MAC: Mines and Communities

PNG Ramu Nickel mine - Pipeline risk

Published by MAC on 2009-06-08
Source: The National (PNG) (2009-06-03)

THE Ramu nickel slurry pipeline's proximity to the Madang Highway poses a threat to the environment in the event of a vehicle accident or natural disaster, says a leading Papua New Guinean ecologist.

"There is a lot to answer for in terms of why approval was given for the pipeline to be constructed along the highway," Professor Simon Saulei, the Forest Research Institute's director, said.

Prof Saulei said he was concerned that the pipeline's features, the route and its construction
disregarded the climate, geology, environment and the populace of the area.

The 135km pipeline will ferry slurry from the Kurumbukari mine site, along the existing route to the Basamuk refinery, located 52km southeast of Madang on the Rai Coast.

The project is expected to shift from construction into operations next year.

When operations commence, 3.2 million tonnes of ore per annum will be treated to produce 31,000 tonnes of nickel and 3,200 tonnes of cobalt.

Prof Saulei said he was concerned that the pipeline would not be able to withstand the impact of an earthquake, flooding or landslips, or an impact by a motor vehicle, thus putting the environment and people at risk when the slurry was exposed.

After travelling along the highway recently, he said he was concerned to see that the pipeline:

* Did not have proper foundations;
* Was constructed just metres above waterways;
* Cut through villages; and
* Was too close to the highway.

"These observations raise a number of concerns because the environment is important and I am concerned because the area is prone to flooding, landslips and seismic activity," he said.
Prof Saulei said prior to approval, a detailed environment management plan should have been disclosed to the public for debate and constructive criticism.

Two national engineers, who requested anonymity, also expressed concern and condemned the Government's decision to allow the pipeline to hug the highway as it disregarded road safety standards.

One of the engineers said: "The highway is not the mine's service road, it is a public highway. As such, commuters will not be aware of the dangers and safety issues involving the pipeline.

"In civil construction, structures should not be erected close to the road, this is to allow motorists to pull over during an emergency and so forth, this is logic and should have been applied," the other said.

"The pipeline should have been routed well away from human habitation and well away from the road, it is surely a concern," the engineers said.

In 2000, the Ramu NiCo (MCC) Ltd was issued a special mining lease and in July 2007, the Mineral Resources Authority approved the amended project development.

The Department of Environment and Conservation (DEC) gave the green light in December 2007, by issuing the environmental permit, thus permitting full scale construction to commence last year.

Attempts to get comments and obtain a copy of the environmental impact assessment from MCC and DEC were unsuccessful.

The DEC did not respond to e-mail and telephone messages, while the MCC in an e-mail yesterday asked to be given "the formal documents before information is provided".

The e-mail flies in the face of its resolve "to communicating environmental management approaches and actions" as indicated in the 2006-08 sustainability report posted on the company's website.

The report, however, said MCC was committed to the environment and had invested more than K7 million in baseline surveys and had already conducted awareness workshops with more than 500 locals.



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