MAC: Mines and Communities

UNEP promises to help Bougainville manage clean-up of Rio Tinto mine

Published by MAC on 2013-09-10
Source: ABC News, PNG Mine Watch (2013-09-04)

Former Bougainville Revolutionary Army Commander, Sam Kauona, says the 10-year bloody conflict, which claimed the lives of many Bougainvilleans, Papua New Guineans and Solomon Islanders, was the result of colonialism.

He demands that current laws on Bougainville be changed before any renewed mining activities take place.

Meanwhile, the UN Environmental Programme has offered the Bougainville provisional govermnent assistance in cleaning up the mess which former Panguna mine manager, Rio Tinto left behind when it quit the island in 1999.

UNEP to help Bougainville manage clean-up of Rio Tinto mine

Pacific Beat - ABC News

4 September 2013

The United Nations Environment program is to help Papua New Guinea's island of Bougainville manage the environmental issues associated with the Rio Tinto-owned Panguna copper mine.

The giant mine was closed more than 20 years ago after it became the spark which lit the civil war on the island.

Since then pollution from mine tailings has been flowing into the environment.

Whether or not the mine is re-opened, a massive clean-up is needed.

Presenter: Jemima Garrett

Speaker: Dr Gavin Mudd, Senior Lecturer in Environmental Engineering, Monash University

Dr Don Anton, Asociate Professor of Law, Australian National University

GARRETT: When Bougainville Copper, the Rio Tinto subsidiary which owns the Panguna copper mine, was driven out of Bougainville there was no mine closure process.

Since then environmental problems have been festering.

The United Nation's Environment Program's Geneva-based disaster risk reduction branch has agreed to help Bougainville to draw up terms of reference for the clean-up and for environmental studies that will help Bougainvilleans decide if they want to re-open the mine.

Dr Gavin Mudd, Senior Lecturer in Environmental Engineering at Monash University says pollution is continuing to flow from the mine.

MUDD: There's a lot of acid mine drainage that is leaving the site, there is also tailings that's going down the river. And the acid mine drainage of course has extremely high levels of metals and so on so there are actually very significant issues.

GARRETT: Heavy metals can accumulate in fish and vegetation and affect human health.

Inside the mine site many buildings contain asbestos and some abandoned measuring instruments contain radio active material.

Whether or not the mine is re-opened remediation of past damage is necessary.

Associate Professor Don Anton from the Australian National University's College of Law says the involvement of the United Nations Environment Program is a significant development.

ANTON: I think it is a very significant development in the sense that we have an independent, a proven independent third party coming in to look at a very contentious situation.

GARRETT: It is important that landowners get independent advice not tainted by vested interest what difference could the involvement of UNEP make?

ANTON: UNEP is as I say is an independent third party. It is a respected catalyst for both co-ordinating and promoting co-operation on environmental action. It has a long track record from 1972. It has been involved in other rehabilitation programs, like the Mau forest eco-system in Kenya, it has experience in remediation after hostilities, after Iraq and depleted uranium in Bosnia, so it has experience and a well respected track record in dealing with environmental problems.

GARRETT: When it closed the Bougainville copper mine was one of the biggest in the world.

Environmental Engineer Dr Gavin Mudd says its remediation will be no mean feat.

MUDD: . There are very few sites around the world on the scale of Bougainville that have been cleaned up. A lot of the mines that have been dealt with in this manner are either in Canada or Australia and certainly considerably smaller. So in that sense we don't have too many examples. The principles are the same in terms of engineering but certainly the scale of Bougainville is certainly very big and that does present a very big challenge.

GARRETT: Bougainville Copper Ltd is legally responsible for the clean-up.

Dr Mudd says it will be expensive.

MUDD: I'd imagine you would be looking at hundreds of millions of dollars, if not billions. It is really hard to know exactly. It depends on the logistics involved and there is a whole bunch of complex factors involved in that so the simple message is it is not going to be cheap. Which ever level of remdiation is done at Bougainville it is certainly going to be a very costly exercise.

GARRETT: Public opinion on Bougainville has been shifting in favour of re-opening the mine.

But many people who lived through the civil war are wary.

Associate Professor Don Anton says whichever decision is made environmental standards must be met.

ANTON: It is clear we should have a rigorous environmental impact assessment with full public participation, full disclosure, full opportunity to comment. We should have, in terms of approvals, conditions imposed upon the operation of these mines if they were to go forward again, including the requirement for insurance, remediation bonds and other security put up to account for problems that may eventuate down the track. Of course this is assuming mining is allowed to go ahead again. It may well be that UNEP reports back, if this is within their terms of reference,UNEP could report back that mining should not proceed again and then it would be up to I suppose the Joint Co-ordinating Committee to make a decision about that.

GARRETT: The Bougainville government is yet to set up environment department department or pass legislation. How can a small government, like Bougainville's make sure it has the wherewithal to effectively protect the environment and keep track of what a large company like Rio Tinto or Boug Copper is up to?

ANTON: It is a very difficult situation because of course capacity in small countries is a major challenge both in terms of personnel and expertise. One thing that might be done in terms of if the mine went forward, would be as part of the conditions for the mine going forward, would be that monies be paid to allow Bougainville to create an independent environment department that would superintend and inspect and monitor the mine.


Bougainville war ‘the result of colonialism' and ‘stolen rights'

Toa Sime via FaceBook, PNG Mine Watch

2 September 2013

Former Bougainville Revolutionary Army Commander, Sam Kauona says, the 10-year bloody conflict which claimed the lives of hundreds of Bougainvilleans, Papua New Guineans, as well as Solomon Islanders was the result of colonialism.

And he says current laws on Bougainville must be changed before any mining activities are allowed to take place.

Mr. Kauona, describes Papua New Guinea's current mining laws as ‘Stolen Rights Laws' which were adopted from Australia, and must be replaced.

He says the loss of lives and bloodshed were in fact sacrifices for indigenous people to buy back all these ‘stolen rights' .

Under the Mining Ordinance Act of 1928, which was later amended by the colonial government and called the Bougainville Copper Agreement 1967, stipulates that all minerals six feet underground are crown property.

The amended Bougainville Copper Agreement 1967, allowed Bougainville Copper Limited to extend its prospecting authorities, mining and land leases, as well as equity and shareholdings.

However, no shares were given to landowners on Bougainville.

Mr. Kauona says these laws are the ‘Stolen Rights Laws' which protected legalized stealing by Australia.

"These laws allowed legalized stealing by Australia at that time. When the Bougainvilleans resisted against BCL and the government of PNG, we did not know that we were fighting against the laws. Panguna Mine was just the manifestation of these laws. That's why when we fought, we were fighting against colonialism.

We thought we were fighting with Papua New Guinea. No! Actually, we were fighting against those colonial laws.

If you see the history of Bougainville and Papua New Guinea, we have never been enemies. We were forced into a war that we did not want to fight. But, bloodshed occurred in this war and lives were lost. These sacrifices have now given us the power, strength and courage to get back all these rights today." (Translated from Tok Pisin)

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