Malaysia extends bauxite mining ban until mid-2017

KUALA LUMPUR, March 28 (Reuters) - Malaysia on Tuesday extended a moratorium on bauxite mining by a further three months to June 30, looking to clear remaining stockpiles of the aluminium raw material as it presses the industry to halt damage to the environment.

Natural Resources and Environment Minister Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar said 2.15 million tonnes of bauxite still remained around Kuantan, the port capital of key bauxite producing state Pahang, from a total of 5.4 million tonnes before the moratorium was first imposed.

Malaysia’s largely unregulated bauxite industry ramped up output in 2014 to fill a supply gap after Indonesia banned exports, but the frenetic pace of digging led to a public outcry over water contamination and other environmental damage.

The government imposed a three-month ban on bauxite mining in January last year, and has extended it several times as it waits for the stockpiles to be run down.

“As of Feb. 28, only 3.25 million metric tonnes of bauxite were exported,” Wan Junaidi said in a statement, although he added that some mining was still going on despite the moratorium.

“The extension of the moratorium will give space to industry players to clear existing stockpiles and prepare measures to mitigate pollution across the bauxite mining and export supply chain,” he said.

Angry residents have protested over the contamination of water sources and the destruction of the environment in a region where heavy rains lead to bauxite runoff.

Reporting by Emily Chow; Editing by Richard Pullin