Mining is a highly regulated industry. Every step of every environmentally critical activity is arbitrated in order for a mining company to continuously enjoy the “social license to operate” – the acceptance of its business practices and operating procedures by communities, as well as by its employees, its stakeholders, and the general public.
The air within the mine site is regularly tested for total suspended particulates, particulate matter, and equivalent carbon emissions. Every water discharge from every possible source within the mining operations has to pass standards set by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR); water quality is determined by its total suspended solids and dissolved oxygen and acidity, to name some. The condition of all the bodies of water surrounding the mining operation has to be scrutinized, regulated and certified.
Moreover, miners have to plant 100 trees to replace each one they cut. They revegetate mined out areas as part of progressive rehabilitation initiatives with the end in view of restoring, as near as possible, disturbed areas, to their original state or pre-agreed productive end-use. Failing any of these regulations can have serious repercussions.
As such, the large-scale metallic mining firms that comprise the Chamber of Mines of the Philippines (COMP) take a holistic approach in mitigating the impact of mining on the environment. They employ best practices with measurable outcomes to offset biodiversity disturbances and land movements, and to replace and maintain the biodiversity richness of the areas surrounding the mine operations. From the outset, these firms have implemented measures to minimize pollution and other potential negative environmental effects of their extractive activities.
Minimizing dependence on freshwater sources
Carmen Copper Corporation (CCC) in Toledo City, Cebu sources freshwater from the company-owned and -operated Malubog Dam. It was purposely built by Atlas Consolidated Mining & Development Corp., CCC’s parent company, to collect, conserve, and manage water flows at the mine. Because this dam supplies the requirements not only of CCC but also that of nearby communities through the Toledo City Water District, responsible water management is a high priority.
Given the long-term risks of water scarcity, CCC minimizes dependence on freshwater sources by pursuing operational efficiencies. The company likewise actively conserves its water source by investing in desilting activities to increase the water capacity of the dam to hold and store water.
The company installed and maintains settling ponds and water treatment facilities to ensure that all rain runoff and effluents are properly treated prior to introduction into river systems traversing the mine site. A regular water sampling is conducted to monitor quality of water flowing from the facilities. Through its thickener plant and reclaimed water pumping system, CCC recovers water for reuse in its operations. About 62% of the company’s water requirements in 2020 utilized reclaimed water.
Promoting ‘Bayanihan’ in waterways protection
CCC also encourages the participation of its host communities in protecting waterways from pollution. Under the DENR’s Adopt-an-Estero/Waterbody Program, the company – with the residents and other stakeholders in Barangay Cantabaco in this city – facilitates the conduct of regular cleanup to raise awareness on the importance of keeping the rivers and waterways clean for the safety, health and overall wellness of the community.
In several occasions, CCC mobilized employees and community members to conduct a clean-up activity along more than a kilometer stretch of river in Cantabaco. Aside from cleaning rivers, CCC also sent volunteers to cleanup the shoreline of Barangay Matab-ang, Toledo City in celebration of the International Coastal Cleanup Day.
Thriving marine life
Meanwhile, various species of fish, some turtles, lobsters, and other sea creatures have been observed thriving in the Marine Protected Area (MPA) of Colorada Point in Barangay Tigbao, Aroroy, Masbate. This was attributed to the deployment of over 2,200 reef balls and the planting of nearly 30,000 coral fragments by the Philippine Gold Processing & Refining Corporation (PGPRC) starting in 2017.
PGPRC and its sister company, Filminera Resources Corp. (FRC), partnered with the municipal government of Aroroy in undertaking the project to rehabilitate coral reefs that were destroyed due to dynamite fishing and other illegal fishing activities.
A reef ball is an artificial reef designed to mimic the function of a natural reef. It was developed by US-based Reef Ball Foundation to restore ailing or destroyed coral reefs and create new fishing and scuba diving sites. Reef restoration is critical for the long-term sustainability of the marine ecosystem and the future of local fishermen.
PGPRC hired fisherfolk in the community to become wardens of the MPA and assistants in coral planting and propagation works. The firm also implemented a goat dispersal project as part of its livelihood support program to the local fishers’ organization.
