Proposed gold mining in Balung Participate in review of draft TOR, folks urged
Published on: Friday, February 13, 2015
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Kota Kinabalu: The people in Tawau have been urged to participate in the reviewing of the draft Special Environmental Impact Assessment (SEIA) Report's Terms of Reference for the proposed gold mining at Mount Wulldersdorf, Balung in Tawau.DAP Sabah Vice Chairman Chan Foong Hin said the Environment Protection Department made an announcement on Feb 3 that the public can submit written comments on the draft TOR until Feb 25.

The draft TOR is available for review at respecting places, such as Tawau Library, and can be downloaded from the department's website, www.sabah.gov.my/jpas.

The proposed gold mining site covers a parcel of land about 948 hectares in the Mt Wullersdorf area, about 30km northwest and 17.5km north of Tawau town.

Chan, who is also Sri Tanjong Assemblyman, followed up on the first gold mine in Sabah since the last State Assembly sitting.

According to the written answer provided by the Chief Minister's Department on Nov 13 last year, the said project was still at the preliminary stage, whereby the final approval of the project by the State Government is subjected to the mining scheme and SEIA which were in the preparation process.

The State Cabinet has approved the project application principally to pave the way for the proposer to prepare the mining scheme and SEIA and the State Government would only approve the application provided they are satisfied with the proposed environmental impact mitigation plan.

The project proposer is Southsea Gold Sdn Bhd, which needs to invest at least RM4 million in order to achieve the minimum investment amount to obtain the mining exploration licence.

The mining development cost subjected to the scheme of the mining is excluded from the said minimum investment cost.

Preliminary study had shown that about 108,730 million tonnes of ore could be mined up to 35 years.

The ore metal content is estimated to be 30,118,713 grammes of gold, 18,916,027 grammes of silver and 118,855 million tonnes of copper.

Machinery and equipment would take up RM72.2 million and the operational cost another RM102.2 million in the 35 years of mining.

"Of course, the proposed project might bring development to Tawau as economic activities diversify and new jobs opportunities are created. But we are concerned with the environment as well. Balance between economic development and environmental impact should be made.

"A stakeholder meeting should be held to have a dialogue between the project proposer, local residents, environmental NGO and various parties to discuss the issue," said Chan.

Chan hoped the proposed Mount Wulldersdorf gold mine would not end up like the Mamut copper mine.

The Mamut copper mine began operation in 1975 and ended in 1999 after churning out 100,000 tonnes copper concentrate a year during its peak production years.

The mine earned an export revenue of about RM3.4 billion with 70 per cent of it contributed by copper while gold and silver accounted for 27 per cent and three per cent respectively.

After the mine reached its life span, it left a 4,800-acre wasteland where the mine was in operation had suffered severe environmental degradation with Acid Mineral Drainage (AMD) emerging as the most prominent pollution.

Studies by experts from Universiti Malaysia Sabah (UMS) as well as continuous monitoring by the Department of Environment (DOE) and Mineral and Geoscience Department (JMG) showed the water in the mine pit has a consistently high acidity of between pH2 and pH3.

"It was also found that the AMD would spill over into the nearby river system whenever it rains but it would be diluted and its pH will become neutral between 6 and 7," he said.

The estimated cost to treat AMD in the former Mamut mine was RM185 million for the next 10 years or an average of RM18.5 million a year.

Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Datuk Seri Masidi Manjun admitted in the last State Assembly sitting that the cost of rehabilitation is about RM200 million, about the same as the profit made by the Government during the time the company was in operation from 1975 to 1999.

"So the most important factor is AMD control. How to ensure Balung gold mine would not become another Mamut copper mine environmental disaster? The project proposer should answer us the question. Tawau citizens in general are concerned with the issue," he said.

Furthermore, with the bad experience of "no geothermal well drilling but only logging" happening in adjacent Tawau Green Energy site, the public are sceptical over another white elephant project in the making, he claimed.

He said the proposed gold mine also straddles forest reserves. The site covers an area recently excised involving about 720ha and 228ha of Mt Wulldersdorf and Ulu Kalumpang Forest Reserves, respectively.

"The project proposer should commit to the people of Tawau that only a minimum area of forest reserves would be affected or cleared for the gold mining," he said.



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