Monthly Archives: March 2017

‘Hard to believe’ Barrick didn’t order police operation at PNG gold mine

Porgera mine. Photo: wikicommons / Richard Farbellini

Radio New Zealand | 30 March 2017

A mining watchdog says it’s hard to believe a Canadian mining company didn’t order a police operation near the Porgera Gold Mine in Papua New Guinea last weekend.

A human rights group, the Akali Tange Association said Barrick Gold ordered the raid in which a disputed number of homes were destroyed.

It said it had received reports of policing raping and assaulting villagers.

But Barrick Gold denies involvement and said the raid was conducted under a court warrant after evidence of illegal activity was found.

MiningWatch Canada spokesperson Catherine Coumans said those denials were hard to accept.

“The contrary would be that these police are just going off and doing this on their own, although they are actually there under a memorandum of agreement with the company. They are being paid by the company. They’re guarding the mine. So if the company’s not involved and is not ordering this then there is a real problem there because then the company is allowing this to happen.”

Catherine Coumans says the raid’s victims need humanitarian assistance.

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El Salvador, Prizing Water Over Gold, Bans All Metal Mining

Gene Palumbo and Elisabeth Malkin | New York Times | March 29, 2017

Lawmakers in El Salvador voted overwhelmingly on Wednesday to prohibit all mining for gold and other metals, making the country the first in the world to impose a nationwide ban on metal mining, environmental activists said.

Declaring that El Salvador’s fragile environment could not sustain metal mining operations, legislators across the political spectrum approved the ban, which had broad support, particularly from the influential Roman Catholic Church.

Supporters said the law was needed to protect the country’s dwindling supply of clean water.

“Today in El Salvador, water won out over gold,” Johnny Wright Sol, a legislator from the center-right Arena party, wrote on Twitter.

The vote in the Legislative Assembly turned a decade-old moratorium on mining into law, halting efforts by international companies to tap the gold belt running across the northern provinces of El Salvador.

“It’s a wonderful moment for the first country to evaluate the costs and benefits of metallic mining and say no,” said Andrés McKinley, a mining and water specialist at Central American University in San Salvador.

The law does not apply to quarrying or the mining of coal, salt and other nonmetallic substances.

Other countries are unlikely to follow El Salvador’s national ban, mining watchdog groups say. But the law sets a powerful example to communities that oppose large mining projects and bolsters the case against mining in environmentally delicate areas.

“Globally there is a growing questioning of mining as an economic development engine,” said Keith Slack, the global program director for extractive industries at Oxfam America in Washington. “I think it definitely strengthens the voice of communities that are raising the questions.”

Around the world, scattered bans on the use of cyanide to extract gold from low-grade ore, commonly used in open-pit mining, are in place, including in Montana, according to Jamie Kneen, a spokesman for Mining Watch Canada. Costa Rica has a national ban on open-pit gold mining.

Germany, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Turkey and several Argentine provinces have cyanide bans. In the Philippines, the government ordered more than half the mines to shut down or be suspended.

The risks of mining in El Salvador, however, are especially acute. The tiny country is densely populated and the second-most environmentally degraded country in the Americas, after Haiti, according to the United Nations.

“Mining is an industry whose primary and first victim is water,” said Mr. McKinley, who added that El Salvador faced a significant scarcity. “We are talking about an issue that is a life-or-death issue for the country.”

Mr. Wright, the legislator who worked to persuade his business-friendly party to support the law, said that climate change was already having an impact on El Salvador. “More than a theory or an uncertain science that it might have been 10 years ago, today for Salvadorans, it is a reality,” he said.

Unlike mining in neighboring Central American countries, mining in El Salvador has been limited to small-scale operations. The civil war of the 1980s deterred efforts to develop large-scale mines. International mining companies did not begin exploring until the 2000s.

