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The environmental agenda and OceanaGold
By Maria Paula Tolentino
Mine sites have finite operating lives that is determined by the size and quality of the ore deposit being mined. Minimizing carbon footprint during and after operations is priority and mining companies are required to comply with environmental regulations and local laws to ensure that ecological management plans are in place.
During a recent visit to Brgy. Didipio in Nueva Vizcaya, the OceanaGold team gave the Philippine Resources Journal crew a tour of its mining operations.
Since mining operations use water for mineral processing and metal recovery, controlling dust, and meeting the needs of workers on site, the amount of water required by a mine varies depending on its size, the mineral being extracted, and the extraction process used. It was during this trip that the company showed its state of the art water management system.
Though water issues vary from site to site and must be addressed locally, in general, a mining company is expected to seek and implement best practices that address environmental issues.
Controlling, minimizing mine waste
Mine waste includes solid waste, mine water, and air particles, which can vary significantly in their composition and potential for environmental contamination.
During the tour, it was explained that “preventing pollution is more economic and effective at reducing environmental impacts than cleaning it up later.”
Methods for minimizing and eliminating wastes in the production of minerals and metal commodities include using cleaner production techniques, environmental control technologies, using waste as raw material, and reducing the amount of waste produced through process reengineering.
Water management strategies are used to reduce the volume of waste water produced, and if necessary, to treat it to an acceptable quality before it is released.
Based on river classification, the Didipio river falls on a class D and in Philippine law, this means a company/entity cannot discharge water that is higher than 150 parts per million of TSS (Total Suspended Solids).
In the processing plant, to recover the copper and gold, it needs to use processed water.
This processed water, once it has extracted gold and copper, will flush out the water in the tailings storage facility.
The OceanaGold water processing plant can effectively lower the TSS by up to 70 parts per million and recycles the water it uses.
It was in year 2017 that the company attained an 80% recycling rate.
OceanaGold’s water dispute explained
According to Environmental Supervisor on Rehabilitation, Mark Saclag, the “main purpose of having the water go through the water treatment plant is to lessen the total suspended solids (TSS)”.
Upstream, the Didipio river runs clean water.
It was during this mine site visit that the Journal witnessed first-hand the turbid and sedimentary water running opposite OceanaGold operations.
Apparently, there were several small-scale mining operations taking place during this time and the waste water coming from their operations were merging with that of OceanaGold’s.
“The turbid and sedimentary water happens only when it encounters the small-scale mining operations that is still present within the community” says Saclag.
In jest, he adds that water only becomes clear when its Sunday since small scale miners have their days off too.
In Philippine media, OceanaGold is portrayed as an irresponsible mining company.
But based from the trip, these accusations are conclusively inaccurate.
With the water issue, there is a disparity between what kind of water is coming from the small-scale operations versus what’s coming from OceanaGold.
“Aside from the water treatment plant, the water blocks helped filter a variety of mining debris, etc. which strengthened the case of OceanaGold against its detractors and against these irresponsible small-scale operators who continue to ruin our company’s reputation” says Saclag.
Clean and clear water coming from the Didipio mines strengthens Oceana- Gold’s claim of calling itself a responsible miner.
Eventually, this water dispute died once the company made its environmental agenda open to the media.
It’s been said that there is no such thing as sustainable mining, but in Oceana- Gold, the practice has always been responsible mining.
They speak not only about their Didipio project but its worldwide operations through its substantial environmental management plans and practices.
Saclag says that “a responsible mining company recognizes its development activities and the impact it has on the environment. We cannot discount the fact that yes, there is footprint and we cannot completely eradicate impact; however, it can be lessened.”