MAC: Mines and Communities

Ramu deep sea waste dumping can proceed, says PNG judge

Published by MAC on 2011-08-01
Source: Ramu Mine Wordpress, Radio Australia News

On 26 July, Papua New Guinea's National Court handed down a long-awaited verdict on plans by the Ramu nickel mine to dump millions of tons of toxic waste into the sea through so-called "Deep Sea Tailings Placement (DTSP)". See: Ramu fails to lift interim injunction on tailings disposal

The court concluded that there would be irreversible environmental damage to the livelihoods  of local people and the marine environment.

It also found that the dumping will breach PNG's Constitution and  constitute both a private and a public nuisance.

Yet,  the court refused to ban the practice, citing likely economic losses for the company and a denting of "investor confidence" in PNG.

The Ramu landowners have pledged to overturn the ruling.

Meanwhile, another mining company is considering adopting DSTP at its planned copper-molybdenum project in Madang province.

You can download and read the court decision here.

Ramu plaintiffs still full of fight

By Rosalyn Albaniel-Evara

Ramu Mine Wordpress

28 July 2011

WHILE the Chinese developers of the multi-million kina Ramu Nickel project were quietly celebrating, locals were not subdued by a National Court that had ruled against them.

With yesterday's National Court ruling by Justice David Cannings giving developer MCC the go ahead to commission and start full operations, the locals are still full of fight.

Lead plaintiff Louise Medaing has already instructed their lawyer Tiffany Nonggorr to file an appeal in the Supreme Court against the decision by the National Court regarding the deep sea tailings placement (DSTP) system.

Yesterday, the Justice Cannings, in a lengthy ruling dissolved an interim injunction it had granted and also refused the relief sought by the plaintiff to permanently restrain the developers from dumping any mine waste into the sea at Basamuk.

MCC had in a statement it released also yesterday afternoon soon after the handing down of the court's decision stated that "as a result of the decision it could now proceed with the commissioning in order to commence full operation in line with the company's intention that the project meet best international practice standards in design and operation of its DSTP system".

The statement said while the company was pleased with the outcome, management would be refraining from making further comments on the court's decision until it has reviewed the whole 65 page judgment with its legal advisers.

Landowners to appeal PNG mine decision

By Liam Fox

Radio Australia News

26 July 2011

A group of landowners in Papua New Guinea say they will appeal against a court's decision not to ban a nickel mine from dumping waste into the sea.

The National Court has refused an application by a group of landowners to prevent the Ramu nickel mining dumping tailings into the sea off Madang.

The judge said it is likely the dumping would cause "serious environmental harm" but it isn't illegal and banning it at this late stage would have an adverse affect on the mine, its workers and investor confidence in PNG.

The landowners' lawyer, Tiffany Nongorr, says her clients will appeal.

"I guess there's a belief some people's livelihoods can be sacrificed for the greater good," she said.

Australian mining company Highlands Pacific is a minority shareholder in the mine and it welcomed the decision and urged the landowners not to appeal.

Environmental impact

An environmental scientist says thousands of marine species in Papua New Guinea could be threatened by the court's decision.

Dr Amanda Reichelt-Brushett, from Australia's Southern Cross University, is a scientist who gave evidence in the case.

She has told Pacific Beat the disposal of tailings from the mine could damage coral reefs and also pollute coastal waters, which people depend on for their food security.

"It is a very high-risk operation and unlike on land tailings, where you can have management in place and management reaction to spills and incidents, there is not much that can be done," she said.

PNG landowners shocked by court decision on mine waste disposal

ABC News

26 July 2011

The Ramu landowners in PNG are shocked by Judge David Canning's decision after acknowledging the risk of irreversible harm to marine resources.

They say they are going to appeal against the court decision.

This is in the case of the National Court judge rejecting the application for permanent injunction against deep sea waste disposal by the Chinese-owned Ramu Nickel mine, near Madang town.

Their lawyer, Tiffany Nonggor spoke Pacific Beat shortly after the decision was handed down today.

Presenter: Caroline Tiriman
Speaker: Tiffany Nonggor, lawyer for the Ramu landowners in PNG

Listen: Windows Media

NONGGOR: Justice Cannings found that the landowners had made out their case, had proved their case for private nuisance and public nuisance, which means that they proved to the court that the environmental consequences of the dumping would be catastrophic, causing irreparable damage to the ecology of the bay, and in the Judge's words seriously harming the lives and future of the plaintiffs and thousands of other coastal people in Madang province.

But the judge although he found that they made out their case he said that that doesn't necessarily mean that you should get an injunction. So he looked at factors which determined whether an injunction should be given, and he said that three factors are way in favour of an injunction being given, one that the plaintiffs, the landowners had a genuine interest, two, that they'd actually proven that there was going to be irreparable damage, and three, that it was quite clearly contrary to the national goals and directive principles this dumping.