Opposition to one of those companies eventually grew into a social movement against mining. The company, Pac Rim Cayman, sought a license to open a mine in the impoverished northern province of Cabañas but was rejected in 2005 because it had not met all the legal requirements.

As opposition mounted, clashes around the proposed mine led to the deaths of several anti-mining activists.

The de facto moratorium on permits that began under a government led by the Arena Party continued under the two successive governments led by the left-wing Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front.

Last October, El Salvador won an international dispute that had been filed by Pac Rim and continued by the Canadian-Australian company, OceanaGold, that acquired it. An international arbitration panel rejected OceanaGold’s claims for compensation.

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Call for people to be relocated after PNG’s Porgera mine raid

Photo: Supplied/ McDiyan Robert Yapari

Radio New Zealand | 30 March, 2017

A human rights group in Papua New Guinea is calling for 10,000 people near the Porgera mine to be relocated following a police operation last weekend.

The Akali Tange Association says 50 houses were burnt down in the police raid in a village where 100 houses have been destroyed previously.

The Association Chairman Langan Muri said three girls had reported being raped during the raid and more people were coming forward with complaints.

He said they believed the mine co-owners, Barrick Gold commanded the operation by police, who were employed by the company.

He called for Barrick and the government to take urgent action.

The aftermath of the Porgera fire. Photo: Supplied/ McDiyan Robert Yapari

“They should relocate the entire village. Let the mining activities go ahead. People and pets, children playing around the mine site and the company seems to be saying illegally trespassing and police every now and then, shooting people, raping people, burning down houses.”

Barrick Gold denied involvement in the police operation and said only 18 structures were removed.

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El Salvador Takes Historic Step to National Ban on Mining

Protest against mining in El Salvador.

There is a widespread movement, including politicians and the church to keep El Salvador’s metals in the ground. Photograph: Claire Provost for The Guardian

Country’s legislature passes law in order to protect human rights and water sources

Global Mining Campaign | March 29, 2017

Oxfam hailed today’s passing of a law banning metallic mining by the Salvadoran government. The law comes after years of violence and social tensions around mining in the country and strong opposition to mining from local communities, civil society organizations, the Catholic Church and more than 77% of the country’s population, according to a recent poll.

“This is an historic day for El Salvador and our right to decide our future,” said Oxfam’s El Salvador Country Director Ivan Morales. “The voice of the people has been heard. Mining is not an appropriate way to reduce poverty and inequality in this country. It would only exacerbate the social conflict and level of water contamination we already have.”

El Salvador is Central America’s smallest and most densely populated country. Ninety percent of its surface water is polluted, according to the country’s Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources. For these reasons local activists called on the government to ban mining as it can further intensify water and land pollution.

In October 2016, the government won a favorable ruling after seven years of litigation over a claim against it by Australian mining company OceanaGold, which sought over $300 million for the government’s refusal to approve the company’s mining permit because it failed to meet all requirements. That ruling validated the government’s decision to withhold a mining permit and paved the way for today’s action by the Salvadoran congress, so that El Salvador never again has to face such lawsuits for exercising its right to protect its population from adverse impacts of mining.

Tensions around the development of mining in the country have resulted in threats, violence and even murder, with three anti-mining activists killed in recent years. Oxfam has supported Salvadoran civil society organizations and has worked to raise awareness of the OceanaGold case with members of the US Congress, who have expressed concerns about mining’s potential impacts in the country.

“This is an important precedent for communities around the world that are impacted by mining,” said Keith Slack, Oxfam’s Extractive Industries Global Program Director. “Governments and the mining industry need to recognize that mining is not inevitable and that the costs and benefits need to be weighed carefully.”

Oxfam is calling on mining companies operating in El Salvador, including OceanaGold, to withdraw from the country, and avoid any action that might incite violence. 

“It’s important now that companies accept this decision and act responsibly,” said Vicki Gass, Oxfam’s Senior Policy Advisor for Central America.  “International donors, in particular the US, should deepen their support for El Salvador’s efforts to develop sustainable economic alternatives to mining.”

