MAC: Mines and Communities

Protests escalate at Vale's nickel mine in New Caledonia

Published by MAC on 2014-05-27
Source: Reuters, Radio New Zealand (2014-05-27)

Angry local communities have been protesting after the recent chemical spill at Vale's plant at Goro. Protesters have torched vehicles, equipment and buildings, as well as blocking roads to the capital.

Previous article on MAC: Vale's New Caledonia nickel plant suspended after another spill

 

Protests escalate at Vale's nickel mine in New Caledonia

Cecile Lefort & Melanie Burton

Reuters

27 May 2014

SYDNEY - Rioters torched vehicles, equipment and buildings at Vale's nickel mine in the French Pacific territory of New Caledonia over the weekend, as anger boiled over about a chemical spill in a local river.

The $6 billion Vale plant at Goro in southern New Caledonia was closed earlier this month after some 100,000 litres of acid-tainted effluent leaked, killing about 1,000 fish and sparking renewed protests at the mine site.

The Vale plant has a production target of 60,000 tonnes of nickel at full capacity, compared with global supply of around 2 million tonnes. But it has been beset by problems in recent years, including several chemical spills and violent protests.

Tensions between the local population and Vale escalated over the weekend with young protesters frustrated at the latest spill by the Brazilian-based giant and a lack of response from indigenous Kanak chiefs, according to local media. Television footage showed images of burnt mining vehicles and equipment.

"There was damage at the site, but no damage to the plant. We had burned vehicles, one administration building was damaged, but no damage to the plant itself," Vale spokesman Cory McPhee told Reuters.

Peter Poppinga, an executive director at Vale, told Les Nouvelles Caledoniennes newspaper that damage to the mining site was estimated at at least $20 million to $30 million, including the destruction of perhaps one third of the truck fleet.

"If there is no activity for several months, we will shut the plant, but that's not the case. The closing of the plant is not on the table," Poppinga was quoted as saying.

The scale of the damage could not immediately be independently verified.

Nickel mining is a key industry in New Caledonia, which holds as much as a quarter of the world's known reserves. Vale's plant is the second-largest employer in the southern province, with some 3,500 employees and contractors, including a large number of Filipino workers.

Plant Halted

New Caledonia's southern provincial government ordered an immediate halt to operations after the spill earlier this month and started legal proceedings under its environmental code.

The local government, which changed leadership last week, said it would not lift the production suspension until safety procedures were revised, an oversight committee was reinstated and an independent expert's report was completed.

"We got to this point because, clearly, part of the local youth, particularly from the southern tribes, reject the perspective of maintaining the plant in activity, even with the reinforcement of safety procedures," Philippe Michel, the newly elected president of New Caledonia's Southern Province, told local television on Monday.

Global nickel prices hit a 27-month high earlier this month and are up by about 40 percent this year, driven by a decision by Indonesia to halt exports of raw nickel ores and news of the Goro closure. Indonesia's ban left nickel buyers in China and Japan scrambling to secure supplies amid a fear of shortages.

"Vale's got lots of issues in the country," said Tom Price, a mining analyst at UBS in Sydney. "Nickel has recovered back to the marginal cost of production. It's inviting for them to continue to invest, but it's been a world of pain for them for quite a few years."

Given market expectations of Goro production of just 15,000-20,000 tonnes this year, any impact on nickel prices from the closure would be sentiment driven, Price added. LME nickel prices rose 0.7 percent to $19,745 a tonne on Tuesday.

The Goro mine produced 4,100 tonnes of nickel in the first quarter, up 41 percent on a year ago. Vale is the world's second-biggest nickel producer, but Goro made up just 6 percent of its nickel output in the first quarter.

The mine employs high pressure technology and acids to leach nickel from abundant tropical laterite ores.

"There is an inherent risk in Goro's type of operation," said Gavin Mudd, a professor of environmental engineering at Monash University in Melbourne. (Additional reporting by James Regan; Editing by Lincoln Feast and Richard Pullin)


Policemen shot, wounded near New Caledonia nickel mine

Cecile Lefort

Reuters

28 May 2014

SYDNEY - Two French police on the Pacific island of New Caledonia were shot and wounded on Wednesday by young Melanasians, angered by mining giant Vale's chemical spill in a river.