Focus on water resource management
Eramen Minerals, Inc. (EMI), for its part, also primarily focused on water resource management in the first half of 2021 as supported by the company’s approved Work Program. EMI modified and constructed 10 new retention ponds that doubled its silt ponds capacity to more than 500,000 cubic meters. Silt ponds are necessary control structures as it contains runoff, thus giving sediments time to settle. Geotextile filters are now being used to further reduce the sediment load. The drainage systems surrounding the active mine areas were likewise improved by interconnecting them, and by adding silt traps, interceptors, and dissipaters that decreased the velocity of runoff.
As part of its heightened pollution control management efforts, EMI fast-tracked the establishment of engineered contours and benches, as well as drainage systems to effectively capture and redirect the flow of storm water and surface runoff that go to a series of ponds, such as: sedimentation pond, detention pond, settling pond, and retention pond then to final outfall. To avoid the mixing of ground water or spring water with storm water and maintain the quality of raw natural water, EMI employed the flow diversion and separation method.
For the efforts of EMI’s environment team, the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) in Region 3 lauded the members in a letter sent to management last April: “The (Regional) Office greatly appreciates your company’s present team (for the) reshaping and enhancement of settling ponds” in the mine site, located in Sta. Cruz, Zambales.
Minimizing water extraction and discharge
For FCF Minerals Corp., the overall approach in its Runruno Project’s water management has been to maximize the reclaiming of water and to minimize water extraction and discharge from the site to avoid possible impacts on the downstream water quantity, quality and aquatic environment. To do this, FCF uses a Return Water System that takes decanted water from the Residual Storage Impoundment (RSI) facility and re-used at the Process Plant Operations.
Environmental quality monitoring activities are undertaken regularly within the project site in Quezon, Nueva Vizcaya. Water quality monitoring on surface water (16 stations), effluent (13 stations), and groundwater (1 station) are completed quarterly by an external party.
Siltation ponds were constructed adjacent to streams, natural drainage depressions, and other drainage lines that act as conduits for surface runoff. In addition, a series of flow-through barriers have been constructed along parts of Sulong River to contain the silt coming from upstream.
Aquatic animal and plant life monitoring confirms that the project operations do not have adverse anthropogenic impacts – environmental pollution and pollutants – on the aquatic environment.
One of the environmental researches being undertaken by FCF is an algae study. An ultrasonic algae controller was installed at the RSI dam to prevent the resurgence of harmful algae, such as the blue-green variety. The difference in number of phytoplankton and periphyton had a significant decrease from 2019 to 2021.
Phytoplankton are some of the Earth’s most critical organisms; they generate about half of the atmosphere’s oxygen – as much per year as all land plants. They make most other ocean life possible. Periphyton, on the other hand, serves as an important food source for invertebrates, tadpoles, and some fish. It can also absorb contaminants, removing them from the water column and limiting their movement through the environment.
In 2019, Philex Mining Corp. commissioned an independent Biodiversity Assessment Study to serve as the baseline for its Biodiversity Conservation Plan. This study was conducted by researchers from the University of the Philippines – Los Banos, and the results were shared with the respective local government units and relevant government agencies through an Information, Education, and Communication activity in January 2020.
Overcoming a major challenge
Water is a valuable resource needed in mill plant operations. At the Padcal Copper-Gold Project of Philex in Tuba, Benguet, the mill draws raw water from three sources: the Sal-angan River, CYM tunnel, and Smith tunnel water reservoir overflow.
Water supply poses a major challenge for the processing plant during the dry season, so the company promotes efficient water management through the efficient use of water resources under its Water Management Plan. To prudently manage water consumption and monitor water quality, both for surface water and drinking water sources, Philex limits the amount of water it extracts at source based on the allowed withdrawal set at 1,700 cubic meters a day.
Water withdrawal and consumption had significantly decreased in 2020 compared to 2019 owing to the efficient management of water resources. Water withdrawal in 2020 was at 8,846,999 cubic meters compared to 9,465,329 cubic meters in 2019. The company continues to improve on its water management efficiency under its Water Management Plan.