But he said there were three factors weighing against an injunction and one was the delay, that this dumping had been permitted for ten years and the mine had been built in reliance on the permits.

Secondly he said that the dumping was lawful because they had a permit and thirdly, he said the economic consequences of the injunction, by forcing the mining company to use another method of tailings disposal would cost the company a lot of money and would also cause a great delay in the project, which may affect the economies nationally of PNG and also Madang province.

And he also said that the injunction might affect negatively investor confidence. So he said that even though there were three factors both ways, reasons why an injunction should be granted and reasons why an injunction shouldn't be granted, it was a borderline case and that it was his decision that an injunction shouldn't be granted because of the cost and the delay.

So although finding that the plaintiffs had proved their case, he wouldn't give them the injunction they wanted.

He did however make an order that the company and the government have to keep the plaintiffs informed at least every three months for the whole life of the mine as to what's happening with the tailings and the waste and the reports etc., and the monitoring, and he also held that the parties have to bear their own costs.

So the reasons he put forward were basically costs to the company and economic consequences for the country.

One has to ask  what does that mean economic consequences for the people whose livelihoods and lives are going to be affected on the Madang coast now that it's been proven in court that there will be damage to the people greater than what was predicted by the company. How do you quantify that?

TIRIMAN: Tiffany Nonggor and what did he have to say about the scientific evidence he heard on the expected environmental impact of this waste disposal?

NONGGOR: He said that the plaintiffs had put together, the landowners had a considerable body of evidence from expert scientists that there would be damage. The fact of the matter is, is that the plaintiffs proved their case on scientific basis with experts that there was going to be considerable environmental consequences, and the judge used the word, catastrophic, that's also going to damage the lives of people.

I mean the plaintiffs proved that the damage to the environment is going to be catastrophic, and that was on the scientific evidence. But then the judge had decided he would weight it up against the cost of the company and economic to the country. I guess there's a belief that some people's livelihoods can be sacrificed for the greater good.

TIRIMAN: Where does this leave the landowners and what reaction are you seeing from them or you saw from them outside the court?

NONGGOR: They're my clients and they're a little bit in shock because the judgement was read out over three hours and for the first two hours it was clear very much that they had succeeded in their claim, and even for like the first two-and-a-half hours it was clear that the landowners had succeeded in their case, that they've actually proved their interest, they proved the scientific case that it was going to be damaged.

So they were quite shocked with the outcome that the court is allowing the damage to occur, which is greater than was predicted. I mean the judge actually highlighted that it appears that the director of environment has approved a very risky project to the detriment of these people.

But the question is, he said the landowners have delayed bringing it to court, but it's very difficult with regards to landowners knowing the consequences of things and it's not really until mines get built do they realise that something is actually going on. Whereas the planning for these mines etc., goes on years beforehand. What are they going to do? They're considering appealing the part of the judgement that refused the injunction.

TIRIMAN: Have you seen any reaction yet from the company or the Papua New Guinea government?

NONGGOR: No not yet, we've just got out of court.

TIRIMAN: Tiffany Nonggor just like other big mining companies which have projects on the drawing board in PNG that are planning to use deep-sea disposal, I wonder what this decision means for them?

NONGGOR: Well the judge did say that one of the major factors in not allowing the injunction was the delay, and he said that had this court application been made earlier the result may very well have been different, because it's only that the company has expended a lot of money and completed the mine and apparently three-billion kina they've spent building the mine.

Now if other mining companies have this tailings method of disposal on the drawing board, it points to the fact that look it's likely that this sort of dumping will cause a lot of damage, and if the landowners complain early enough to the courts or complain properly then they can stop it.

So this decision would be saying to those mining companies that have tailings dumpings into the sea on the drawing board as part of their mine, that perhaps they shouldn't do that because there's quite clearly valid and successful legal challenges open.

Scientist warns thousands of species may be affected by Ramu mine waste

ABC News

27 July 2011

Papua New Guinea's National Court has rejected an application for a permanent halt to the use of deep sea waste disposal by the 1.5 billion dollar Chinese-owned Ramu Nickel mine, near Madang.

Dr. Amanda Reichelt-Brushett, from Australia's Southern Cross University, was one of the scientists who gave evidence in the case and whose work Justice Cannings acknowledged in his judgement.

Dr Reichelt-Brushett says there is the potential for thousands of marine species, including vital keystone species, to be adversely affected by the mine waste.

Presenter: Jemima Garrett
Speaker: Dr Amanda Reichelt-Brushett, lecturer in the School of Envrionmental Science and Management, at Southern Cross University.

Listen: Windows Media

REICHELT-BRUSHETT: It's a 2-phased approach. It could be deeper at the disposal site but also there is potential for those tailings to be redistributed up into the higher water column and just small shifts in turbidity will influence coral survival and they are keystone species of coral reefs so we could potentially have impacts on the
larger coral reef structure.

GARRETT: Madang is a biodiversity hotspot. What will be particularly at risk from this court decision?

