MAC: Mines and Communities

Garnaut behind controversial PNG mines

Published by MAC on 2010-09-20
Source: AAP

Garnaut behind controversial PNG mines


9 September 2010

CLIMATE-change expert Ross Garnaut is linked with two companies accused of using a controversial method of releasing mine waste into rivers and the ocean in Papua New Guinea.

Professor Garnaut conducted the Rudd government's 2008 climate-change review which urged action on the issue, including an emissions trading scheme.

But the economist also chairs Lihir Gold, a mining company which has merged with Newcrest Gold, and he is a director of OK Tedi Mining Limited.

Lihir was the subject of a takeover bid by Newcrest Mining and Prof Garnaut will relinquish his $US300,000 ($A327,225) role as a result of the merger.

The Lihir group is set to produce one million ounces of gold a year on Lihir Island, 900 kilometres north of Port Moresby.

OK Tedi extracts copper, gold and silver from its remote Star Mountains operation in PNG's Western Province where it reportedly discharges 56 million tonnes of metalliferous waste into local river systems each year.

Tiffany Nonggorr, a lawyer representing indigenous PNG landowners, says the practice by Lihir of dumping billions of tonnes of mine waste and metalliferous tailings, including cyanide and heavy metals, is a great concern.

The practice is banned in China, Canada and the US.

"This sort of technology is frontier technology," Ms Nonggorr told ABC Television tonight.

OK Tedi's operation is already having a far-reaching impact, she said, quoting "a couple of studies" by the CSIRO.

"hey quite clearly show that this deep-sea tailings placement has severely impacted the ecology of the area," Ms Nonggorr said.

The river where the tailings are dumped has been left a "moonscape" and she estimated that the copper levels 800km from the mine in the river's silt are 3000 times the safe level.

"That river is going to be affected for 300 years or more," she said.

The Scottish Association of marine science has completed a study into the impact of the Lihir tailings but it has been kept secret by the PNG government.

The ABC said the Scottish research team found deep-sea tailing placement had major impacts on deep-sea sediments but no information on long-term recovery rates.

The researchers said such dumps might need to be managed for decades or longer.

Australian Institute of Marine Science researcher Greg Brunskill said the waste disposal into the coral triangle which runs from the Solomons to eastern Indonesia was "probably not a good thing".

"The diversity of coral and fish and other kinds of marine animals is at a near global maximum," Dr Brunskill told ABC Television.

"It endangers a very large tuna fishery ... it endangers food sources and cultural use of the sea by the local villagers."

AAP has contacted Newcrest Mining and Lihir Gold for comment.

Garnaut attacks 'gross distortions' in ABC report


15 September 2010

Climate change expert Ross Garnaut has attacked the ABC for "gross distortions" about him in a report covering controversial methods of mining waste discharge in Papua New Guinea.

Professor Garnaut, who conducted the Rudd government's 2008 climate-change review, was the chairman of Lihir Gold, a mining company taken over by Newcrest Gold last month.

He is also a director of OK Tedi Mining Limited, another company which operates in PNG.

Last week the ABC's 7.30 Report aired a report about Lihir and OK Tedi's practice of using deep sea tailings placement (DSTP) at two separate mines.

The Lihir project, under Newcrest, is set to produce one million ounces of gold a year on Lihir Island, 900km north of Port Moresby.

OK Tedi extracts copper, gold and silver from its remote Star Mountains operation in PNG's Western Province.

According to the ABC report, OK Tedi discharges 56 million tonnes of metalliferous waste into local river systems each year.

The practice is banned in Canada and the US and indigenous landowners were concerned with the method being employed at the mines.

Professor Garnaut said the report comprehensively misrepresented his work and there was no doubt it was defamatory.

He said through the integration of false and misleading statements by several people and misleading footage, the ABC had built up an "elaborate, negative and false impression of the activities" of the Lihir and OK Tedi operations.

"The piece amounts to a comprehensive attack on my professional and personal integrity," he told reporters at a press conference in Canberra.

Professor Garnaut said he had approached 7.30 Report anchor Kerry O'Brien about what he considered were "errors and distortions in the piece" and was offered an interview with the reporting journalist.

"I declined, on the grounds that is was unreasonable to expect that the journalist who had played an important role in the presentation of egregious errors and distortions would straightforwardly acknowledge errors," he said.

Instead he suggested a statement on the program that acknowledged the piece had been erroneous and misleading, accompanied by an apology.

Mr O'Brien declined.

Professor Garnaut said there were genuine dilemmas in resources development everywhere.

Disposal of waste and tailings inevitably involved some disruption of the natural environment, he said.

On Lihir, Professor Garnaut said, the decision to use DSTP rather than land-based tailings disposal was taken after careful consideration of the alternatives.

He said the local people of the Lihir group of islands also were consulted before a decision this made, and involved careful consideration that agricultural land was scarce, valuable and highly prized.

"The people of Lihir were very clear that the careful placement at great depth of this material was strongly favoured by them ...," Professor Garnaut said.

He said monitoring in the deep ocean had showed there had been some effect of DSTP on zooplankton but it did not smother all growth of the tiny invertebrates.

"There is no effect on the food chains and the ecology of the seas effecting any fish used by humans.

"There is no effect on the natural environment."

DSTP in Lihir's circumstances were world's best practice, the economist said.

Professor Garnaut said the dilemmas at OK Tedi had been more acute.

He had taken up his position as a director at the request of BHP Billiton to join and chair the board on PNG Sustainable Development Program in 2002.

"Because of the opportunity that it provided to make a large and different contribution to sustainable development in PNG," Professor Garnaut said.

"Sustainable development is hard anywhere. It is especially hard in PNG.

But the achievements under the program were considerable, Professor Garnaut said.

Legal action has been suggested to Professor Garnaut but he said he was simply seeking to correct the record at this stage.

"At this stage, right at this moment, my primary purpose is to correct the gross distortion in the program," he said.

"I don't think there's any doubt I've been defamed, that's a different question as to whether action will be taken about it."

An ABC spokeswoman said the 7.30 Report would respond to Professor Garnaut's objections to the report tonight.

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