Air quality monitoring
Every quarter, CCC’s Multipartite Monitoring Team conducts ambient air quality monitoring on key areas in its neighboring communities as part of the company’s health and safety protocols and in compliance with the Philippine Clean Air Act. Results of the regular emission tests show that CCC’s air emissions are below national set limits. Despite this, the company continues to work on further minimizing emissions through controls, such as replacing old equipment and acquiring new measurement tools.
To reduce dust generation, CCC also continuously dampens access roads through its water sprinkling trucks, installed water sprinklers in strategic locations, and established speed limits in its vast mining complex.
Back in EMI, nine water trucks regularly conduct road water spraying from the mine site to port areas, which accounts for 6,643 hours for the first semester of 2021 alone. EMI strictly enforces the use of tarp coverings and a speed limit to minimize fugitive dust emissions. Safety personnel and traffic marshals were hired to monitor compliance. Wash bay operations also helps in cleaning muddy and silted vehicles before they enter the community road. Street sweepers are employed from every barangay to cleanup ore spillage from hauling activities, if any.
Philex also conducts regular ambient air quality monitoring on a quarterly basis, both in the industrial and administrative areas of the Padcal mine, and around the vicinity of the host and neighboring communities. Results of the air quality monitoring were “good to fair” which means that the company is compliant with the Clean Air Act. The daily average levels of air pollutants in 2020 were below the maximum permissible limit set by the DENR in accordance with the Clean Air Act.
One of the best-designed tailings dams in the world
For Lepanto Consolidated Mining Company (LCMC), its Tailings Storage Facility (TSF) 5A has been the company’s major pollution control facility. It is where the mine wastes or the effluent from the company’s operation in Mankayan, Benguet are discharged through a 3-kilometer 18-inch diameter twin tailings pipeline. Lepanto applies a series of treatment processes including lime slaking plant, bioremediation tanks, settling ponds and detoxification plant to ensure clean downstream discharge.
TSF 5A is one of the seven best-designed tailings dams in the world. It is maintained and operated to withstand a 600-year flood event, which is six times the government standard. It has a free-board of 13 meters, four times the government standard.
LCMC regularly monitors and conducts sampling of daily discharge with the help of a third party to ensure environmental compliance, which are validated by the multipartite monitoring team. TSF 5A is also audited every year by international geo-technical consultants, the latest of which is URS of Australia, always with favorable findings.
For many years, TSF 5A has been a seasonal home to migratory birds. To some, it has become a permanent address.
Model Engineered Sanitary Landfill
Lepanto Mining pioneered the utilization of Engineered Sanitary Landfill (ESL) in the Philippine mining industry. Constructed on a 2,800-square meter lot near Lepanto’s mill site in Mankayan, the ESL is designed to contain residual wastes generated from households within the mining community and nearby barangays in the mineral-rich town.
Segregated residual wastes from households in the mine camp and barangays Sapid and Paco account for about three cubic meters daily, which are collected for free and brought to the ESL site.
The two-meter-wide concrete base of the ESL can withstand strong typhoons. Its slope is stabilized by coco-fiber and planted with tige grass, sunflowers and other ornamental plants creating a park-like atmosphere
The ESL site is covered with high-density polyethylene liner, ensuring that liquid waste is filtered through the leachate tank where it passes through bio-remediation and detoxification treatment, prior to discharge. The site is also odor-free.
‘Simple and basic’
DENR Undersecretary and Chairman of the National Solid Waste Management Commission Benny Antiporda lauded Lepanto Mining’s engineered sanitary landfill during the 4th Environmental Summit 2019 in Baguio City.
“It’s good for the local government units here to adapt this practice of Lepanto because it’s simple and basic, but effective management of solid waste”, Usec Antiporda told the Environment Management Bureau Cordillera and Ilocos Sur representatives when they visited Lepanto Mining’s booth that showed a short video of the company’s ESL.
Since then, Lepanto Mining’s ESL has been the solid waste management benchmark of some Cordillera and Ilocos Sur local government units.
