Mining of Ore Deposits That Does not Destroy the Environment

Ores are dug and hauled to a depot or drying site.

Abandoned copper mine

Mining mineral ores in the Philippines should be environment-friendly


Disastrous copper mining in the Philippines in 1960s to 1970s angered Filipinos in the mining site and vicinity. This has resulted in negative attitudes toward mining, especially the open pit kind.

Of course not all Filipinos have had a negative attitude. Government officials and relatives who have profited from corrupt practices are happy or do not mind at all. Besides they do not reside in the mine sites.

Those badly affected are the indigenous peoples who have made the mine sites their home. In the first place they did not know that they were sitting on mineral ores like copper, gold or nickel.

Take copper. The Marinduque province, an island in Luzon abounds in copper ores that lay on the earth surface.

The Philippines abounds in mineral deposits but still lacks the skill and technology to mine and process them. It opens the door to foreign companies for mining and processing.

For example, a Canadian company was given a copper mining concession in Marinduque during the time of Ferdinand Marcos, Sr. the dictator ousted by the EDSA revolution in 1985.

The mining company was sloppy in making impounding ponds of mine tailing. The conveyor culverts burst, the pond overflowed and mine tailing spilled to the sea in Calancan Bay, Marinduque. This resulted in pollution killing fish and marine life. Of course, people who feed on polluted fish and seaweeds get poisoned with copper. Overload of copper in the body results in Wilson’s disease.

The dispensation during the dictatorship of Marcos, otherwise known as martial law regime, was such that high government officials in cahoots with Marcos could get their money in spurious ways and did not care about the well being of people in the mine sites.

Indigenous people did not have any voice or power in regulating mining operations. Residents other than natives did not have such power either.

However, the international community get wind of the blatant abandon for the environment in Marinduque. An international uproar helped regulate Marcopper. It helped that Marcos had a dire desire to get approval for his repressive regime from the Filipinos and from the world.

Reforms in mining

“The Constitution of the Philippines provides that all lands of the public domain, waters, minerals, coal, petroleum, and other mineral oils and all other natural resources are owned by the state....” (Handbook on Management and Restoration of Forests in Areas Affected by Mining in the Philippines. 2001:3).

After several years there evolved some reforms in mining in the country. Indigenous peoples (Ips) are now given a large say in the approval of awarding concessions to mining companies. This is embodied in statutes.

The National Integrated Protected Areas System Act of 1991 strictly prohibits mining activities within protected areas. Exemptions shall be provided for by legislation.

The government may enter into contract agreements with private entities to manage mineral resources utilization.

Republic Act No. 7942 does not advocate the promotion of the mining industry at the expense of the environment.

Progressive rehabilitation of mine-affect areas is clearly required at every stage of the mining operation. Conduct of researches to address unproven technologies for impact control and/or rehabilitation is also provided for.

Both forestry and mining projects are required to submit Environmental Clearance Certificates before the start of operations.

Inadequate rules

Stricter and regulations have not caught up with some copper mining operations in Marinduque, however. Still there was one company that had operated there that did not properly install proactive rehabilitation plans and implement them. These are the reasons why large holes in the ground and mounds of mine tailing are left in the landscape.

Heavy rains and flooding spread copper ores in surround areas that are used in growing crops. The result is that crops absorb copper to be ingested by consumers. The result is, again, Wilson’s disease.

Wilson's disease

"Wilson disease is a genetic disorder that is fatal unless detected and treated before serious illness from copper poisoning develops...The genetic defect causes excessive copper accumulation in the liver or brain" (Wilson's Disease Association. Internet, May 30,2014).

"... Patients may have jaundice, abdominal swelling, vomiting of blood, and abdominal pain. They may have tremors and difficulty walking, talking and swallowing. They may develop all degrees of mental illness including homicidal or suicidal behavior, depression, and aggression. Women may have menstrual irregularities, absent periods, infertility, or multiple miscarriages...." (same source as above).

Extra amount of copper in the body inhibits absorption of zinc that results in another disease. So it is not only those with genetic defect that are affected by extra copper but also those without such defect. Lack of zinc compromises the immune system because zinc is part of glutathione in the glutathione enzyme system that protects against free radicals and derivatives.

Some environment-friendly mining operations

Right from the start the indigenous peoples are consulted that some mining operations will be done in the site and vicinity.