The two gendarmes suffered slight injuries after being hit by shotgun pellets fired by protesters blocking a highway near the Vale's $6 billion nickel mine, a spokeswoman for the nearby city of Mont Dore told Reuters.

Police had since restored order and were maintaining a large security presence in the area, she said.

Southern New Caledonia has been the centre of violence since Saturday when rioters torched vehicles and buildings near the controversial mine, causing more than $20 million worth of damage, according to Vale's estimates.

Protesters have been frustrated by the lack of response from indigenous Kanak chiefs to the chemical spill.

Vale representatives and local authorities were due to hold a meeting late Wednesday with the chiefs to discuss the situation, she said.

The local government suspended operations at the nickel processing plant in Goro three weeks ago after some 100,000 litres of acid-tainted effluent leaked, killing about 1,000 fish.

An independent report on the acid spill which was expected to be submitted to the southern province on Wednesday had prompted speculation the Vale plant could re-open soon.

"We are expecting a decision by the southern province as early as today to partially allow the re-opening of the site," said Catherine Wehbé, director of New Caledonia business organisation Medef.

The southern provincial government and Vale declined to comment on the timing of any production restart.

The local government had previously said it would not allow a resumption of production until safety procedures were revised, an oversight committee was reinstated and an independent expert's report was completed.

"The conversations with the government and community stakeholders continue," said Vale spokesman Cory McPhee.

"There has been no declaration of force majeure at this time," he added.

The Goro mine produced 4,100 tonnes of nickel in the first quarter, up 41 percent on a year ago. Vale is the world's second-biggest nickel producer, but Goro made up just 6 percent of its nickel output in the first quarter.

Global nickel prices hit a 27-month high earlier this month and are up by about 40 percent this year, driven by a decision by Indonesia to halt exports of raw nickel ores and news of the Goro closure.

(Additional reporting by Melanie Burton; Editing by Lincoln Feast and Simon Cameron-Moore)


Vale's New Caledonia nickel plant under siege, up to $30m in damage

Cecilia Jamasmie

Mining.com

27 May 2014

Dozens of rioters have caused tens of millions of dollars in damage to vehicles, equipment and buildings at Brazil's Vale nickel plant in New Caledonia, as anger boiled over at a chemical spill into a local river.

Earlier this month the country's government ordered Vale to shut down its US$6 billion nickel facility at Goro, in southern New Caledonia after an estimated 100,000 litres of acid-tainted effluent ended up in a creek, killing thousands of fish.

Vale's plant has a production target of 60,000 tonnes of nickel at full capacity, compared with global supply of around 2 million tonnes. But it has been beset by problems in recent years, including several chemical spills and violent protests.

Peter Poppinga, an executive director at Vale, told Les Nouvelles Caledoniennes newspaper that damage to the mining site was estimated to be between $20 million to $30 million, including the destruction of almost a third of the truck fleet.

"If there is no activity for several months, we will shut the plant, but that's not the case. The closing of the plant is not on the table," Poppinga was quoted as saying.
Vale's New Caledonia nickel plant under siege, up to $30m in damage

Nickel mining is a key industry in New Caledonia, which holds as much as a quarter of the world's known reserves. Vale's plant is the second-largest employer in the southern province, with some 3,500 employees and contractors.

Prices spiked on the news, which hinted the plant will have to remain closed longer than expected. Three-month nickel on the London Metal Exchange gained 0.7% to $19,735 a tonne by 0623 ET.


New Caledonia nickel plant to resume any time from tomorrow - MEDEF

Radio New Zealand

27 May 2014

The New Caledonia business organisation MEDEF says the Vale nickel processing plant, which has been closed for almost three weeks, will resume operations any time from tomorrow.

The Goro plant was temporarily shut down after 100,000 litres of effluent, containing some acid, ended up in a creek.

MEDEF's chief executive, Catherine Weahde, says Vale is waiting for authorisation from the government of the Southern Province for it to re-open, which should happen tomorrow.

She says some employees have been sent into the plant to set it up for re-start this week.

"The police has secured to permit the employees of Vale and also some subcontractors to go in the site, and they will secure all that needs to be secured and that they will start again progressively to have an activity."

Catherine Weahde says if the plant were to close permanently, there would be huge economic and social implications for the region.