LGU members from the municipalities of San Juan, Tayum, Tineg, Pilar and La Paz in Abra, Balbalan in Kalinga, Lagawe in Ifugao, Paracelis in Mt. Province, La Trinidad, Kibungan and Bakun in Benguet and Suyo and Cervantes in Ilocos Sur have visited Lepanto to conduct their benchmarking activities.
“Solid waste management has been really a challenge for any municipality in the country, and we in Tublay, Benguet can use what we have learned from this benchmarking activity to even improve waste management in our municipality,” Tublay Mayor Armando Lauro shared.
Tailings and waste management
In compliance with regulatory protocols and standards, CCC manages its tailings through the Biga Tailings Storage Facility, a landlocked and secured containment pond.
Under its Waste Management Program, CCC ensures that its structures are stable with the solids and liquids properly managed within the designated areas.
CCC’s domestic wastes are likewise prudently handled with due regard to environmental parameters and regulation set by the DENR with regular collection of residual, non-biodegradable, and recyclable waste. Meanwhile, CCC’s biodegradable waste is handled directly by the waste generator or unit concerned. EMI, for its part, has provided color-coded bins to ease segregation at source.
At EMI, meanwhile, on-site waste collection is done by company personnel who subject compostable wastes to organic composting. Recyclable and residual wastes are brought to the company-operated Materials Recovery Facility (MRF) for further segregation. With this process, for 2021, EMI was able to recover 17 tons of biodegradable and 1.2 tons of recyclable wastes diverting it from ultimate disposal. Recyclable wastes are sold to junk shops and proceeds are given to garbage collectors to augment their income. Residual wastes are hauled for disposal by an accredited landfill operator – the Metro Clark Waste Management Corporation.
Hazardous wastes are collected and stored separately on the Hazardous Waste Storage Facility (HWSF). Proper temporary storing, labelling, and self-inspection is done prior to the scheduled treatment and disposal by DCH Environmental Solutions – a DENR-accredited TSD Facility.
FCF’s waste management plan ensures hygienic, efficient, and economic solid waste storage, collection, transportation, and treatment/disposal of waste. Generated biodegradable wastes are used for vermi-composting. Recyclables and residual wastes are properly collected and stored at the MRF. Residuals are transported and disposed in an off-site sanitary landfill, while recyclables are disposed of under a buying agreement with a partner recycler. Proceeds from the recyclable materials are given to the host barangay of Runruno for funding of community development projects.
Hazardous wastes are properly stored at the HWSF. A transporter accredited by the Environmental Management Bureau handles all hazardous wastes generated by the company. In addition, a partnership with Motolite’s “Balik Baterya Program” gave the FCF the opportunity to contribute further to the community whilst protecting the environment. The partnership has so far seen the recycling of 9,500 kilograms of used lead-acid batteries, generating funds amounting to around P300,000.00 to be used for social development projects.
Bio-Oxidation technology in gold processing
FCF’s Runruno Project is the only commercial-sized operation in the world using both chemical and biological detoxification processes for the treatment of cyanide and derivatives and, as such, may be recognized to be leading the entire global industry in environmentally responsible practices.
Resource conservation is practiced site-wide. For one, all materials utilized for filter and concretes for the progressive construction of the Residual Storage Impoundment (RSI) are mine wastes from the surface mine instead of rocks and sand sourced from rivers and creek system within the Project tenement area.
The Runruno Project has an average monthly electric consumption of 8 million kWh of which is being supplied by a smart electrical grid with renewable energy source, thus, significantly reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Its six units of 1,000 kWh standby gensets are used only if necessary.
Integrated Management System
Meanwhile, Philex Mining Corp., has invested in environmental management systems that can help protect its immediate environment for future generations and safeguard the sustainability of its host and neighboring communities.
Just recently, Philex was able to renew its Integrated Management System (IMS) certification consisting of ISO 14002:2015 for Environment Standards and ISO 45001: 2018 for Occupational Safety and Health Standards. Long before ISO certification was mandated by the DENR, Philex had already obtained its IMS certification for its mining, milling, and tailings storage facility operations.
Philex also promotes the progressive rehabilitation of land resources in its decommissioned mine sites in Sibutad, Zamboanga del Norte, and Bulawan, Negros Occidental, by planting seedlings in plantations within and outside its tenements, also as part of the National Greening Program. The company continues its progressive rehabilitation initiatives in its Padcal mine site while it is still operational.
