Hidden Valley mine pollution ‘could be worse than Ok Tedi’

The pollution of the Watut river is far worse than the Hidden Valley mine owners have admitted and the acidification of the river ‘could be worse than Ok Tedi’ according to environmental experts.

Die-back along the Watut river caused by acidification not sedimentation as claimed

Harmony Gold and Newcrest Mining, the owners of the Hidden Valley mine, have told landowners along the Watut river that problems of vegetation die-back have been caused by higher than expected sedimentation leaking into the river.

But this is not the real story.

What the miners are not telling the landowners is that the over-burden from the mine site which has spilled over from the waste dumps contains high levels of iron pyrites.

This iron pyrite contains sulphur and when the pyrite gets into the river it reacts with water to form an acidic sulfate – basically sulphuric acid.

It is this acidification of the river that has been causing the vegetation die-back and is also killing the fish and other aquatic animals.

Some landowners have also been reporting skin rashes and burns after washing or swimming in the river – classic signs of acidification.

Although Harmony and Newcrest have not admitted the acidification problem they have been quietly pouring large quantities of lime into the river to try and neutralize the acid.

In recent weeks Harmony and Newcrest have also been making small compensation payments to landowners for the loss of gardens from river flooding and at the same time requiring them to sign statutory declarations which could limit their rights to future compensation for the far greater problem of river acidification.

Local MP Sam Basil has been urging the landowners not to sign the declarations and has been taking legal advice on possible action against the mine owners.


Filed under Environmental impact, Human rights, Mine construction, Papua New Guinea

15 responses to “Hidden Valley mine pollution ‘could be worse than Ok Tedi’

  1. dexter bland

    This illustrates again that even with the best of intentions (and I believe Newcrest are generally a responsible mining company who will do their best to avoid environmental damge) it is very difficult in PNG to avoid accidents with land based tailings systems. It is the reason I think it would be a great shame if DSTP were taken away as an option for managing tailings. The facts are that there have been MANY accidents with land based systems, and NONE with DSTP. There is evidence of damage to people and communities with land based storage, and none with DSTP. DSTP is designed to transport sediments away from human settlements and fragile ecosystems, to the bottom of the vast ocean – the ultimate destination of all matter. Land based systems seek to contain them nearby, but they are inevitably drawn towards the ocean by gravity and the elements – only in a way that is far less controllable.

  2. j kross

    Well expressed comment Dexter. It is quite unfortunate that such clear reasoning is never even allowed its place in some quarters. My line of thought exactly.

    • j kross

      This is the danger the world is heading into. One-eyed environmentalism that locks up resources from being developed, because we might step on some worms as they’re in the middle of the food chain. The global warming movement, shutting off development in the third world. The UN locking up all natural resouces by progressively declaring millions of hectares of land for nature conservation. They’re getting dangerously militant as evidenced in the green blogs, spitting fury as never before on those holding opposite viewpoints, not even allowing scientific debate as they claim the science is settled as led by their high priest Al Gore. The high cost for so-called renewable energy driving people to poverty because mankind, they claim, is causing climate change when hardly any merit is given to planetary and solar fluctuations causing climate change over years/decades/centuries. Welcome to the age of madness, environmental tax to death enriching climate gurus and death to reason.

      • Fed up

        forget the rest of the world jkross. we are talking PNG here and our socio-economic peculiarities on the ground demand that one-eyed money chasing can not be allowed in our country.

        we take more from our natural environments than what little we might get from those mining morons.

        we don’t know what your environmentalists are fighting for. but we know EXACTLY what we are fighting for. we don’t need to be rocket scientists to see what we stand to lose if our natural environment is taken away from us.

  3. Fed up

    Conversely, it simply goes to show how mining is such a destructive activity.

    Nature’s ability to handle land secretion is grossly compromised in both waste management schemes and the knock on effect is felt through the food chain right up to the top where man sits. This is perhaps OK in predominantly cash economies where people can source food from sources other than their immediate natural environments. But it is a problem for us here in PNG due to the dual nature of our economy with a greater bias towards the barter economy.

    So thread carefully when mining in PNG. All is not as rosy as it seems.

  4. watchman

    it also demonstrates the need to independently monitor and regulate all mining activity in png, dtsp included. allowing the miner to self monitor its own activities is unacceptable. the fact that this has been allowed to happen for so long is ridiculous. the project should be shutdown immediately until the full extent of the damage is determined and contained. what a complete mess.

  5. Marc Ronagi

    It also demonstrates no matter how much “Dexter” gets slammed on this site – and it’s often – he keeps coming back apologising for the companies – and we know why “Dex”. NO accidents on DSTP!!! Right “Dex” – none at all. What planet are you on? We know what country and we know who you are, but what planet?

