MAC/20: Mines and Communities

Papua New Guinea: Was it worth the effort?

Published by MAC on 2007-11-04

Papua New Guinea: Was it worth the effort?

4th November 2007

Papua New Guinea's leading daily, the Post Courier, has customarily been ambivalent about mining - if not directly adopting the government's uncritical pro-mining stance.

But an editorial last week strongly called into question the country's over-reliance on mining, invoking some of the principles of the fledging state set out by Michael Somare, thirty years ago, as he took over prime ministership.

Pointing out concerns

The Weekender, Post Courier

3-4 November 2007

THERE are always two sides to any given situation. Some people express it as, "there are two sides to a coin".

There is the good side and the bad side.

Papua New Guinea is enjoying huge revenues earned from the abundant mineral resources in the country. In fact more than half of the country's revenue is generated by the mineral resources.

We have the huge Ok Tedi copper and gold mine in Tabubil, Western Province, the giant Porgera gold mine, Lihir gold mine, the enormous oil and gas fields in the Southern Highlands Province, and the Ramu nickel mine and many other mining operations that are popping up in almost every part of the country.

While we enjoy the benefits of these resources on one hand, the other side is the enormous environmental damages.

The environmental damage caused by mining and petroleum companies in the areas where they operate are significant and need to be clearly investigated.

These damages have both short and long term effects and can put the lives of the local people at risk. In fact, it has already happened in one mine in the country. The local landowners of Ok Tedi mine are raising concerns about the environmental damage caused by the mine's waste.

The principal landowner for Ok Tedi mine, Biul Kirokim disturbed the builders of the K466 million waste tailing pipeline from Ok Tedi to Bige outside Kiunga just to show the Government and OTML how serious they were about the environmental damages and the damages done to the Ok Tedi and Fly River system.

Mr Kirokim said the environmental damages and the damages caused to the Ok Tedi and Fly River system where very serious.

He said the landowners should be made aware of the effects of how the damage would affect them and their children in the future.

"We did not disturb the waste pipeline project to claim some compensation payment but we are concerned of the vulnerability our lives are put in by these damages we are seeing around our environment," Mr Kirokim said.

He said the National Government and OTML should look into the damage and the lives of the people.

"We are calling on the Government and OTML to insure our lives as we don't know when these damages will directly affect our lives," Mr Kirokim said.

"Or they must find a solution to these problems to safeguard us."

Mr Kirokim said even though they had been compensated for the environmental damages,"we are now considering the risks that our lives are in".

Ok Tedi Mining Limited managing director Alan Breen confirmed that the environmental issues in Ok Tedi are serious.

Mr Breen said as mining proceeds deeper into Mt Fubilan, there would be more environmental damage.

As stated by OTML management in the ninth edition of the PNG Mining and Petroleum Investment for 2007, it is no secret that Ok Tedi poses a significant social problem for PNG. It earns money by the billions and seriously supports the national economy with record prices being enjoyed from both copper and gold.

However, the disposal system employed to carry away the mine's largest waste stream has caused bank flooding and forest dieback in the Ok Tedi-Fly River system, impacting on the livelihood of downstream populations. And forest dieback exceeds a thousand square kilometres.

In 2001, as a requirement under Ok Tedi's ninth Supplemental Agreement Act, the affected villages and OTML got together and signed the community mine continuation agreements to allow mining to continue.

But the environmental predictions on which the agreements were based have changed. sediment disposal, over bank flooding and now the worrying appearance of acid rock drainage which may have greater impact to the environment.

Ok Tedi conducted meetings with all the villages surrounding the mine and along the Ok Tedi /Fly River and informed them of the new environmental information.

The company proposed a further revise of the compensation payments and to change the delivery of projects and services.

The company also informed the National Government and then Mining Minister Sam Akoitai, Finance Minister Bart Philemon and Minister for National Planning Arthur Somare visited the project and saw for themselves the environmental challenges.

The ministers were quick to point out that the environmental damages were significant but they also maintained that the financial benefits to the nation and the landowners were also significant.

The Government together with the company came up with ways to deal with the environmental damages. One such development is the K466 million waste pipeline project which is currently under construction.

Many may argue that the environmental damages are the balance of the benefits from mineral resources.

But are we really going to sacrifice lives of people, animals, plants and other living things for the benefits?

Are we prepared to sacrifice our lives for the benefits?

Now that the global climate change issue is strong, we have to consider the future of our children and for that matter the future of the world we live in.

PNG enjoys abundant virgin forests and pure mountain streams and rivers. We should protect our natural blessings and preserve them for the generations to come so that they will see the same spectacular natural sights without any changes in them.

It's time we measure the value of the royalties and the damage caused to our environment and river systems.

Mr Kirokim is raising a point and it should be considered by both landowners and the National Government.


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