The Philippines government has given Sagittarius Mines an environmental compliance certificate (ECC) for its $5.9-billion Tampakan mine, moving the company closer to bringing the highly anticipated project to fruition. Sagittarius is primarily owned by Xstrata with Australia’s Indophil Resources holding a 37.5% interest.   

Development of the project, which is touted as Southeast Asia’s largest copper-gold prospect, has been delayed by a ban on open-pit mining that was imposed by the provincial government of South Cotabato in 2010. The ban does not conform with national mining laws.

The ECC means Sagittarius can move forward with construction of the project if the ban is lifted. The company still needs at least three more local permits before construction can begin. Mining companies affected by the ban are pinning hopes on a change in governor at the May local elections, which may herald a more mining-friendly council.

“We received an official notification that the Department of Environment and Natural Resources has signed the ECC for our Tampakan mine project,” said Sagittarius’ manager of contracts and procurement Nick Treweeke.

The Tampakan mine is expected to yield 15 million mt of copper and 17.6 million oz of gold over a 17-year lifespan. The proposed mine site covers about 10,000 hectares and is between the towns of Tampakan, South Cotabato and Kiblawan, Davao del Sur in southern Mindanao.

The proposed mining operation would also incorporate other infrastructure outside the mine site, including:

  • A coal-fired power station;
  • A filter plant;
  • A port to transport the copper-gold concentrate to international customers and to import coal;
  • A copper-gold concentrate pipeline from the mine site to the port; and
  • Power transmission lines from the power station to the mine site.

If approved, the mine is estimated to yield an average 375,000 mt/y of copper and 360,000 oz/y of gold in concentrate.

Due to the hurdles, Sagittarius has pushed back the target date to start production at Tampakan by three years to 2019, in a bid to gain the necessary approvals. The project delay means actual national mining investments between 2012 and 2016 are expected to fall short of a previous government forecast of $12 billion for the period.

Sagittarius had filed for an ECC in 2010, shortly before the local council of South Cotabato banned open-pit mining.