Sagittarius ponders future of Tampakan mining project

KORONADAL CITY (MindaNews/25 July) — Foreign-backed Sagittarius Mines, Inc., operator of the controversial Tampakan copper-gold project, has entered the crucial phase of deciding whether it would bring the venture into commercial stream, a mining executive declared on Monday.

In its 2nd quarter report, Australian firm Indophil Resources NL noted that Sagittarius Mines will make the decision after the public consultation of its Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA).

Results of the EIA include the mine environmental impact statement (EIS) and the environmental social impact assessment, and detail the mining project’s mitigation strategies.

Consultations for the EIS kicked off in June and are expected to be completed in three months or until August.

The company has eyed conducting 50 briefing sessions covering 1,200 stakeholders in the planned area of operation straddling the provinces of South Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat and Davao del Sur.

The draft EIS documentation will then be reviewed and updated following the consultation process before being used to support the formal Environmental Compliance Certificate (ECC) application process, said Indophil, the junior equity stakeholder at Sagittarius Mines.

The ECC will give the proponent the right to bring the project into commercial production.

Xstrata Copper, the world’s fourth largest copper producer, owns the controlling equity of 62.5% at Sagittarius Mines, whose Tampakan project is stoutly opposed by the local Catholic Church and facing security risks from the communist New People’s Army rebels.

The open-pit mining ban imposed by the South Cotabato provincial government also threatens the potentially largest foreign direct investment in the country.

“[Sagittarius Mines is in] the process leading to the “decision of commitment” to proceed with the U$5.9-billion [commercial] development,” said Richard Laufmann, Indophil Resources chief executive officer and managing director.

With the consultations, Laufmann also said they are expecting to see a “substantial de-risking” of the Tampakan project by addressing issues related to the ban on open-pit mining.

Consultation on the draft mine EIS is considered to be an important contributing factor to ongoing efforts that seek review and amendment of the South Cotabato environment code that bans open-pit mining method, the Indophil 2nd Quarter report also stressed.

The consultation process is also expected to help government at a national and local level better understand the overall environmental management plans proposed for mine development, it added.

Earlier, Sagittarius Mines was reportedly hoping to start construction of necessary facilities by 2012 in time for the targeted production in 2016.

John Arnaldo, Sagittarius Mines corporate communications manager, said in a recent interview that there remain questions from some members of the Sangguniang Panlalawigan about the Tampakan project’s impact on the environment.

“We’re trying to address their concerns,” Arnaldo said, referring to concerns on downstream water supply and the firm’s mitigation strategies like tailings ponds. (Bong Sarmiento/MindaNews)