For soil movement, Philex constructed engineered silt traps at strategic points to help control soil erosion and downstream sedimentation. As part of land resource management, it implemented a long-term reforestation program which covers the 2,800 hectares of land under its care as part of its Mineral Production Sharing Agreement with the Philippine government.
Transformative and ‘Instagram-able’ mine rehabilitation
Agata Mining Ventures, Inc., a nickel-producing subsidiary of TVI Resource Development Phils. Inc., meanwhile, highlights its “Mining and Ecotourism” concept through the successful conversion of its mined-out areas into eco-tourism sites.
Agata designed its rehabilitation program for to give equal importance to replanting mined-out areas and protecting existing forests by conducting tree-planting activities that aim to conserve the natural environment. The balance between production and protection is essential in sustaining the community’s livelihood and protecting local resources.
Since 2020, Agata has planted about 423,807 seedlings of mixed species of forest and fruit-bearing trees, as well as plants, majority of which are endemic species, within and around its mine that straddles the municipalities of Jabonga, Santiago, and Tubay in Agusan del Norte. And, since the time it commenced exploration, Agata’s reforestation activities have covered a total area of over 440 hectares. The careful selection of trees and plants was curated by the company as a means to ensure the community’s livelihood at the end of Agata’s mine life.
Moreover, nurseries were constructed to house and propagate endemic and bird-feeding tree species as part of the company’s Land Resoruce Management Program to increase the productivity of the rehabilitated mined-out areas. Its Ligaya Central Nursery has a capacity of 600,000 seedlings and has a satellite nursery with a capacity of 25,000 seedlings maintained by its partner-community, the Lawigan Farmers and Fisher-folks Association (LAFFA).
Agata has been implementing transformative rehabilitation since the start of its operations – which is geared towards a developed and sustainable environment after mining – and in line with its vision of becoming an Agroforestry and Ecotourism hub in the future.
The company uses thematic landscaping, a method of land use management where rehabilitation or revegetation are designed to beautify the area – a significant first for Agata.
These “Instagram-able” landscapes also showcase the company’s best practices on solid waste management as the ornaments and decorations used are made of recycled materials. One such photo hotspots is the Bae Lawanen Garden found within the admin camp, which has been frequented by visitors prior to the pandemic.
Agata produces its own organic soil fertilizers for its seedling production by using livestock wastes from the company’s own Mabakas Techno Demo Farm. These organic fertilizers are recognized as a “soil builder” because of its property to improve soil quality. It is also mixed with kitchen food waste from the company’s mess hall and used on seedlings for reforestation and rehabilitation projects.
Agata has also trained residents, particularly farmers, from its host and neighboring communities on the production of the organic fertilizer, for use on their own farms. Being a resourceful, self-sufficient, and eco-friendly company, Agata continues to inspire not only its host and neighboring communities, but other mining companies as well.
In line with its overall progressive rehabilitation efforts, Agata implements a strong solid waste recycling program that saw 60% of collected solid wastes, such as plastics and metals, recycled this year alone. The company also created its own rain-fed irrigation system to keep a steady supply of moisture and water for its growing plants and trees. This irrigation system is eco-friendly as it uses plastic water bottles upcycled into rain catchment and water storage.
PCOs at the frontlines vs. pollution
One of the biggest problems the world is facing today is that of environmental pollution. It is so close to home because the damage it causes affects humanity – causing sickness, insecurity about the future, and contributing to economic devastation.
Discourse on climate change and environmental protection has taken the global stage by storm, consuming all forms of media. Everyone is now thinking about the grave danger the Earth is facing and how to save the future.
“This is good,” says Marichu Calungsod, the designated Pollution Control Officer (PCO) for Hinatuan Mining Corp. (HMC), part of the Nickel Asia Corp. (NAC) Group. She is positive that an informed community will be willing to get involved, will listen, and will help find answers to the challenges the Earth now faces. And so, she thinks all this attention to the subject matter is very good indeed.
