OceanaGold stops trucking at Philippines gold mine after dispute

MELBOURNE/MANILA (Reuters) - Australia’s OceanaGold Corp said on Thursday that it had stopped trucking at its Didipio gold and copper mine in the Philippines after a dispute with a provincial government over its license to operate at the site.

The mid-tier gold miner is waiting for the renewal of its operating license for the mine on Luzon island, but in the meantime, it has authorization from the Philippines mines bureau to continue operations, it said in a statement to Australia’s stock exchange.

The governor of Nueva Vizcaya province, however, has directed local government units to restrain its operations and a local government unit prevented a large supply truck from accessing the mine site on July 1, it said.

“Operations continue at the mine, but the company proactively halted truck movements, including copper concentrate, to prevent the potential for escalation. This has not impacted supply of copper concentrate for shipment,” it said.

“Unfortunately, the company has had to file for an injunction to ensure local government units recognize the legitimacy of Didipio’s continued right to operate and the national government’s legal authority over the operation.”

It has filed for an injunction against any restraint to operations and a hearing date has been set for July 10.

The country’s industry regulator, Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB), confirmed OceanaGold can continue mining operations at Didipio while the renewal of its license is under review.

“Until and unless the Office of the President says it’s not renewed because you are not compliant, then this operation of OceanaGold will continue on a temporary basis,” MGB Director Wilfredo Moncano told Reuters.

The MGB and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources have endorsed OceanaGold’s application for approval by President Rodrigo Duterte, but the latter’s office had sent it back because it found the application incomplete.

OceanaGold has assets in the Philippines, New Zealand and the United States. Didipio produced 115,000 ounces of gold and 15,000 tonnes of copper last year.

The miner targets total gold production of 500,000 to 550,000 ounces and 14,000 to 15,000 tonnes of copper this year.

OceanaGold’s shares last traded at A$4.00 before a trading halt on Wednesday. Its shares hit a nine-month low on Tuesday.

Mining is a contentious issue in the Philippines after past environmental mismanagement by miners.

Duterte has repeatedly warned miners to follow tighter environmental rules or shut down, and he is strongly against open pit mining, despite a push by senior officials of his administration to soften the policy.

Reporting by Melanie Burton in MELBOURNE; Additional reporting by Enrico Dela Cruz in MANILA; Editing by Tom Hogue