Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Rains, flooding, earthquake and the unstable Marcopper dams



Today's weather report: Metro Manila, Central Luzon, Calabarzon (Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, Rizal and Quezon provinces) and Mimaropa (Mindoro, Marinduque, Romblon, Palawan) will experience cloudy skies with moderate to occasionally heavy rains and thunderstorms, which may trigger flashfloods and landslides, the Philippine Atmospheric Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (Pagasa) said. Read

One is reminded again, and again, of those costly commissioned studies (one of them amounting to Php 20M), conducted by scientists and relevant government and non-government institutions on the effects and what to do after the biggest environmental disastesr in the Philippines to date - the Marcopper mine spills of 1993 and 1996, that variously spoke of imminent threats to lives and property. 

The most glaring threats according to these studies are those posed by the abandoned siltation dams such as the Maguila-guila Dam which burst in 1993 flooding areas in Mogpog and Boac, the Tapian Pit which leaked in 1996 and destroyed the Boac River, the Makulapnit Dam which is "in imminent danger of collapse because of rapid deterioration". Facts that have been extensively reported in the media.

The abandoned Marcopper Dams. Screengrab from Google Earth

Previous random reports are the following:

The USGS (U.S. Geological Survey), found “potential instabilities” on four Marcopper dams which its report stated pose significant threat to inhabitants and the ecosystems in Marinduque. Read.

The Independent Assessment Team (IAT) noted that there has been no serious clean-up and recovery efforts by Marcopper since 1996. The IAT also concluded that potential instabilities in existing mine structures at the Marcopper site "pose the most significant threat to the inhabitants and ecosystems of Marinduque," according to the Philippine Star... 

The study was commissioned by government of Marinduque, the Philippines Department of Environment and Natural Resources, and the Mines and Geosciences Bureau. Read. According to them, engineers from the Marcopper Mining Corp. have admitted that they had monitored leaks at the structures of the Makulapnit Dam, which is in imminent danger of collapse because of its rapid deterioration. Should it break, 34 million cubic meters of water and silt will cascade down the Boac  River.

"With the continuous heavy rains that we are experiencing now, the aging dam may not be able to hold additional volume of water and burst. This is the same scenario in 1995 before the tragic mine tailings spillage occurred a year after in 1996..." Read

A typhoon, earthquake, or even unusually heavy rainfall, however, would not only potentially weaken the mine’s structures further. Indeed, environmental experts say anything that can cause a disturbance in the rivers of Mogpog and Boac, as well as in Calancan Bay in Sta. Cruz, could result in the submerged toxic mining wastes there to resurface and make these waters and surrounding areas unsafe. (Also read Marinduque earthquake)

... Aside from containing silt from the 1993 dam spill, Mogpog River was also used by Marcopper “as a disposal site for the acidic liquid of the mine tailings," says environmental scientist Emelina Regis in a 2006 paper on the impact of acid mine drainage on the river and the surrounding community. Read

Experts commissioned by Placer Dome had also noted the high possibility of both Tapian Pit (which leaked in 1996 and filled Boac River with mine tailings) and the Maguila-Guila siltation dam (which burst in 1993 and smothered Mogpog River with silt) breaking down, thus spilling more mine waste into the rivers and villages below. Read

In 2006: Foreign and local mining firms in the Philippines have been ordered to reinforce tailings dams deemed as potential threats to life and property, the government said Tuesday.

The environment and natural resources department made public letters sent to mines responsible for waste material at two disused mines firms as the country braced for higher than expected rainfall levels from the La Nina phenomenon. It warned Canada's Placer Dome and its former Filipino affiliate, Marcopper Mining Corp, that the infrastructure at a siltation dam and a pit tunnel at an abandoned copper mine on the island of Marinduque posed "imminent danger to life and property." Read

Was anything ever done? Nothing!

In 2011:  A leak found at a mine dam of the abandoned Marcopper mining site here has raised fears among townfolk of an impending catastrophic flash flood in this capital town.


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.

...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. Read

Anything done since then? Still nothing. Then a question must be asked: Was immediate remediation of these dams ever a part of the settlement discussions on the Marinduque suit against Placer Dome/Barrick Gold? That suit was filed “for the damage it caused to the people of Marinduque and the province’s ecosystems, specifically, the Boac and Mogpog Rivers, Calancan Bay and the surrounding coastal areas”.

The following surprising exchange between former board member Melecio Go and Atty. Walter Scott, chief legal counsel representing the Marinduque Provincial Government in the Nevada case, reveals something Marinduquenos should really ponder about:

MEL GO: … The Dams... I wonder if the Governor or if MACEC has related to Mr. 'Skip' hanggang ngayon ay.. kasi dapat noon pa yan ay inaasikaso na natin considering yung mga ulan ngayon malalakas, yung bagyong tumatama… I think that’s the foremost na dapat nating ugatan at ipauna natin sa kanila… while they are discussing the settlement or mediation ay ilabas na natin. This is dangerous, Skip… those dams are 10 years old...this is very valuable information that was not voted during your negotiations…

SCOTT:  … You survived a year and a half and 10 years..

MEL GO:  The (USGS) study was for medium-term and longer mediation… there’s nothing (about it)!

SCOTT: … At the same time it also has to be mentioned in terms... unfortunately in the sense that, If you claim something is imminent and it does not happen for 10 years, some of you would openly say, how imminent is that… so I don’t want to rely on the USGS report over this… Read

Typhoon "Ofel" In October 2012 caused this flooding in Boac
and in other towns of Marinduque. 

Then again was there anything undertaken after this flooding like 
checking the current stability of the dams?


Boac, Marinduque was the epicenter of a magnitude 4.7 earthquake 
in the evening of July 24, 2012 (Phivolcs)

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