Dr Tracy Shimmield, and her employer, the Scottish Association for Marine Science (SAMS), entered the debate over the proposed sea dumping of waste from the Ramu nickel mine in Papua New Guinea with an aura of scientific independence and bona fides that seems to be slowly slipping away as observers ask whether they are in fact just another hired gun for the mining industry.
SAMS was originally contracted by the PNG government to conduct an independent evaluation of marine waste dumping of mine tailings in PNG. The study was paid for by the European Union, under its Mining Sector Support Program, and initially comprised evaluations of the impacts of both the Lihir and Misima mines. This brief was later extended to include a baseline survey of the proposed Ramu dumping site.
The SAMS report, which the the PNG government has never released, concluded that the marine dumping of mine waste “has major impacts on deep-sea sediments and their biological communities and the effects persist for at least three years after tailings discharge has ended. Where it is incorrectly designed or badly managed [the dumping] can also cause serious damage to coastal resources and, potentially, communities.”
Shimmield, who was the reports principal author, followed up these findings with an affidavit in which she said a minimum of 12 months of further oceanographic studies was needed bfore any decision could be made on whether the proposed Ramu mine dumping would be safe. This affidavit so disturbed lawyers for the government and Ramu mining company, MCC, that they dropped plans to call Shimmield as at a witness in a case to decide if the Ramu mine waste dumping would be illegal.
That legal case was subsequently postponed until February, but since then, with no further scientific studies completed, Shimmield and SAMS seems to have shifted their position. Now, they are reported as saying only 4 months of studies are required to decide if the dumping will be safe, and the Ramu mine should be allowed to commission its waste pipeline so the impacts can be monitored.
Shimmield and SAMS also raised eyebrows in December when they presented their report findings in a formal seminar for government representatives at which MCC was also present and allowed to present its opinions, while affected communities and their scientific experts where not invited.
What can have caused Shimmield, who is Associate Director of Business Development for SAMS, to change her position and to allow SAMS to be seen as granting privileges to one side of the debate?
Lets hope it is not the fact they have been given lucrative new government contracts to develop site specific dumping guidelines for the Lihir and Ramu mines and the contract to do oceanographic studies at Basamuk.