Government will explore and secure lands with ‘critical metals’

SAFETY IS A PRIORITY A mine worker on Friday tests his skills in extinguishing fires at his workplaces during a competition organized as part of this year’s National Mine Safety and Environmental Conference in Baguio City. —NEIL CLARK ONGCHANGCO

BAGUIO CITY – The government will take a leading role in exploring, identifying and protecting mineral deposits of “critical metals” such as nickel and lithium, which will be in high demand as the world shifts to green technologies, Environment Secretary Maria Antonia Yulo Loyzaga announced Thursday.

Speaking at this year’s Mineral Symposium Mine safety and Environment Loyzaga said state-sponsored exploration for what she described as “strategically important mineral resources” will begin next year and will be part of President Marcos’ initiative to manage gold, copper, zinc, chromite and minerals of valued at $1 trillion other mineral resources in the country.

She said the government is also developing a critical minerals action plan that will help guide policy and protect these resources.

“The environment supports the economy, not the other way around,” Loyzaga emphasized.

She said climate change has forced global industries to seek clean, renewable energy, promote electric vehicles and reduce carbon pollution, as well as develop batteries that not only power electric cars but also store energy generated by solar farms, wind farms, geothermal plants and hydroelectric plants.

These emerging technologies and commodities require copper, nickel and nickel by-products such as cobalt.

“This will be influenced by the intensity of extreme weather events currently occurring in various regions, as well as changes in temperature and the amount of water from rainfall [a mine’s] engineering and operations,” Loyzaga said.

Using a “climate lens”, the government reviewed and assessed mining’s environmental impacts and used artificial intelligence devices and satellite imagery to identify climate-sensitive mining sites and to oversee mining activities to address problems, she said.

“My ambition is to increase the contribution of the mining industry to the country so that we don’t have to look for work abroad,” Loyzaga said, considering that mines currently produce only 1-2 percent. gross domestic product.

The best producer

But the country is also the world’s second-largest producer and exporter of nickel ore, she added.

Nickel and nickel byproducts mined in 2022 were valued at 117.64 billion pounds, while mines produced 25.67 billion pounds of copper last year, according to a Bureau of Mines and Geosciences fact sheet.

Gold production, essential for the semiconductor trade, in 2022 was valued at £91.05 billion.

Last year, the industry produced an estimated 238.2 billion pounds of metallic minerals, 31.9 percent higher than the value of metallic minerals (180.61 billion pounds) in 2021, as the Covid-19 pandemic began to subside.

Currently, the largest customer of the local nickel industry is China, followed by Japan and the United States, although demand has fallen “as China has met its quota for this year,” Danilo Uykieng, an MGB official, said in an interview on Tuesday.

Uykieng said new mines are expected to begin land development and construction of sites for their projects by 2025, now that the government has lifted most restrictions affecting the industry, such as the previous ban on open-pit mining.

The Philippines could soon become a major copper exporter when Sagittarius Mines Inc. in South Cotabato, Tampakan will begin commercial operations, Finance Undersecretary Karlo Fermin Adriano said.

Foreign support

During a week-long mine safety conference, the ambassadors of the United States, Australia and Canada to the Philippines expressed their support for, and interest in, the country’s critical minerals efforts.

According to U.S. Ambassador MaryKay Carlson, the Philippines has abundant resources to sustain the global supply chain of green minerals, although “it is essential to balance demand for mineral resources with environmental and economic sustainability.”

Carlson, at a mine networking reception held at the ambassador’s residence at Camp John Hay, told reporters that the U.S. government was investing in projects that review and promote “transparency and accountability in natural resource management.”

Australian Ambassador Hae Kyong Yu said the same technologies will help the Philippines transition to “green mining” to strengthen industry support for responsible and sustainable mines.

“Green mining” refers to mine operations that use environmentally sustainable resources, such as renewable energy, which some local companies have begun to use.

On Thursday, Loyzaga signed a memorandum of understanding with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the University of the Philippines Public Administration Foundation for a $5 million technical assistance program “to develop the critical minerals sector in the Philippines.”

The partnership for sustainable development and investment in mineral extraction and processing “supports the Philippine government’s vision to become a hub for processing minerals such as nickel and copper,” said USAID deputy mission director Rebekah Eubanks.

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She said this “paves the way for Philippine industry to play a role in electric vehicle production, for example.”


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