Philippine regulator recommends lifting suspension on nickel miner

Zambales nickel ore mine. Image source: Thomson Reuters Foundation

The Philippines’ mining watchdog has recommended lifting the suspension of a small-sized nickel miner, one of several ore producers ordered in 2016 to halt operations in an industry-wide crackdown, a senior government official said on Wednesday.

The Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) recommended that Zambales Diversified Metals Corp — one of two nickel subsidiaries of DMCI Mining Corp — be allowed to resume mining operations, Environment Undersecretary Analiza Teh said.

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) lifted the suspension order on DMCI Mining’s other nickel subsidiary, Berong Nickel Corp, in November last year.

The Philippines was the world’s second-largest producer of nickel ore in 2018, selling most of its output to top buyer China. In 2020, when last year’s top producer Indonesia is due to ban its ore exports, China is expected to rely mainly on nickel ore from the Philippines, according to analysts.

DMCI Mining, a unit of DMCI Holdings Inc, had said in March that it expected 2019 to be a tough year, with one of its two mines still suspended and its inventory almost depleted.

The Berong and Zambales mines, two of more than 30 nickel ore producers in the Philippines, in recent years accounted for less than 5% of the nation’s output of the material, which is used in stainless steel and electric vehicle batteries.

Teh said the DENR has also lifted the suspension order against Carrascal Nickel Corp, but five other suspended mines – mostly nickel ore producers – have yet to comply fully with the requirements that would allow them to operate.

Teh, speaking at a Philippine mining conference, said the MGB has also recommended lifting a suspension order issued against iron ore miner Strong Built Mining Development Corp.

Philippine nickel ore production rose 3% in the first half of 2019, but output was capped as half of the country’s nickel mines were closed for maintenance or environmental reasons.

In 2016, the DENR, then headed by a staunch anti-mining advocate, ordered several mines shut in a crackdown on miners as part of a push to ramp up environmental protection.

(By Enrico dela Cruz; Editing by Tom Hogue)

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