Sagittarius Mines has resumed exploration at Tampakan, one of the world’s largest copper-gold projects in South Cotabato province on Mindanao Island, after a Filipino government licence moratorium was lifted.
Tampakan is touted as the largest undeveloped known copper deposit in South East Asia and will be the largest foreign direct investment in the country, with capital expenditures estimated at $5.9 billion should commercial production begin.
The site covers 10,000 hectares between the towns of Tampakan, South Cotabato and Kiblawan. It’s estimated that when in operation it will produce 375,000 tonnes of copper and 360,000 ounces of gold concentrate annually over a mine life of 17 years.
Sagittarius, which is backed by the world’s fourth largest copper producer Xstrata Copper and Australian company Indophil, wants to develop a large-scale open pit mine with significant off-site infrastructure including a port, copper-gold concentrate pipeline, filter plant, tailings dam, power station and access roads to the mine site.
The Philippines Mines and Geosciences Bureau granted permission two weeks ago to Sagittarius and nine other companies nationwide to resume their mining exploration and operations. The approvals made by the bureau are renewal exploration permits issued prior to the moratorium.
The Department of Environment and Natural Resources imposed the moratorium this year with the aim of clearing ageing and static mining applications from the mines bureau. The bureau’s acting national director, Leo Jasareno, says the evaluation process taken by it on the renewal applications of the mining companies was long and tedious.
“The exploration activities have minimum impact on communities and the environment, and do not necessarily lead to the development of a mine.”
The moratorium on the issuance of new mining tenements remains in force until such time that planned reforms in the mining sector are put in place.
The Tampakan project faces an obstacle in an open pit mining ban approved by the provincial government last year. The project is strongly opposed by the local Catholic Church which has cited concerns for the environment, human health and food security.
Sagittarius says it takes its environmental responsibilities seriously. “We understand that mine waste and water management are important issues for our stakeholders and they form an important part of our design, operation and rehabilitation plans for the project,” says the company’s operations and external affairs general manager Mark Williams.