Recent tropical storms have impacted mining operations in the Philippines and Australia. With the cyclone and typhoon season continuing, there is the possibility of further interruptions to mining in tropical regions of Asia and Australia.
Typhoon Sendong and its aftermath caused tremendous devastation to communities and major loss of life through southern parts of the Philippines, particularly Mindanao, with the death toll at least 1400. Artisanal mining operations in northern Mindanao were severely impacted by the torrential rain, gale-force winds, flooding and subsequent landslides.
Most exploration and mining operations in northern Mindanao suffered some disruption from Sendong, which was the first major tropical storm to hit the southern island in more than 20 years. One of the companies impacted was Medusa Mining, which operates the Co-O gold project in the northeast of Mindanao.
Medusa says the typhoon passed to the north of the Co-O operations during December 15 and 16, bringing strong gusting winds and heavy rainfall to the area surrounding the mine and mill. Winds from the storm caused roofing damage to the laboratory and mill buildings with subsequent water ingress, and torrential rain damaged in parts the 11km of haul road between the mine and the mill. The mine did not suffer any damage and remained operational.
There were no reports of major storm or flood damage from any of the company operated exploration or mining projects in the region, but landslides in the region earlier this month, brought about by heavy rain during and subsequent to the typhoon, devastated many artisanal mining operations.
The worst of these, on January 5 at Pantukan Township in the Compostela Valley, not far from St Augustine Gold & Copper’s Kingking exploration project, killed at least 35 miners and their families when it tore through a small-scale gold mining site.
The mountainside collapsed around 3am when most residents were asleep, sweeping away dozens of homes, shanties and other buildings. The death toll is likely to be much more with dozens of people left unaccounted for.
There are nine mining towns in Compostela Valley in the Davao Region, an area that has long attracted individual prospectors. At least 30,000 small-scale miners operate in Pantukan. Government sources say that more than 70% of all gold in the Philippines is extracted this way.
According to the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB), up to 80% of the Philippines is landslide prone, making the country the fourth most exposed to landslide risk after Indonesia, India and China. At the same time, the country is also among the richest in mineral resources, making for a particularly deadly mix.
MGB director Leo Jasareno says there are between 200,000 and 300,000 small-scale miners nationwide, and 60% to 80% of them don't have permits. “They’re not regulated and they don’t follow rules,” he said. “Their operations certainly add pressure to the soil.”
In Australia Cyclone Heidi halted transportation and shipments of iron ore in Western Australia's Pilbara region after it crossed the coast on the evening of January 11, although there was little impact on mining operations.
The cyclone disrupted loading and shipping operations at various Pilbara ports, including Port Hedland, Cape Lambert and Dampier, after cyclone contingency plans were activated and ports closed. At Port Hedland, Australia's busiest iron ore port, a total of 29 vessels, eight at berths within the harbour, and 21 anchored in the vessel queue, were sent to safer waters away from the path of the storm.
The export operations of iron ore giants BHP Billiton, Rio Tinto and Fortescue were impacted by the port closures and subsequent halting of ore trains while other Pilbara region operators were also impacted by the storm with heavy rain, damaged roofs, fallen trees and power cuts the worst effects.
A spokeswoman for Fortescue Metals Group said the company’s port and rail operations, as well as three camps along its main rail line, were closed during the worst of the storm. She said no damage was reported and mining and construction sites in Pilbara weren't significantly affected by the cyclone or rainfall.
A number of mining companies halted drilling operations in the region during the storm. Among them was Global Metals Exploration which stood down a rotary air blast drill that had been mobilized at its Jutson Rocks gold and nickel project.