On Mining Nature
Our Lasallian Business Leadership class’ final lecture provided an in-depth discussion on sustainable development. Sustainable development is the common ground between social, economic and environmental preservation that allows for the ability to meet society’s current needs without compromising the capability of future generations to meet theirs.
The discussion also dealt with the carrying capacity of the world we live in considering the number of people that it is able to sustain vis-à-vis the increasing human population and emphasized the unequal distribution of access to resources mainly due to avarice. These latter points would strongly strike me, together with the learning that nature, too, has the right to exist on earth.
Inadequacies of the Mining Act
Working on the related case about the 1996 Marcopper Mining tragedy in the Philippines would prompt further reflection after noting that the disaster did not warrant amendment to the Philippine Mining Act of 1995. This law remained to be in effect after the tragedy and is the current law enforced on present mines in operation.
Relating it to a subsequent analysis on Shell operations in Nigeria where the Nigerian law provided its government controlling interest of 55 percent-60 percent for mineral resources extraction, I was able to confirm that Shell and Chevron’s 45 percent:45 percent interest in the Philippines’ Malampaya phase 2 and 3 project was covered in the 1995 Mining Act. In particular, Section 5 of the act provided for a 10 percent government share of all royalties and revenues from the development and utilization of mineral resources, petroleum and natural gas included.
Considering this, I realized two things—first, that increasing a government’s share in the extraction of its mineral resources does not necessarily warrant proper allocation of public benefits and enforcement of environmental protection, and second, that privatizing for the effective and efficient delivery of essential services by allocating a higher interest to business partners does not guarantee harmless operations either, as was made evident in the Marcopper mining incident.
The tragedy would cause more than two million tons of mine waste to leak into the Boac River in Marinduque Island that resulted to flash floods and isolated villages, burying the river channels under mine tailings. This inundated agricultural fields, contaminated drinking water, and killed fish, shrimp and other food sources, ultimately causing the death of Boac River. Despite these, Marcopper, the mining company, held on to the claim that the tailings were non-toxic even as tests showed highly abnormal zinc levels in some residents and in the bodies of water tested.
It brought national and international attention to Marinduque. Experts and scientists poured into the island province to study the disaster, and eventually learned of the problems that had been occurring for years. At present, the discovery of leaks in the dams abandoned by the company raised new concerns on the safety of the island’s residents. Efforts by the provincial government to recover compensation for damages and claims for restoration also remain in vain as cases filed in the US against the company were rejected for non-jurisdiction citing that it should be filed in the country of incorporation in Canada.
Striking a balance
The case posed the continuing challenge at striking a balance between addressing today’s needs and leaving enough resources for the future. It also prompted me to revisit my resolve regarding previously working for the extractive industry as I continued to ponder on the environment’s right to co-exist and humanity’s responsibility to ensure this salient right.
I have worked for the energy industry whose aim is to meet the current and increasing need for energy by investing in exploration efforts around the world to tap and exploit energy sources and satisfy this necessity. I was instrumental to these efforts as I took on the responsibility to correctly account for the resources drawn and the accompanying efforts expended.
In line with, and sharing the company’s values of honesty, integrity and respect for people, I ensured that my tasks complied with applicable reporting standards and governmental requirements, and followed stringent internal and external controls. I realize that I contributed to making lives better by helping the business abide by reporting requirements, avoid related penalties, and continue to fulfill energy requirements.
I also recall that during this time, I participated in company-sponsored volunteering activities that included tree planting, beach clean-up, school cleaning and painting brigades, house-builds, among others, including visits to villages that were provided livelihood and social programs, and sites that the company previously exploited and currently oversee for restoration.
More sustainable future
As I write this reflection, I imagine nature silently speak to me through a tree, a flower, and the grass, and ask, ‘was it worth it’? I answer yes, as I did no harm, however, with reservations for the future as I look at the bigger picture. I could only hope that more advanced technology would be invented by the next generation to tap into resources that prove difficult to explore today, or that more efficient tools are created without exploiting mineral resources for energy.
I believe that today’s heightened efforts for cleaner fuel and more efficient processes serve as a catalyst for what is to come. I read about robots replacing my job and lots of jobs soon. I welcome this as inevitable, nonetheless, pray that we may not lose our humanity, and nature, as we progress.
The author is an MBA student at the Ramon V. del Rosario College of Business. This essay is part of a journal she keeps in fulfillment of the requirements of the course, Lasallian Business Leadership with Corporate Social Responsibility and Ethics. Visit her blog at https://jennifernam-on.tumblr.com/.
The views expressed here are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official position of DLSU, its faculty, and its administrators.