The mining company applies for a mining agreement with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

Attached to the application are profile of the company: its financial resources, equipment, staff, tract record, and plans of operation. Included are plans of rehabilitation of the mined-out areas.

Part of the approval is the Environmental Clearance Certificate.

Suppose the mining site applied for is a second growth forest. That is, it is not a virgin forest, as mining in this area is prohibited. The area is delineated by survey.

Large trees are cut. Some to be used by the company in its mining operations, others are donated to schools or offices for use in building school houses, chairs, tables and sheds. Some timber can be used as fuel wood to ignite coal, if the company uses coal as fuel in semi-processing ores.

Clearing and grabbing is part of mining operations. The area is cleared of trees and other vegetation. Some rocks may be moved.

Tap soil is moved and piled on some part of the mining areas. This is a proactive activity towards rehabilitation. Tap soil is the fertile part that sustains life for trees, other vegetation, wildlife and microbes. Tap soil also contains humus, those parts of dead plants and animals that degrade slowly. In the long run they will add fertility to the soil. The end in view in moving tap soil is to put it back on top of the soil that had been used to fill in excavated parts.

Development drilling comes next. A motorized drill is used to get the soil profile. It shows at what site and at what depth mineral deposits are found. The usual drilling equipment is Yoshida boring machine.

Soft ores are extracted first as they are near the surface. Hard ores are extracted next as they are found in greater depths.

Some rocks that contain copper ores are extracted and broken up with the use of a crusher. Backhoes and bulldozers are used to scrape, dig and break soil, These are moved to designated places of the mining site or are transported to some depot or drying areas.

Raw ores are usually processed in plants in foreign countries like Canada, or Japan, or China.

Sharing of benefits

As mentioned earlier some timber cut from the area are donated to schools and government offices. The mining company also pays fees to the national government and local government. Some funds are also set aside to support community projects. Some of the fees are: royalty fees; occupational fees; excise tax ; and real property tax for the local government. Local residents and IPs are also employed in mining operations.

Rehabilitation

The goal is to approximate the state of the area before mining operations began. However, that cannot be done. There had been earth moving, excavation, clearing of vegetation, and changes in land configuration.

Land configuration should be such that good drainage is assured and siltation of creek or river is avoided.

Rehabilitation should consider to remake land configuration to regrow the forest or to make the landscape amenable for growing of agricultural crops. Some excavations may be left for use as fishponds.

Rehabilitation is induced. Tree species found in the mine site before operations are the preferred trees to be grown. The same is true for smaller plants, vines and grasses.

Some exotic trees may be planted but always with due consideration to invasiveness or antagonism. Mahogany is now considered an invasive species in that it smothers native plants. Gmelina tree, an exotic to the Philippines, is antagonistic to shrubs and grasses as it shades them out and consumes a lot of water.

The native species like agoho tree may not be used because it is antagonistic to some other trees.

Slopes must be stabilized with crops, trees, shrubs or grasses like vetiver.

Medicinal plants should not be forgotten for use in rehabilitation of mined out areas.

Wildlife are indicators that a rehabilitated area is fit as habitat. If they return, that is a good sign that the rehabilitation efforts are going fine.

Soil amelioration

Original fertility of the land may not be completely returned. There will be occasions when soil amelioration will be done. Organic fertilizer must be added like cattle dung and chicken manure.

A spot to be planted must be dug and filled with organic fertilizer. Plants grown will produce litter that will add fertility. It takes time to build up the fertility of topsoil. Some low lying areas may be turned into rice fields. Flat lands may be planted to crops like corn or legumes.

Other areas may be converted for use in recreation.

Bioremediation

Surface soil polluted with copper mine tailing or that abounds with copper ore can be remedied by a technology called bioremediation.

This is essentially growing of plants that absorb in large amounts copper. One such plant is jatropha, a medium height tree that is hardy. Its fruits yield oil that can be converted to a gasoline additive and used for motor fuel.

In her undergraduate thesis conducted in 2009, Cyreene S. Fontanilla, a graduate of the University of the Philippines Los Baños, found that jatropha is an accumulator of copper. That is, it absorbs copper in excess of its needs. A tree needs only about 20 parts per million of copper. In 6.5 months, jatropha seedlings absorbed 356 parts per million.

The lesson is simple. To remedy soil with copper ore for use in growing crops plant a lot of jatropha over and over again to remove the copper content. This is to be done until the crops can absorb and store amounts of copper suitable for human consumption.

Marinduque

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