Mine crackdown boosts nickel price

President Rodrigo Duterte (centre) and his environment minister Regina Lopez. Source: Wikimedia

Manila has widened a crackdown on mines over environmental concerns, sparking a surge in nickel-ore prices and highlighting worries about how to secure reliable sources of the key industrial ores used to make metals.

The authorities advised that 20 more mines be suspended in response to complaints that mines were flouting environmental regulations.

The audit began after President Rodrigo Duterte came to power and rapidly closed 10 mines. Around 75 per cent of the Philippines’ mines have been warned about environmental compliance.

The Philippines has 41 metallic mines, mostly nickel, together with suppliers of copper and gold.

“I have no beef against mining, but I am vehemently against what is happening,” Regina Lopez, the environment and natural resources secretary, told the media. “There are mining companies that have passed…it can be done.”

The mines named this week will be given a week to fix violations or appeal to the environmental agency, which is chaired by Lopez.

Malaysia, Indonesia and China have also initiated mine crackdowns after complaints about air and water pollution.

The Philippines is the world’s largest supplier of nickel ore, which is used to manufacture stainless steel.

The Philippines produced 467,000 tonnes of nickel last year, 24 per cent of the global mined total of 1.93 million tonnes, according to Morgan Stanley. There was a cumulative global deficit 42,500 tonnes in the first seven months of the year, said the International Nickel Study Group.

The 30 mines under review accounted for 55 per cent of the 32 million metric tonnes of nickel ore the Philippines produced in 2015, said Leo Jasareno of the Philippines’ environmental agency. Water pollution and other ecological damage was tied to the mines, he said.

“They are responsible miners, and we believe they will do the right thing,” said Ronald Recidoro, a spokesman for the Chamber of Mines of the Philippines. “Companies can still respond to the findings and resolve the issues.”

In Manila, companies with operations recommended for suspension fell in value, while firms outside the archipelago gained. Marcventures Holdings, whose nickel mine in Surigao del Sur province is set for suspension, fell by 17 per cent. In Hong Kong, Glencore gained 2.4 per cent, while Australia’s Independence Group’s value rose 5.6 per cent in Sydney.

“It is a major development,” said Eugen Weinberg, commodities chief at Commerzbank AG. “The number of mine closures might propel prices to around US$11,000 per tonne and will keep them supported.”