VIRAC, Catanduanes: Although of relatively lesser volume at 1.2 million tonnes compared to those found in 18 more provinces that comprise the so-called coal districts of the Philippines, Catanduanes coal deposits turned out to be the highest grade in the country as contained in a report submitted by a body of experts led by Manuel V Mapa which was designated to make comments on the proposed coal mining operation in the island province by Altura Mining.
Based on the coal ranks in the Philippine Coal Districts tabulated by the United States Geological Survey (USGS) in 2006, Catanduanes coal is characterized as Butiminous-Anthracite or the hardest coal while 16 provinces are impregnated with Sub-Bituminous coal or Lignite, classified as the imperfectly formed coal resembling wood.
Meanwhile, coal from Bukidnon and Maguindanao provinces were not characterized.
Bituminous-Anthracite coal, the report said, has a heating value twice as the coal from Semirara, Cebu and other sources in the Philippines. Lignite or Sub-Bituminous coals, in order to be useful in power and cement industries, should be mixed with a higher grade coal that can only be acquired from other countries.
Coal found in Catanduanes, according to the report, is the only coal in the Philippines that can match the classification of the imported coal.
“That is why Catanduanes coal deposits are being sought,” said the report. “The source distance and quality make [Catanduanes] coal most desirable.”
In Bagamanoc town, the seashore is covered not with sand but with powdered coal the locals call Amargaha. Residents recall that in 2008, visiting Chinese miners went to their town, kissed their coal sand and murmured to each other, “High grade, high grade”.
Shortly after they left, a company called Shun Fung arrived, built a big boat and did exploration work in Bagamanoc Bay.
However, Mines and Geosciences Bureau amended the Chinese purpose in going to the town as one of extraction, not the harmless exploration.
With this information the people went frantic, watched their bay day and night and succeeded in driving away the Chinese miners and investors.
Earlier, Bishop Manolo delos Santos revealed Altura Mining is the 33rd mining firm seeking national permits for a coal project in Catanduanes.
Australian-Indonesian owned Altura Mining is targeting some 7,000ha to explore in the towns of Bagamanoc, Panganiban, and Caramoran as contained in the Department of Energy (DOE) portal as Area 3 which was reportedly bidded out on March 2012 as part of the Philippine Energy Contracting Round 4.
The DOE has previously awarded Area 1 and 2 coal projects to Monte Oro in 2005, but the project was abandoned due to the vehement objection of the public.
The same Mapa report likewise revealed the comparative analysis of benefits with or without coal project in Catanduanes.
Assuming Altura has a five-year project timeline on the 7,000ha extracting 1.2 million tonnes of coal, the report said the local government of Catanduanes would get a share projected at around P76 million with at least 500 local mining laborers to be hired.
Meanwhile, the same report calculated that if at least 20% of the 7-thousand hectares were suited for abaca, that portion of the land would at least churn out P26M per annum worth of abaca products, benefitting some 9,000 local abaca farmers.
In five years, 20% of the land could generate as much as P132 million.
It does not see any reason then why Catanduanes should seek for miners for its rich land to be exploited by destructive mining.
Said report further disclosed the impact that mining would bring during and after its implementation.
Once Altura kicks off full blown mining operation, disturbances on ground surface, farmlands and even vegetation will occur due to massive construction of plant sites and other support facilities.
Access roads up to the watersheds will also be constructed as reflected in the Altura project mappings.
This would result to an increased soil erosion to cause siltation of downstream rivers and creeks which eventually will lead to flooding and landslides in the towns of Viga, Panganiban, Bagamanoc, San Miguel, Bato, San Andres, and Caramoran.
Catanduanes has a vast forest reserve estimated at 60,000ha of timberland and second-growth trees compared to Semirara, Cebu, Rapu-Rapu, Marinduque, and others which are of scarce natural resource and existing productive agricultural farmlands.
After mining, it is feared that this forest reserve could be obliterated due the following reasons: one, with an approved permit from the national government, Altura would exercise its timber and water rights, which means massive cutting of trees and destruction on the water sources; two, with all this access roads constructed, the whole forestland will be open to exploitation from all kinds of people like the ‘slash and burn’ or kaingineros, ‘farm and run’ farmers and illegal loggers.
The report said the proposed coal mining project could be a double whammy for the province’s environmental destruction. – Bicol Mail