Dr. Glen Barry | EcoInternet | JULY 4, 2016
The Chinese government’s massive open-pit mine in the rainy Papua New Guinea highlands, with its tons of toxic tailings full of sulphides and heavy metals, is to be poised above the Sepik River and its primary rainforests, intact local cultures, and the South Pacific Ocean. Apparently Papua New Guinea’s urban elites have learned little from decades of foreign industrial mining (and logging) causing conflict and despair, environmental damage, and social and economic decline.
“From a biological perspective I can hardly think of a worse place for a copper mine,” Professor Tim Flannery
“Dispela kain giaman divelopmen long ples mas pinis o bihaintaim bai had long ol papa graun karim kaiki long ples (This false development must end or it will be hard for local peoples to feed themselves in the future)” – Dr. Glen Barry, Mangi Madang
A proposed large-scale copper and gold mine in PNG will irreparably harm the relatively pristine Sepik and Frieda Rivers, and devastate the region’s primary rainforests and indigenous cultures. The Sepik is one of the largest wild river systems left in the Asia Pacific. The Frieda River runs for 100 kilometres from the mine site in the steep, forested highlands before it joins the Sepik which flows another 600 kilometres through a wetland-dotted plain before reaching PNG’s northern coast. Mammal faunas in that area are the richest in all of Australasia, with large tracts of contiguous primary rainforests, and the region is culturally rich as well.
PNG has a troubled history of extreme environmental and social damage from mining, with few economic benefits to locals who bear tremendous environmental and economic burdens thereafter. Both the Bougainville and Ok Tedi mines tremendously damaged whole river systems, as did the Freeport mine in Irian Jaya. The Bougainville mine led to a civil war that killed tens of thousands, and the mine developers Rio Tinto have now abandoned the mine without any restitution for environmental and war crimes. The Sepik region has been heavily logged for decades, with over $USD one billion in timber extracted, leaving local peoples in abject poverty no longer able to subsist. Industrial mining and logging by foreigners have totally failed to provide local benefits, with proceeds flowing to the urban elite, leaving ravaged industrial wastelands where primary rainforests and indigenous forest gardens once stood.
The scope of the mine continues to expand, threatening to be one of the largest copper and gold mines in the world. There are expected to be several billions of tonnes of waste rock generated in a seismically-active region with very high rainfall. Exposed mineral sulphides become unstable when exposed to air and water forming sulphuric acid, dissolving heavy metals which in high concentrations kill fish and devastate riparian and marine ecosystems.
China-owned PanAust has recently applied for a special mining lease for the large-scale, open pit mine. Frieda River Copper and Gold Project is controlled by an 80:20 joint venture between Chinese-owned company PanAust and Australian Stock Exchange-listed junior Highlands Pacific. PanAust is in turn owned by the Chinese State through Guandong Rising Asset Management – just like MCC and its faltering Ramu nickel mine in Madang, which is leaking profusely.
The company claims the mine will be of “world standard” when they haven’t yet revealed how they will manage the toxic tailings and have not submitted any environmental plan. Once the mine is operating, 4,000 tonne barges will travel up the Sepik River daily. Chinese development in PNG is continually sub-par and shoddy, virtually ensuring major toxic spills in an earthquake prone area containing large intact natural rainforests and a complex hydrology. The proposed Frieda/Sepik rivers mine will leave the special Sepik ecosystem an industrial wasteland. The mine poised above the Sepik must be stopped and never be built.