TUBOD, Surigao del Norte (MindaNews/15 June) — An official of the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB)-Caraga said the tailings dam of a mining firm operating in Barangay Siana in this town has been stabilized following a crack to mitigate possible environmental risks.
Rene Gonzales, mining environment division chief of MGB Caraga said that he personally checked the dam two days after Greenstone employees discovered a crack on April 24, 2013. He, however, said that upon his arrival the company had already put earth fillings on the crack, made a containment bund wall and diverted a river path.
He said such measures were enough to mitigate the effects of a possible spill, which, he stressed, did not occur.
Romeo Daludado, geology division chief of MGB-13 said the company told him the tension crack that occurred on the dam’s slope was 250 meters long and had two meters of land displacement.
Daludado said the tailings dam, which serves as catchment of wastes from the milling processing plant is very stable now.
Greenstone Resources Corporation, a subsidiary of Australian-based miner Red5 Limited has been producing 1,250 ounces of gold per week at Siana Mines the start of commercial production on April 26, 2012.
Steve Norregaard, managing director of the mining company told MindaNews the company did rapid response project which took them five weeks to complete.
Norregaard said their company voluntarily and immediately stopped its milling and mining operations a day after the discovery of the crack and instead focused on the work of a 900-meter containment bund wall, earth fillings where the crack occurred, and a diversion of Magpayang River which was 240 meters long and 20 meters wide.
He said the work was completed early this month at a cost of US$3.5 million including the purchase of seven hectares of private lands and payment for crops.
But some residents expressed fears a spill might have escaped from the tailings dam.
Dodong Morales said they could not be sure if toxic chemicals have escaped seeped into the soil or water bodies even if they have not notice any fish kill. He said this should be monitored.
He said that while the company may have tried to contain any spill, it has to ensure that there is no seepage underneath.
Jaybee Garganera, national coordinator of Alyansa Tigil Mina (ATM) questioned the MGB for allowing Greenstone Resources Corporation to get permits despite its history of mine flooding and underground fire.
ATM said Siana Mines was actually an abandoned mine site previously operated by Surigao Consolidated Mining Company Inc. (Suricon) and was first opened in the 1930s.
Closed down during World War II, it was reopened in 1946, producing 4,800 kilograms of gold and 8,000 kg of silver. It was closed down again owing to mine flooding and underground fire.
The abandoned mine site was not rehabilitated until Red5 Ltd. secured a mining permit in 2002. It was granted an environmental compliance certificate in April 2009 despite a prior scheduled Final Mine Rehabilitation and Decommissioning Plan expected late May of the same year, according to ATM.
The Siana Gold Project is made up of both an open pit and an underground mine. The project, as originally designed, will deliver a minimum 849,000 ounces of gold production a year at a cash cost of under $400 per ounce over a ten-year life.
But MGB’s Gonzales refuted Garganera saying Suricon is not obliged to submit a decommissioning and mine rehabilitation plan since it is not covered by the Mining Act of 1995, having been created before the law was passed.
He said Greenstone Resources Corporation used Suricon’s old tailings dam which recently suffered a crack.
Norregaard said the company had to lay off 274 workers, 227 of whom were locally hired, following the suspension of its operations.
“We paid half of the 13-month bonus, we gave their salary this month, we advised most of them to avail [of benefits] like sick leave so that they can be paid,” he added.
However, the company has retained 107 personnel — 11 Lumads, 74, regular employees and 22 temporary workers in their drilling site.
Norregaard said the stoppage is just temporary and they are working for a resumption of operations.
“The company has continued its discussion with our banker, Credit-Suisse, and its insurer. In particular, discussions with Credit-Suisse focus on its standstill agreement which is integral to the success of other financial initiatives,” he said.
“The company is considering various funding and other alternative to secure finance for the construction of tailings dam and for working capital for 12 months until income can be derived from the recommencement of the milling operations,” he added.
Norregaard said the company halted its operations because geotechnical experts from Australian-based GHD Engineering, Knight Piesold Consulting and Golder Associates, a consulting firm representing the Credit Suisse, cautioned that there is an unquantifiable risk in operating the tailings dam.
Tubod Mayor Cristina Hemady R. Arcillas has not issued any statement on the issue. However, she told MindaNews that she requested the Environmental Management Bureau (EMB) regional office to conduct monitoring on the area.
She said her request is for the EMB to conduct samplings on the water and soil near the area to ensure the surrounding environment is safe.
“Right now I cannot comment on the issue,” the mayor said, adding her concern now is to find alternative employment for the displaced workers. (Roel N. Catoto/MindaNews)