Policeman shot in New Caledonia unrest

Radio New Zealand

26 May 2014

The French authorities say a police officer has been injured near Noumea in New Caledonia when young people used firearms against a group of about 80 police trying to remove roadblocks.

The blockades were set up with burning tyres on Saturday and prevented hundreds of people from travelling between Noumea and Mont Dore.

They were put up for the night in emergency accommodation provided by the council.

Police re-opened the access road yesterday, but it's not known if police made any arrests of those involved in the shooting.

The incident at St Louis was triggered after Kanak chiefs in the southern province had called a meeting to discuss whether to call for the permanent shut-down of the Brazilain-owned six-billion US dollar Vale nickel plant at Goro because of yet another acid spill.

While the chiefs deferred a decision on the nickel plant, people in favour of the site's closure decided to close the main road in protest.

The Vale plant has been closed for more than two weeks.

It is not clear if staff will be paid after today.


Concerns over spills at New Caledonia nickel processing plant

Radio New Zealand

22 May 2014

Questions remain over why spills keep occurring at the Vale nickel processing plant in New Caledonia.

Transcript (listen at http://www.radionz.co.nz/international/programmes/datelinepacific/audio/2596904/concerns-over-spills-at-new-caledonia-nickel-processing-plant)

A nickel expert says questions need to be asked about Vale's risk management procedures, workers' behaviour and the design of its processing plant in New Caledonia to find out why spills keep happening there.

Operations have been suspended at the Goro plant for more than two weeks after 100,000 litres of effluent, containing some acid, ended up in a creek.

Environmentalists and the indigenous population are calling for the plant, which is next to a World Heritage Site and has had five spills in five years, to be shut permanently.

Gavin Mudd, from the School of Environmental Engineering at Monash University, says the scale of the plant has always raised concern.

Dr Mudd told Mary Baines it's up to Vale to find out what's going wrong, and fix it.

GAVIN MUDD: There's always potential for accidents when you're managing large volumes of chemicals. And especially at a plant like Goro, which also has other aspects to it, in terms of high pressure and temperature. There's a lot of wear and tear on equipment, sometimes when you're dealing with such aggressive processing. Therefore the material selection has to be extremely particular, and generally the engineering is done like that. So in some ways the issue becomes is either something failing in process design and their process construction and their overall workers' behaviour - all of these things have to be looked at. I haven't compared the accident rate at Goro to many others, but certainly across the Australian mining industry there's been certainly some very bad accidents over the years as well.

MARY BAINES: What is the significance of the Goro nickel processing plant in a global context?

GM: The Goro nickel resources are certainly amongst some of the largest in the world, certainly good grade in terms of nickel and cobalt, so in that sense it makes it quite valuable as a resource. The problem of course is what we call nickel laterite type deposits, which means it's sort of a weathered oxide type mineral deposit, which is extremely difficult to process, and requires a lot of effort to actually process and get the nickel and cobalt out into sort of metal form or some other form that can actually be used later on in the refining, and then used as nickel and cobalt. Which is why the process that's been built at Goro, in terms of the large processing plant there, is actually quite large and very complex, because that's the amount of effort to get the nickel out.

MB: So what would be the implications of this processing plant in New Caledonia being permanently shut down, as some people are calling for?

GM: Well, nickel plants open and shut all the time around the world, that's not necessarily anything unusual. And certainly there's other nickel laterite plants, so if that did happen at Goro there may be a small term sort of risk of something for the nickel price or nickel supply, but I think the nickel market can adjust very quickly. Primarily I guess the real issues around Goro have been environmental in nature and social in nature, so that scale of activity of the project has always raised a lot of concern.

MB: It's the fifth spill in as many years to have occurred at the plant. Do you have any ideas why this keeps happening?

GM: No, not exactly, I haven't reviewed their internal systems, whether it is risk management or chemical safety assessment or other things, but certainly if you look at many industries, chemical risks and making sure that you store things safely, you transfer things safely, a lot of these are fairly standard day-to-day processes. So, in some ways it is a legitimate question to say well why do they seem to be having some big accidents that are very, very significant, whether it is a spill of sulphuric acid or other things. It's an open question and it's certainly up to Goro at the moment to work out what's going wrong and fix it, and fix it well.

Vale has declined numerous requests for an interview.

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