  6. j kross

    DSTP’s damage to people and communities is below the minimum. Accidents can be managed as they happen with a high dilution and dissipation rate than on land. DSTP is the safer of any land-based tailings disposal option.

  7. Tree Frog

    Hidden Valley is no Ok Tedi mi tingim. The Ok Tedi is a tiny tributary of the Fly River and thats why its so sick. The mine there dumps 50 times more material per day in the Ok Tedi than the Hidden Valley mine produces in a year. And, at Hidden Valley all of the waste rock and tailings are now stored at the mine site. The initial source of material that entered the Watut was from construction, and that has now stopped. No one can disregard the material inputs fron the Snake and Bulolo rivers and every other landslide in the tributary catchments. Don’t you think this may have something to do with dieback on the floodplains. Dieback has occurred in the Watut over a geological timeframe i.e. longer than anyone can reasonably remember. Why is so much precious time wasted on this comparison nonsense. The real debate should be about maximising the benefits of development not some form of childish show and tell. Humans are the important species on this planet and they deserve quality of life opportunities. Life is like a big river where getting from point A to B requires negotiating many bends and twists. Wok hat na bihain gaden i luk gutpela tru.

    • watchman

      Tree Frog, firstly can you please spare us your attempt at tok pisin? Destroying the environment is one thing but destroying our beloved tok pisin is another. They do not need to share the same fate in the propagation of your cause.

      Secondly, nobody really cares about the distinctions between Ok Tedi and Watut. The fact is there is major environmental damage for which the current developer now feels obliged to compensate. Short of an express admission of guilt, what more evidence does one need to realise that the developer has done something seriously wrong. Besides this, if the die back has been there for so long why would the villagers choose to plant gardens there in the first place? Surely something must have happened recently to upset the soil’s composition.

      Thirdly, any discussion of mining benefits will necessarily involve a major discussion about the environment, at least in the context of PNG. Over 90% of our people are still located in the rural sector and are heavily reliant on the environment for daily subsistence. That trend is unlikely to change overnight so it is the responsibility of govt, NGO’s and developers to ensure that mining is introduced in stages which promote sustainable outcomes. That means protecting the environment so that those (ie. the majority) who cannot participate in the formal cash economy are not deprived of the only means they have to survive. At the end of the day we all want development but let’s be realistic and recognise that there are about 5 million pngeans who still look to the environment as a fallback. Any discussion of benefits needs to be viewed in that context.

    • dexter bland

      Thanks for the information Tree Frog.

      People need to recognize that mining companies also have an interest in providing long term benefits for communities, while minimizing environmental damage. These are long term investments that need many years (or decades) of stable operation to pay for themselves.

      In the case of Newcrest they have recently bought the Lihir mine for $10 billion, but they have also assumed any environmental obligations and liabilities. They didn’t make that purchase without doing their homework on DSTP. They have also been exploring the Wafi-Golpu deposit nearby to Hidden Valley, which is potentially many times larger and worth much more – if it goes ahead. They wouldn’t dream of sacrificing the opportunity to develop that to save a few dollars here. Newcrest have made a big commitment to PNG and they need to be here for the long term if they are to see any return on their investments. That’s probably why they feel the need to over-compensate for any claimed damage.

      PNG is developing a culture of spurious litigation and compensation claims. This applies not only to mining, but any development, even those funded by government, roads etc. It is difficult to determine who has genuine concerns and how many are just there for easy money, some of them even migrating from elsewhere so as to make a claim. Its a very risky country to invest in, but its in everyone’s interest to reduce those risks.

      • watchman

        True it is dexter that there are spurious claims being seen more often now. system rorting is common place in any society where regulation is weak and png is no exception. however, in watut the compensation offers being made are unsolicited. No one asked for them. the developer should keep its money if it has nothing to feel guilty about.

      • Fed up

        well said again watchman.

        i don’t understand the line “we are here for the long haul” garbage. ok tedi has been there long enough, porgera has been there long enough, lihir has been there long enough, panguna was there long enough. go to the immediate local communities near those open cut mines and see for yourselves the state of our people’s livelihoods there.

        the 90km road down to Kiunga from Tabubil is officially a track used by a legalised criminal in the ok tedi mine. I CRIED when i travelled that highway and saw how poor people there actually are. right under otml’s nose! where is the promise this mine made to these people all those years ago? where dexter bland, where?

        dexter bland must take his one-eyed stupid cash arguments and go to hell. s/he has ZERO understanding and appreciation of our unique socio-economic situation on the ground and will only lead us to our death in a mad rush for cash.

  8. Mangi Simbu

    Trupela tok yu mekim Tree Frog. Lets have the debate on the Watut focus on all stakeholders in the Bulolo District – government, community, and the private sector – working together for the betterment of the people.

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