promote sustainable alternative livelihoods and policies to protect the rights of communities and promote a healthy environment.
Precautionary Principle. The 1990 Bergen Declaration on Sustainable Development declares: “In order to achieve sustainable development, policies must be based on the precautionary principle. Environmental measures must anticipate, prevent and attack the causes of environmental degradation. Where there are threats of serious and irreversible damage, lack of scientific certainty, should not be used as a reason for postponing measures to prevent environmental degradation”.
Therefore the proposed Tampakan mine should not be allowed to proceed.