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Did Papua New Guinea Police Commit Atrocities for Gold Company?

Telesur | 28 March 2017

This wouldn’t be the first time that Canada’s Barrick Gold has attempted to dodge responsibility while minimizing reports of home burnings and rape.

Human rights advocates in Papua New Guinea raised alarm following shocking accusations of violence leveled at police by villagers residing near the Porgera Joint Venture Gold Mine owned by Barrick Gold, the world’s largest gold mining company. The police stand accused of taking part in a pre-dawn operation Saturday where villagers said 150 houses were torched.

The Akali Tange Association claimed that the police mobile unit rampaged through the Wangima village in an early-morning attempt to forcefully evict residents. Eyewitnesses claim that no warning was given, nor were any eviction notices presented prior to the onslaught. Eight young school-aged girls were allegedly gang-raped during the raid, yet their whereabouts are presently unknown. Six men also faced harsh beatings during the raid.

Representatives of Barrick claim that the mine had “been advised that the police operation targeted illegal activities and was conducted under warrants issued by the Porgera District Court,” yet that they had received no prior warning of the police operation.

However, activists have expressed skepticism that the mining firm had no knowledge of the police raid, especially given the relatively frequent nature of house burnings in Wangima — which lies within Barrick’s mine lease area. Additionally, MiningWatch Canada noted in a statement that “police who guard the mine are housed, fed, clothed and paid by the mine which is 95 percent owned by Barrick (Niugini) Ltd., in turn, 50 percent owned by Barrick Gold.”

McDiyan Robert Yapari, the leader of Akali Tange Association, claimed that a local police officer revealed to him that the raid came under orders from Barrick. Yapari said the officer said, “The Company gave us orders and that we had no choice but to follow their directives. We are here working for money and if we don’t follow orders, we will not be paid our daily allowances.”

The weekend incident is far from the first time the Canadian mining firm stands accused of committing horrendous abuses against the people of the region. In 2009 and 2014, similar incidents were condemned by Amnesty International and the Coalition on Housing Rights and Evictions.

In 2013, protestbarrick.net editor Sakura Saunders underscored the systemic nature of police abuse in Papua New Guinea in a report on abuses connected to the gold mining company, “This is the true tragedy with Porgera. Here, abuses can’t be confined to a few isolated incidents, but a structure of impunity that terrorizes residents who resist it. Here, the crisis does not exist only in moments, but is tied to an environment that is over run with waste, toxic dust, landslides and tailings, creating hazards that take lives on a regular basis.”

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GREAT! Policy concerns see PNG slip in annual mining attractiveness survey

Papua New Guinea is being seen less as easy prey for foreign mining corporations

Energy Publications

CONCERNS over potential legislative changes affecting the resources sector has seen Papua New Guinea’s ranking slide in the latest Fraser Institute Annual Survey of Mining Companies.

Released in late February, the Fraser Institute Annual Survey of Mining Companies 2016 found that PNG fell from 12th to 23rd in the “Best Practices Minerals Potential” section.

This section considers both geological potential (where PNG is world class) along with the mining jurisdiction and this is section of the survey where the country historically gets its strongest ratings.

However, a number of exploration company presidents noted the potential introduction of a new Mining Act and changing policies and government decisions and unpredictability as major concerns when considering investment in PNG.

In the main Investment Attractiveness Index, PNG ranked 59th out of 104 countries surveyed, down from 43rd of 109 countries in 2015.

In the Policy Perception Index PNG ranked 83rd out of 104 countries surveyed, down from 77th out of 109 countries surveyed in 2015.

The Fraser Institute Annual Survey of Mining Companies was sent to approximately 2,700 exploration, development, and other mining-related companies around the world. The survey was conducted from August 30th to November 18th, 2016. The companies that participated in the survey reported exploration spending of US$2.7 billion in 2016 and US$3.2 billion in 2015.

