eastwind journals 45
this article reflects the personal view of the author
and not of the institutions he belongs to

BREAKING NEWS – A colonel and 8 soldiers were sacked over the killing of the wife and 2 children of a B’laan leader in Tampakan, where SMI-Xstrata has the largest gold-copper mining application in Asia. SMI-Xstrata plans to relocate the B’laans from their ancestral domain, which is being opposed to the death. The military insists it is a counter-insurgency war, when in truth it is a war against mining. To prove this, the B’laans dare the government to get SMI out permanently and there will be peace. On our keyboards, 1 minute prayer for the B’laans. More – http://www.rappler.com/

BREAKING NEWS – U.S. sends 3 carriers to Iran. Is this a war game or a prelude to an invasion? Israel, which has the most powerful Congress-White House lobby in the U.S., wants a pre-emptive strike. The U.S. wants the oil and gas, pretending to fear Iran nukes, a repeat of the Iraq invasion. On our keyboards, one minute prayer for world peace. https://mail.google.com/mail/?shva=1#inbox/13a778a7de5d5eef


After leaking 40 MMT of Tailings?
The question is not – should Philex be allowed to re-use a repaired dam no. 3? The question is – should Philex be allowed at all to continue operations after so much damage has been done due to mismanagement and technical blunders? Why are we giving them a chance to make another mistake?
Philex is intent on re-using dam no. 3 instead of building a new dam no. 4. The first question is – is it safe? A few years ago, they raised the embankment by 5 meters, allowing for more tailings beyond its designed capacity, which was possibly the real cause of the leak. Now, they want to raise the embankment for a second time, so the spillway will be above ground instead of underground. See diagram below.


The second question is – is it worth it? Philex reportedly may apply for an extension to 2020, or eight years, now that the dam has been emptied by the leak. From 1992 to 2007, or 16 years, Philex dumped 127 MMT of tailings (Boquiren, 2009). That translates to 7.9 MMT per year. If by rough estimates (see calculations below), 40 MMT leaked out, Philex has about 5 years to refill the leaked dam, not 8 years which implies another over capacity situation. Five years is a band-aid solution. Is it worth it?

Philex has finally plugged the leak with the help of foreign consultants. Before that, they used a dump truck and a bulldozer to plug the leak, which simply went through the large hole and the 14-odd meter diameter tunnel, ending up at the river below. This time they used cement spheres larger than the hole, then poured more cement on it. It is not known if the area near the plugged leak may have been weakened, and may give way from over capacity once more in the future, now that they keep raising the embankment and capacity. They may have to fill up the entire tunnel which is expensive.

How much tailings did Philex dump?

Now that the leak has been completely plugged, how much tailings did Philex dump? The before-and-after photos shown below may give us an idea.



Note that changes in surface area does not necessarily correlate to volume of solids discharged because the water is shallow while the sediments are deep. A change in water surface by half does not mean volume of solids discharged is also half. It would be much lower than that.

What could have happened is, as soon as the pipe broke, the first to be discharged was sediments at the very bottom, sucking in more tailings in the form of an inverted cone (as in the Part 1 photo). The water would then flow into the depression formed by the sediment discharge and subsequently wash away more sediments into the hole, until all the water is emptied, leaving behind the solid parts on the side of the cone. The cone would eventually collapse and result only in a smooth depression.

The Part 1 photo hints that the cone-like discharge is about a third to a quarter of total. But considering that the Part 1 photo is not necessarily scaled, a proper estimate is elusive. ABS-CBN’s Failon Ngayon, aired on October 13, reported that as of its coverage a week or so before, the amount of tailings was circa 22 MMT, or about 6.45% of the total capacity of 142 MMT, as given by the Boquiren Study. We do not know Failon’s source, but it probably was MGB and/or Philex. Let us assume that the dam was full to capacity, which was most likely because this is the 22nd year since its construction, two years beyond its designed 20-year life span (1992 to 2011). Considering efforts by Philex to downplay the volume, a broad estimate would probably be a bit bigger, at say, a quarter to a third of 142, or 35.5 to 44 MMT.

The dam no.2 collapse was an estimated 80 MMT (Boquiren, 2009), double of our estimate for dam no. 3. This is because a dam no. 2 collapse is necessarily bigger than a drain pipe leak of dam no. 3. Still, 44 MMT is a lot and can damage the Agno River and nearby farm fields substantially.

MGB should exercise caution

The credibility and authority of the MGB has been compromised by the Philex disaster. Here are some unsolicited advice that MGB can consider to avoid being blamed for the blunders of Philex –

  • Form a multi-sectoral group to 1) find out if Philex should be allowed to continue operations, 2) approve any new ECC for dam no. 3 or 4, 3) estimate how much Philex should pay for social and agricultural damages;
  • Exercise caution in approving the re-use of dam no. 3 and the raising of embankments once again;
  • Release data on the collapse of dam no. 2, if MBG indeed investigated it, to dispel the notion that MGB was part of a news blackout campaign;
  • Initiate criminal charges against erring managers of Philex on top of administrative charges.
  • Consider the Philex mining contract as illegal and cancelled, based on violations of safety standards and lack of business permit lodged against it.

The DA should be part of the multi-sectoral group to represent agricultural interests, especially how much should be paid for loss of agri-aquaculture productivity, damage on irrigation dams, rehabilitation of river embankments, etc. We will not know how massive the extent of damage is right away. The volume of spilled tailings of Philex may be about ten times that of Marcopper in Marinduque, which is considered beyond rehabilitation.

Bernie Lopez
eastwind journals, Opinyon Magazine
advance copy


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