By Enrico Dela Cruz
MANILA (Reuters) - The Philippine government has suspended operations at two more mines due to environmental violations in an ongoing audit of the country's mining sector, officials said on Thursday.
The move raises the number of suspended mines to 10 - eight of them nickel ore producers - since the Southeast Asian nation launched a review of all mines on July 8.
The closures and the threat of more mines getting hit in the world's top nickel ore supplier lifted prices of the metal to a one-year high of $11,030 a tonne on Wednesday. [MET/L]
The latest suspended mines are operated by Emir Mineral Resources Corp, which produced 150,000 tonnes of nickel ore last year, and Mt. Sinai Mineral Exploration Corp, which extracted 50,000 tonnes of chromite, Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Leo Jasareno told a media briefing.
Both mines are privately owned and located in the central Samar province, primarily supplying China.
The audit found that operations at the Emir Mineral and Mt. Sinai mines have caused silt build-up in coastal waters and deforestation, said Jasareno.
"All suspension orders are indefinite," he said.
Excluding Emir Mineral, Jasareno said the seven suspended nickel mines accounted for about 8 percent of the Philippines' output of the metal last year.
The Philippines is the top nickel ore supplier to China, shipping 34 million tonnes in 2015.
Separately, Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Regina Lopez said the $5.9 billion Tampakan gold-copper project in the southern island of Mindanao should not have been given a clearance that would allow it to proceed.
"That project should never have been given an ECC (environmental compliance certificate)," Lopez said.
Tampakan is the Philippines' biggest stalled mining venture and a cancellation of its environmental permit - granted in 2013 - could further delay it or end it completely.
Commodities giant Glencore Plc quit the project last year following the delays that have hampered its development since the province where it is located banned open-pit mining in 2010.
The planned mine would cover an area the size of 700 football fields in what otherwise would be agricultural land, said Lopez.
"You can't have mining in the food basket of Mindanao," she said.
The government will give Sagittarius Mines Inc, which runs Tampakan, a week to explain why its environmental permit should not be revoked, said Lopez.
Sagittarius Mines officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Lopez said her agency has also asked top domestic coal miner Semirara Mining & Power Corp to explain environmental violations including siltation of nearby waters and air pollution.
But it would be hard to just shut Semirara's operations, she said, because that might lead to power outages given the Philippines' heavy reliance on coal-fired generators.
Semirara said in a stock exchange filing that it has yet to receive any order from the mining agency, but that it has been compliant with all relevant laws.
(Writing by Manolo Serapio Jr.; Editing by Christian Schmollinger and Tom Hogue)