The top

The top jurisdiction in the world for investment based on the Investment Attractiveness Index is Saskatchewan, which moved up to first from second place in 2015. Manitoba moved up to second place this year after ranking 19th the previous year. Western Australia dropped to third, after Saskatchewan displaced it as the most attractive jurisdiction in the world. Rounding out the top ten are Nevada, Finland, Quebec, Arizona, Sweden, the Republic of Ireland, and Queensland.

The bottom

When considering both policy and mineral potential in the Investment Attractiveness Index, the Argentinian province of Jujuy ranks as the least attractive jurisdiction in the world for investment.

This year, Jujuy replaced another Argentinian province—La Rioja—as the least attractive jurisdiction in the world. Also in the bottom 10 (beginning with the worst) are Neuquen, Venezuela, Chubut, Afghanistan, La Rioja, Mendoza, India, Zimbabwe, and Mozambique.

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The Dark Legacy of China’s Drive for Global Resources

Timber being trucked through the northern Laos province of Louang Namtha on its way to the Chinese border. HOANG DINH NAM/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

As China pursues a startling array of energy, mining, logging, agricultural, and infrastructure projects on virtually every continent, it is having an unprecedented environmental impact on the planet.

William Laurence | Yale Environment 360 | March 28, 2017

For the past 35 years, I’ve worked as an ecologist in the Amazon, Africa, and the Asia-Pacific region on an array of environmental issues, mostly revolving around tropical forests, biodiversity, and the drivers of land use and climate change. I’ve seen many things — some good, some amazing, some heart-rending. But I’ve never seen a nation have such an overwhelming impact on the earth as China does now. 

Across the globe, on nearly every continent, China is involved in a dizzying variety of resource extraction, energy, agricultural, and infrastructure projects — roads, railroads, hydropower dams, mines — that are wreaking unprecedented damage to ecosystems and biodiversity. This onslaught will likely be made easier by the Trump administration’s anti-environmental tack and growing disengagement internationally. 

To be fair, China is also engaged in green activities, such as investing heavily in solar and wind energy, cracking down on its notorious air pollution, and replanting millions of acres of its denuded lands. And it’s in the process of banning the domestic sale of ivory, which should slow the epic slaughter of Africa and Asia’s elephants. But China’s burnishing of its green credentials is in many ways being overwhelmed by the sheer scale of environmental degradation that its policies and corporations are causing worldwide.

The country’s international resource push began in earnest in 1999, when China’s “Going Global Strategy” liberalized investment policies and provided financial incentives to encourage overseas investments and contracts. Bulging with foreign reserves and with Chairman Deng Xiaoping’s official blessing that “to become rich is glorious,” China’s international investments — and their impact on the natural world — exploded.  

China’s most profound environmental impacts revolve around its drive to acquire minerals, fossil fuels, agricultural commodities, and timber from other nations. This often involves deals to build large-scale roads, railways, and other infrastructure to move natural resources from interior areas to coastal ports for export. The rapid pace of such activities continues despite a recent slowdown in the Chinese economy, with major projects now being planned in the developing world.

From 2004 to 2014, the China Export-Import Bank played a leading role in funding $10 billion in East African railway projects, many of which were constructed by Chinese corporations. The Chinese are now helping fund and build major rail networks in Kenya and Uganda, one leg of which is planned to pass through Nairobi National Park.

Even in the remote interior of the Congo Basin, Chinese companies are heavily involved in road-construction, mining, and logging projects, as I recently observed in Cameroon and the Republic of Congo. China also is proposing a 3,000-mile railway that would slice completely across South America, cutting through remote forests and savannas to transport soy, timber, and other goods to the Pacific coast, where they can be shipped to China. The $60 billion price tag has given Peru pause, but the project is still under discussion.

It is difficult to find a corner of the developing world where China is not having a significant environmental impact.

