The sunset at Mambulao Bay makes a Mambulaoan proud -- Pic by ANDY FABOR
ON ITS company website, miner Johson Gold Mining Corp, a Php600 million concern, declared that its processing plant on the outskirts of Jose Panganiban town in Camarines Norte, Philippines, can handle gold-laden earth at the rate of 80-100 tons per day.
"'Gold recovery is between 80-85 per cent" from a head grade of 3-10gm of gold per ton of earth materials," the company said.
Simply put, the miner could extract about 240gms-300gms of gold from that heap of earth materials daily, a gold recovery that has to be maintained to remain viable.
Johson further reported, obviously for the benefit of potential investor/partners:
"In the last week of April, 2010 further field investigation through surface mapping of vein systems indicated existence of stock work within the eastern portion of the claim.
"A combined potential of bulk low-grade gold mineralization is roughly estimated at 96,000,000mt with an average grade of 2 grams per ton, therefore, 6,173,633 oz Au (gold).
"JGMC envisions an expansion, once its exploration program is completed and the project is much larger.
"JGMC would be responsible for developments, eventual mining operations and any further exploration on our existing properties.
"Either a 500 tons per day, 5,000tpd, 10,000tpd, or a 30,000tpd project will be developed," Johson said.
Since Johson controls about 426,7099ha of mineral rights/surface rights agreements with landowners as stated on its website, it should take long years of digging and hauling gold-laden earth materials before the precious metal at the mining camps would be exhausted.
And that's a mountain of earth to be hauled off from its two mining sites - the San Mauricio-Tacoma vein and Sta Monica-Sta Inez vein – and other mining claim areas around Mambulao to the processing plant which is located 100 meters above sea-level, a position that allows it to overlook the Mambulao Bay and the town poblacion.
Since Johson uses a lot of water to retrieve every gold particle, gold nugget and gold ore from a mountain of earth, one may wonder where the wastes from processing usually end up.
As medium-size gold operator, Johson may not be willing to spend more than what it has already sunk into its ponds to come up with better designed waste disposal facilities for its wastes and other potential pollutants produced by its operations.
In a few environmental-friendly mining operations around the world, miners have strived to build tailings ponds - at least three ponds measuring a minimum of a hectare in size each, sitting next to each other.
Here, waste water from processing is drained into the three ponds.
The first pond would handle the first bulk of wastes where the sediments are allowed to settle at the bottom of the pond, then, waste water with less sediments/mud is flowed into the second pond, where remaining sediments are allowed to settle at the bottom.
Then the waste water, now with less or almost clear of sediments/mud is flowed into the third pond where it is treated for recycling as fresh source of water to sluice down new batch of gold-laden earth.
And the whole process-cycle is repeated, with only less amount of fresh water being injected into the cycle to maintain the required volume needed to extract the gold.
In short, no water is spilled or released into the environment.
This is a costly affair, however.
Johson may not be able to build one like this, should the government's environmental protection agency require it to do so once it discovers its state of affairs. At the moment, it is only the municipal government that is aware of this anomaly.
In fact, until now Johson has not obtained a certification on the safety of its mine waste ponds
But the miner has to operate to recover its PHP600 million investment.
So until recently, it had been processing gold and dumping its wastes into containment ponds, which, according to Jose Panganiban town Mayor Ricarte Padilla, have not been certified as “safe” by the government.
Right now, Johson operations have been temporarily halted to give the miner a time to deal with its mine wastes problems.
Padilla said in a message posted on the Facebook account of an MWBuzz journalist: “… we are still requiring them (Johson) to put more safety nets and improve their tails ponds before we could issue them the necessary endorsement for their Environmental Compliance Certificate (ECC).
The journalist asked the mayor through his Facebook account if Johson has facilities to contain its massive mining wastes, and he replied: “Meron po … but …”
Padilla has implied that his government has not been confident on the integrity of Johson’s waste containment facilities, thus its refusal to endorse the request.
On the same website, the miner said: "Accessible by land, mill plant is in a moderate terrain exactly 100 meters above sea level.
“All (water) tributaries on both sides are drained thru the Mambulao Bay facing the Pacific Ocean."
Suddenly, a question pops up.
Does it mean to say that Johson's hundred tons of mining wastes - enough to create a new mountain, produced over the years and which could be possibly tainted with cyanide -- are exclusively being dumped only into its containment ponds?
But for how long could its ponds contain this huge volume of wastes without actually breaking and spilling them onto the nearby tributaries, which flow down the San Mauricio terrain and end up at the Mambulao Bay just a little over a kilometer away?
These days, the coastal waters of Mambulao, also known as Jose Panganiban, are in a sorry state.
In fact, the bay is on its way to death.
MWBuzz is giving it another 20 years before it finally dies out to become a bay of deathly pollutants of mercury and cyanide - produced from gold mining operations, or any mining affairs for that matter.
The pollution which is gradually choking it to death has intensified.
Jason Marcelo, the vice-president of Johson Gold Mining Corporation has an interesting angle of the story.
He has blamed mining operations from the 40s for the massive siltation of the Mambulao Bay.
Marcelo was referring to the defunct Philippine Iron Mines (PIM) in Larap which ceased operations in 1974 and the San Mauricio Mining Co, which quit sometimes during the 60s or ever earlier.
Marcelo told MWBuzz: “Please note that prior to today's rampant placer mining activities (small-scale operations such as gold panning) within the area, Mambulao Bay has already been silted or has already had siltation issues since the 1940's due to operations of old mining companies.”
Early last month, two other local gold processors – the Escober and Romeo Diaz processing plants -- had operated with wanton disregards of the environment until the government stopped them after being found operating with expired permits.
The next thing to deal with are the unregulated gold-panning activities around Mambulao involving more than a hundred individuals, whose combined wastes are also contributing to the fast decline in the bay water’s quality.
But as it is, the office of the municipal mayor can’t do anything about this.
Monitoring and regulation, according to Mayor Padilla, is the responsibility of the DENR and Mines and Geoscience Bureau (MGB).
The municipal government can only endorse the gold operator’s request for government certification, “once it (municipal government) is convinced that the miner has complied with all the necessary requirements under the law”.
So far, Johson has not made the grade to deserve a municipal endorsement.
Once a greenish-bluish bay until seven years ago, Mambulao Bay has turned to a horrific muddy yellowish-brownish mess.
It can't even reflect on its surface the blue of clear, cloudless skies even how intensified the sun burns.
Constantly, throughout the day, the sick bay water stays brownish.
Marine life has abandoned it for safer habitats in Quezon and nearby Bicol provinces.
Brownish silt has now overwhelmed what used to be sandy beach, which is also being inundated by another type of pollution - household wastes.
At the back of the Jose Panganiban town hall, the supposed-to-be tourism-attraction beach sand at breakwater has become a muddy beach walk.
While the municipal government promotes the boardwalk jetty as a tourism spot within the town, a curious "tourist" would immediately notice, especially when the water starts acting up like it is being stirred up by the waves: "How come the water around here is brownish and the beach sand muddy?""
"What's going on?"
The townsfolk, however, don't bother about it.
Two things: it could be that what the brownish bay water they have been seeing all along since recent past has been a product of "progress", whatever that means as far as JP’s economy is concerned.
Or that they just don’t care.
Meanwhile, our beloved Mambulao Bay is dying little by little right at the backyard of the beautiful town hall building.
MWBuzz poses this question: Can Mambulaoans do something to save Mambulao Bay?
If they can … when?
-- By AP HERNANDEZ