For a PCO, a participative population is half of the battle won. When the people are made aware of the situation of the environment and are made to understand the challenges needing to be immediately addressed, it is easier to impose corrective measures.
What a PCO in a mining firm does
Calungsod’s responsibilities as a PCO for a mining company like HMC is an endless source of curiosity to her parents and friends. They think it’s a cool job but sometimes they think her responsibilities are too complicated and arduous for the petite 28-year old who took AgroForestry in college and has, in fact, joined HMC 5 years ago to be part of the company’s rehabilitation programs.
She is not a mining engineer but she understands the methods in the mining operations because she is involved in the processes of licensing and permitting and, most importantly, in ensuring the entire company is compliant in all the government’s regulations on pollution control and environment protection.
“You can go to jail if you mess up” would be the quick sum up she gives whenever she’s asked about the most challenging part of the job. But she is confident in the performance of her duties because she understands the science, continuously watching guard, and taking to heart all the legal requirements HMC needs to comply with as a responsible mining company.
Everyone should be a PCO
Environment Planner Janice Tupas, manager of the Mines and Environmental Protection and Enhancement Dept. of Rio Tuba Mining Corp. (RTN), another NAC company, says she and almost all of her team members are accredited PCO. And she’s proud of that. In fact, she believes everyone in the leadership of a mining operation should be a PCO.
RTN is currently mapping an employee program that would have officers from different departments experiencing the job responsibilities in the Envi group. And Tupas reiterates – “everyone should be a PCO, a police within the organization protecting the environment from any offensive actions or activities that is beyond those allowed by law”.
Tupas believes that the job rotation is an important company endeavor because for everyone to understand environmentally critical projects and to experience how to manage and personally deal with them will help ensure RTN’s compliance in all environmental laws.
PCO accreditation, compulsory by law, is acquired from the Environmental Management Bureau (EMB). The authority is given after 40 hours of training to be followed by a nerve-wracking evaluation exam, and keeping it valid depends on the organization’s three years of environmental performance. The accreditation comes with the huge responsibility of guaranteeing that the Company is protecting the environment by preventing or mitigating adverse environmental impacts with a life cycle perspective and compliant with all the government regulations. This means implementing pollution prevention and control measures to keep the air and water clean, efficient waste management, sufficient reporting, valid permits and licenses, and invoking and advocating consciousness for sound environmental management.
Tupas’ satisfaction with her job comes from being able to deal with a multidimensional challenge and getting her team and everyone she deals with to appreciate the tasks at hand and getting people to participate in spreading the necessary messages.
“Pollution control has many facets, it deals with efficient energy use, resource conservation, and risk reduction. But, of course, everything boils down to sustainability and saving the future of the only Earth we have not only because the people and business needed it but for its intrinsic value,”she stresses.
‘The fight is personal’
For Vince Ivan Libao, Environment Mining Engineer, and Environment Department assistant manager for Taganito Mining Corp. (TMC), yet another NAC firm, the fight against pollution is an individual battle.
He says, “commitment and responsiveness are critical and the nation can win the battle against pollution only if everyone takes the matter personally.”
Libao underscores that there already exists a science that addresses the impact of mining operations to the communities and mitigation programs countering these impacts are legislated and institutionalized. And for professionals like him, who have been practicing responsible mining based on set guidelines, it is tougher to warrant the participation and compliance of individual members of the communities which is what can help achieve the desired outcome of a holistic success.
He says, “the actual fight against the pollution problem starts on the grounds and we are fighting pollution problems in the frontlines.”
‘Cause and effect’
Libao stresses that they would explain everything that they do to the communities and give orientations about “cause and effect”, consciously emphasizing they cannot do it alone, that everyone should invest any way they can.
TMC conducts this campaign by reaching out to individuals one at a time – making everyone feel that the fight against pollution is a personal battle.
The TMC PCOs – they have 4 personnel duly accredited at the moment – would go out to the communities and explain said cause and effect of every individual’s action in relation to environment protection and pollution control.
“Spreading awareness about the desired against pollution is one of the most critical part of the job and getting every man and woman in the street to join in on this campaign is the tough test for an effective PCO,” Libao ends.