Leak at Marcopper mine site again raises fears
By Gerald Gene R. Querubin
Inquirer Southern Luzon
Sunday, November 20th, 2011
A report released late last month by the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) said leaks were found on a control tunnel of the Makulapnit Dam of Marcopper Mining during a field inspection conducted by MGB personnel last July.
Danilo Querijero, the provincial environment and natural resources officer, said MGB’s field inspectors found that the leaks came from a water pipe check valve of the dam’s tunnel.
MGB has strongly recommended the replacement of all the check valves of the tunnel, he said, even as the leaking valve has been replaced by the current owner of Marcopper.
Marcopper ceased operations in 1996 when the whole town of Boac was submerged in floodwaters and tailings brought about by a collapsed tunnel of the mining company’s Tapian Pit in March of that year. The spill was considered the worst mining disaster in the country, rendering the Boac River “biologically dead.”
In 1997, Placer Dome, owned the mining firm, divested from Marcopper through a wholly owned Cayman Island holding company called MR Holdings. Critical details of this transaction remained secret.
But MR Holdings keeps a skeletal workforce at the mining site to maintain the company’s equipment and buildings and as administrators of company records.
Makulapnit Dam is among the dams of Marcopper identified to be in “imminent danger of collapsing” by the United States Geological Services as early as 1996 or after the spill occurred, said Querijero.
It was built to supply water for Marcopper’s operations and for household use of residences near it and is currently carrying about 34 million cubic meters of water or more, Querijero said.
Miguel Magalang, executive director of the Marinduque Council for Environmental Concerns (Macec), warned that a collapse of Makulapnit Dam would be a major catastrophe with a very large magnitude of devastating effects in crops and lives in almost 50 percent of the 54,000 population of Boac.
Boac, located at the western section of the island-province, is an agricultural town with 16,208 hectares of its 21,272-hectare land area devoted to agriculture, mainly planted with coconut trees.
“With no maintenance done at the mine’s dams at all, this is a major disaster in the making,” said Magalang. “We just pray that none of those worst scenarios will come our way.”
Boac Mayor Roberto Madla said contingency plans and evacuation and warning systems have been established by the disaster risk reduction and management councils in the municipal and barangay (village) levels in the event of a massive flooding if any of Marcopper’s mining dams or pits would collapse.
Macec assisted the municipal government in formulating the contingency plans and even provided standby first-aid and search-and-rescue equipment, he said.
But the mayor admitted that they have not been conducting regular warning, evacuation or search-and-rescue drills that would help the residents in the event of a disaster