SMI feasibility study sent to MGB central office for evaluation

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/12 August) — The Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) in Region 12 has endorsed for further review and evaluation by its central office the project feasibility study of the US$ 5.9 billion copper-gold project of foreign-backed Sagittarius Mines Inc. (SMI) in South Cotabato.

Constancio Paye Jr., MGB-12 director, said Tuesday they made the endorsement after completing last month the preliminary review and evaluation of the Tampakan copper-gold project’s feasibility study.

Prior to the endorsement, he said SMI officials presented to the agency the details of the study to facilitate their evaluation.

Paye said their assessment specifically covered the company’s geotechnical investigation and other vital aspects of the project.

It includes the project’s geology and mineral resources, mining, operations and employment, legal, financial, summary and facility description, he said.

“(SMI) also presented its environmental protection and enhancement plan, social development management program and the final mine rehabilitation and decommissioning plan,” he said in a statement.

The feasibility study mainly examined the economic, social and environmental viability of the planned large-scale copper and gold mining project, which will cover portions of the tri-boundaries of South Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat and Davao del Sur provinces.

The company earlier said that the decision to develop the Tampakan project, considered one of the largest foreign direct investments in the country, will mainly depend on the outcomes of the feasibility study.

SMI officials announced two weeks ago that it is targeting to begin later this year the required processes in getting the Free and Prior Informed Consent of tribal communities affected by the Tampakan project.

The Tampakan project is controlled by Glencore Xstrata that holds a 62.5-percent interest while Indophil Resources NL holds the remaining 37.5-percent stake.

Indophil is 30-percent owned by Filipino corporations that include the Alsons Group through funding by Banco De Oro Unibank, the SM Group, San Miguel Corporation and Philex Mining Corp.

The project contains an estimated 15 million metric tons of copper and almost 18 million ounces of gold, with potential for growth, based on the company feasibility study.

The development cost for the Tampakan project was pegged at US$ 5.9 billion, including a “dedicated” power station worth US$ 900 million.

SMI initially targeted to begin the mining project’s commercial operation by 2016 but decided to later move it to 2019, a year before its Financial and Technical Assistance Agreement (FTAA) ends.

The national government granted the FTAA for the Tampakan in 1995. It has a lifespan of 25 years and can be renewed for another 25 years.

In August last year, the company downsized its operations and retrenched 940 workers due to uncertainties posed by the open-pit mining ban imposed by South Cotabato province.

The ban on open-pit mining, which SMI had signified to utilize for the project, is provided in the Environment Code approved by the provincial government in June 2010. (MindaNews)