REICHELT-BRUSHETT: Well the unknowns are really what the risk is and Judge Cannings did state very clearly that there is going to be harm and he acknowledged that there is going to be environmental consequences and damage to the ecology of Astrolabe Bay and other coastal waters so the people in Papua New Guinea depend on those waters for their livelihood and their food security so its not just environment-its peoples' lives that are potentially at risk here.

GARRETT: Papua New Guinea's Environment department is being upgraded and it has new guidelines governing deep sea waste disposal. Does the Environment department have enough resources and expertise to monitor what is coming out of Ramu Nickel's waste pipe?

REICHELT-BRUSHETT: Well, tailings are an extremely complex mixture and scientists today don't fully understand what happens geochemically under the deep sea and more than 100 metres deep. That is beyond our capacity as scuba divers and also, all the testing that was done in the environmental plan on their own. Now, what the approval of the current government has enabled is that the waste from the actual mine itself, and the mine communities, so all the sewage and so on, which adds an organic load and potentially shift the geochemistry of that environment.

So to have that depth of understanding and to understand processes as well as to collect that information at such an extreme depth isn't easy and often those responses have to be quite rapid. I would be thinking that an independent scientific review panel would be a helpful ole that could be used to make those decisions and ensure there is some environmental protection there.

GARRETT: If there is a problem, say a major spill of unexpected material going down this pipe, just how easy is it to fix?

REICHELT-BRUSHETT: Well, that's the unfortunate thing. It's a very high risk operation and, unlike on-land tailings where you can have management in place and management reaction to spills and incidents, there is not much that can be done. Perhaps you can stop it but if the harm has already been caused and the transport of waste is unlike that perceived, you can't go and collect up the ocean and put it back on land, so it is a case of too late.

GARRETT: This is not the only project looking at deep sea waste disposal. The Yandera copper project, which is also quite near Madang, is looking at putting five times as much waste, 25 million tonnes a year, down a pipe into the sea. What impact would you expect that to have?

REICHELT-BRUSHETT: Well, I really hope this doesn't set a precedent to enable that to happen. It is a different mine, that means there will be different waste products and different toxicity associated with that waste material and the location, and depth of the location, and where the canyons are placed will all influence it, so a proper environmental study, if that was to be pursued, would be required.

I would like to think this court case would have, at least, alerted the mining companies to have a very, very stringent environmental plan in place that will recognise the importance of the environment to the local community.

GARRETT: We have seen environmental disasters on land from mining in Papua New Guinea, such as the Ok Tedi mine and its effects on the fly river. What is the potential, with this new push for deep sea disposal, for a similar underwater disaster?

REICHELT-BRUSHETT: There is always a risk and because the risk is so high the uncertainty is high and you are taking a gamble, much more than you could if you had a very well-engineered and well-structured, land-based holding capacity. So the potential for environmental damage is extreme because the environment that you are disposing into is unknown

Yandera eyes DSTP option

Sinclaire Solomon

The National

29 July 2011

ONE day after Ramu NiCo won a National Court decision allowing it to dispose of its wastes through the deep sea tailings placement system in Basamuk, Madang, nearby Yandera copper-molybdenum project developer Marengo Mining announced it was still considering its tailings disposal options.

Marengo Mining CEO Les Emery said on Wednesday that an in-depth comparison of various options for tailings disposal had already been considered, including deep sea and land-based disposal.

"The company is confident that this work will result in the most favourable environmental option for tailings disposal being selected," he said.

A tailings disposal plan is a key component of the definite feasibility study (DFS) for the mine which is due to be presented to the government early next year.

The Yandera project is regarded one of the Asia-Pacific's largest undeveloped copper resources.

The sea disposal option involved pipeline the waste to the Astrolabe Bay, west of Basamuk, and dumping it through a similar DSTP system into the deep-sea canyon.

However, a new player has come into the equation - Madang businessman Peter Yama, a leader of the main landowning group in the Yandera project area.

Yama, who is organising the seven clans of Yandera to unite and organise themselves to seek a bigger share in the 20-year project due to come on-stream in 2015.

He plans to have the umbrella body in place in the next few weeks to ensure that the government and Marengo Mining conduct proper social mapping and land identification is done according to law.

Yama was adamant that the land-based tailings disposal system had not been fully checked by both Ramu NiCo and Marengo Mining.

He said an onland tailings dam for Ramu project meant creating jobs for locals and participation in spinoff by landowners as suggested to him by junior partner Highlands Pacific when he was Usino-Bundi MP in 2006.

Recognised as a chief in Yandera and Bundi, Yama said his people must be adequately compensated by the government and the company.

The destruction to the landscape and people's hunting ground and traditional sites once lost would never be replaced, which money could not replace, he added.

Production at Yandera is expected to start at 25 million tonnes a year, with an initial mine life of at least 20 years, entering world markets in 2015.

Marengo Mining could not be contacted last night for comment.

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