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his is an open letter to President Aquino and Peter Forrestal, President of Sagittarius Mining, Inc. (SMI), a sequel to my previous column on the possible link in the murder of Fr. Tentorio to the Xstrata mining project in Tampakan, South Cotabato. The Xstrata project in Tampakan will be, if you approved it, Mr. President, the largest mining project in Philippines history and one of the largest worldwide, with a staggering 10,000-hectare mine site, equivalent to 5,000 football fields. Xstrata is a British-Swiss multinational which is in partnership with the local Sagittarius Mining Inc. (SMI).
Dear President Aquino, I would like to inform you of a potential for an environmental mega-disaster never before experienced in our history, if you approve the operating license of Xstrata-SMI. Many foreign environmentalists have given warnings.
Correct me if my data is wrong, Mr. Forrestal. The statistics of the Tampakan mine project is mind-boggling. Its proposed tailings dam has a capacity of 1.1 billion metric tons (MT) of toxic waste, with a second dam for pure waste rock of another 1.6 billion MT. They sit at the mountain top at an altitude that violates the maximum allowed by the DENR. The tailings dam alone covers a shocking 1,350 hectares, equivalent to 700 football fields. It is 180 meters tall, the equivalent of an eight-story building.
If these dams break, it may trigger a localized famine, affecting about 100,000 hectares of lush farmlands (pessimistic calculation) nourishing 1.2 million people in four provinces of two regions, at the very the heart of Mindanao’s bread basket. That mega-disaster will make the Marcopper disaster look like a backyard affair.
What are the chances of a ‘world-class’ tailings dam bursting? The Tampaka site sits directly underneath a sub-fault along the main South Cotabato fault line, a mere 20 kilometers away. This main fault line connects to the Negros and Sulu trenches. British consultant to the International Union for the Conservation of the Nature (IUCN), Clive Wicks, reported 74 earthquakes near the Tampaka area from February 2005 to October 2008, an average of 3.5 a month, 17 of which, or 23%, had a magnitude of 5 or more on the Richter scale.
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