China is the world’s biggest financer and builder of hydroelectric dams, many of which are being constructed in biologically diverse regions where the dams and their associated roads and power lines will open up new lands for exploitation. China is involved in the planning, financing, or construction of major dams in Africa, including the massive Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, now nearing completion. A consortium of Chinese companies is bidding to help construct the Grand Inga dam project on the Congo River, a series of dams that could become the largest hydroelectric project in the world. Although construction could begin later this year, the Democratic Republic of Congo has so far done no environmental impact studies.

The scale of China’s international ambitions is stunning, as evidenced by the country’s “Belt and Road” and “21st Century Maritime Silk Road” schemes. These two initiatives would involve the creation of a massive network of transportation and other infrastructure projects designed to accelerate development and advance China’s economic and political interests. They will stretch across Asia to Europe and Africa, providing access to 64 percent of the world’s population and 30 percent of its gross domestic product.

Developing nations clearly need better infrastructure, and Chinese investments are yielding sizeable benefits in some countries, such as the recently opened passenger line between the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa and the port of Djibouti on the Gulf of Aden. Unfortunately, Chinese companies and investors rarely advance the type of equitable economic and social development, improved governance, and environmental sustainability that would promote stable, long-term growth in developing economies. An in-depth report by the Global Canopy Program, a UK scientific group, concluded that Chinese companies and financial organizations are among the worst enterprises in the world in terms of driving tropical deforestation.

China has long been a black hole for the illegal wildlife trade, the biggest global consumer of everything from pangolins, to tiger parts, to shark fins and rhino horn. The promised ban on public trading of ivory in China is a good sign, but it’s only one facet of a thriving illegal wildlife trade that drives intense levels of poaching internationally. And China is a heavy consumer of illegal timber, despite belatedly taking steps to staunch the flow into its markets. In western Africa, rosewood forests are being illegally denuded, almost exclusively to feed high demand in China. The impacts are even heavier across the Asia-Pacific region, where native forests from Siberia to the Solomon Islands are being overexploited to feed Chinese timber markets.

More generally, there is little demand in China for eco-certified palm oil, timber, beef, seafood, and agricultural products, weakening global efforts to manage these resources more sustainably. And although China is one of the world’s biggest importers of palm oil — a major driver of tropical deforestation — the Chinese government charges import tariffs on environmentally certified palm oil, further undercutting domestic demand for its use.

Of course, China is not alone in promoting its own economic interests over those of other countries and their environmental health. This is a story that goes back to the colonial era and beyond, when European nations ruthlessly exploited resources and local populations from Africa, to South America, to India. More recently, Western corporations — such as Shell Oil in Nigeria, Union Carbide in India, and Texaco in Ecuador — have caused numerous environmental crises.

The difference with China is one of scale. With nearly one-fifth of the world’s population (1.35 billion people), a highly competitive business culture, little tolerance of criticism, and a stunning capacity to make decisive shifts in course, China is unmatched as a global force. No nation has ever changed the planet so rapidly, on such a large scale, and with such single-minded determination. It is difficult to find a corner of the developing world where China is not having a significant environmental impact. 

The factors that might restrain a U.S. or European country in foreign resource-development projects — intense press criticism, or laws governing foreign business practices — are largely lacking in today’s China. For example, while U.S. companies are bound by the anti-bribery laws in the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, there is no comparable legislation governing the conduct of Chinese business people and corporations. Europeans in Africa frequently complain about the scale of Chinese graft. “They go straight to the top officials and bribe them lavishly, and then nobody can stop them,” a Dutch forester in the Republic of Congo told me. “We used to offer small ‘gifts’ to many people, but now the money is all concentrated at the top and corruption is out of control.”

The Tekeze Dam in northern Ethiopia while under construction. The project, funded and constructed largely by Chinese companies, began operating in 2009.  INTERNATIONAL RIVERS/FLICKR

According to a major World Bank analysis of nearly 3,000 projects, Chinese foreign investors and companies often predominate in poorer nations with weak environmental regulations and controls, causing those nations to become “pollution havens” for Chinese enterprises.

The magnitude of China’s international resource exploitation is only likely to increase. The Beijing-based Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) is heavily capitalized and is moving rapidly to fund overseas projects with “streamlined” environmental and social safeguards. Alarmingly, last year the World Bank announced that it was softening its own environmental and social safeguards, in a move that was widely seen as an effort to remain competitive with the AIIB. As I argued recently, the AIIB and other Chinese development banks could force a “race to the bottom” among multilateral lenders — with potentially grave consequences for the global environment.  

Over the last decade Chinese government ministries have released a series of “green papers” outlining lofty environmental and social guidelines for China’s overseas ventures and corporations. The Chinese government readily admits that compliance with its guidelines is poor, but accepts no blame for this. Instead, it insists that it has little control over its corporations and blames the host nations themselves for not controlling Chinese corporations more carefully.

The truth is that while China’s private firms enjoy significant autonomy from the Central Communist Party, China is among the most centrally controlled societies in the world. If China really wanted to reign in its freewheeling corporations, it could easily do so by making some strong official statements and visibly punishing a few extravagant sinners. It hasn’t done this for one simple reason: Despite their often-egregious environmental activities, China’s corporations operating overseas are enormously profitable. 

Domestically, China’s environmental impact is also profound. In terms of climate change, for instance, in recent years China has blown past the United State as the world’s biggest carbon polluter — and now produces twice the greenhouse gas emissions of the U.S., as well as larger amounts of dangerous air pollutants such as sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides. Yes, China is investing in new wind and solar technologies, but it is plowing far more cash into big hydropower, coal, and nuclear energy projects.

In addition to its monolithic Three Gorges Dam, the world’s biggest hydropower project, China is building or planning to build 20 mega-dams along its stretch of the Mekong River, which could have serious impacts on biodiversity, fisheries, and water users in downstream nations, such as Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam. 

If China really wanted to reign in its freewheeling corporations, it could easily do so.

Many have lauded China’s incredible tree-planting spree, which began in 1978 and has reforested roughly 100,000 square miles, mostly in western China. Yes, those trees are storing carbon, helping to stabilize soils and reduce sediment runoff into streams, and producing wood for China’s domestic sawmills. But nearly all of the planted trees are monocultures of exotic species such as eucalyptus and aspen, which have little value as habitat for native wildlife. Further, in southern China, large expanses of biologically rich rainforests have been cleared for exotic rubber plantations

China is paying increasing attention to its air, water, and soil pollution, which is among the worst in the world, especially in scores of cities such as Beijing, Shanghai, and Xingtai. But progress has been limited and large expanses of eastern and central China have become unhealthy places for people and biodiversity alike. China’s leaders and scientists acknowledge that its impressive biodiversity has suffered greatly.

As China’s environmental impact continues to grow domestically and internationally, the Trump administration — with its anti-environmental agenda and nationalist, inward-looking nature — has already pulled out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership. China and its overseas investment banks are leaping into the Pacific vacuum.

The Trump Administration seems barely cognizant of these pressing realities. And that leaves conservationists in a very tough bind. We never expected Trump to get elected, much less to support our views. But the weaknesses of the Trump administration could be leading to a broader U.S. decline that will hasten environmental degradation worldwide. 

For me, the worst-case scenario plays out something like this: Two years ago, I was discussing with a researcher from the Wildlife Conservation Society in Cambodia whether the society should advise a German development bank on how to build a paved road through the heart of the Seima Forest, a haven for rare wildlife. He hated to do it, but he didn’t see much choice. “If we don’t help the Germans,” the scientist said, “a Chinese corporation will just come in and blast the road through anyway — and that would be an ecological disaster.” 

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