Category Archives: Environmental impact

Bougainville’s tinderbox threatens to reignite

Bougainville Revolutionary Army fighters look down on the Panguna mine in 1996

An independence referendum and unresolved issues over the rich Panguna copper mine threaten to tilt Papua New Guinea’s tumultuous autonomous island back to civil war

Alan Boyd | Asia Times | December 4, 2018

Foreign mining companies are jostling for exploration rights on the Papua New Guinea island of Bougainville ahead of a crucial independence vote next year that some fear could revive tensions that sparked a civil war that killed 20,000 in the 1980’s.

The island will need mining royalties to maintain a viable economy if the referendum backs independence, but unresolved issues over the Panguna copper mine are still a sensitive point with traditional landowners. Villagers shut the pit down in 1989, triggering the previous lethal conflict.

The referendum is the culmination of the Bougainville Peace Agreement, which formally ended the decade-long bloody civil war. It will take place as the US and Australia aim to work closely with Papua New Guinea to develop its Lombrum Naval Base to counterbalance China’s growing maritime influence in the region.

In January, the Autonomous Bougainville Government (ABG) said that an indefinite moratorium had been imposed on work at Panguna, which was the world’s biggest open-cut copper mine when it was being operated by Bougainville Copper Limited (BCL), a unit of Anglo-Australian mining giant Rio Tinto.

Rio exited in 2016, transferring its 53.8% shareholding to the ABG and the Papua New Guinea government, but there has been speculation the mine could reopen. Papua New Guinea’s government gave its shareholding to traditional landowners in the Panguna area.

“If we went ahead now, you could be causing a total explosion of the situation again,” ABG president John Momis said after the moratorium was declared.

“As far as the people are concerned and as the government, we cannot allow foreign companies to be causing division and using a very emotional situation [on] the ground to cause another war.”

In 1972, there were suggestions of colonialism and commercial exploitation over a decision to grant a mining license to Rio Tinto after minimal consultation with local villagers. Bougainville was then being ruled by Australia under a United Nations mandate that ended with Papua New Guinea’s achievement of independence in 1974.

The Panguna mine effectively underwrote that process: at one point copper from the mine was contributing 45% of Papua New Guinea’s annual export earnings and generating more than US$740 million from tax income and dividends.

But little of this money reached tribal groups; instead, they complained that trailings from the mine were killing their fish and poisoning farmland. In 1989, the Nasioi people broke into the site and shut the mine down.

Autonomous Bougainville Government President John Momis. Photo: Youtube

When Papua New Guinea sent riot police and troops to the island, villagers formed the Bougainville Revolutionary Army, a rag-tag separatist group that plunged the region into a decade-long civil war that left most of its infrastructure in ruins.

A fragile peace was achieved in the late 1990s under monitoring groups led by Australia and New Zealand, but the wounds remain raw. Several tribes maintain “no-go” areas to keep foreign firms out, and the remnants of the BRA, known as the Me’ekamui group, only disarmed this October.

Bougainville, which has closer ethnic links to the Solomon Islands than Papua New Guinea, was granted a limited form of autonomy under a formal 2001 peace treaty. The referendum, tentatively scheduled for June 15 next year, will decide whether the island should become completely independent.

However, it will not happen unless the ANG can find some way to bridge the gap between developers and traditional landowners who fear a repeat of the Panguna fallout.

Rio Tinto left behind an environmental mess of sludge and rusting equipment that some analysts estimate could cost US$1 billion to put right. The firm contends that it has already complied with regulatory requirements.

Momis knows that without mining, Bougainville will stay part of Papua New Guinea, as the island managed to cover only 14% of its total expenditure of US$50 million last year from domestic sources — mostly sales of farm products. It is expected to need a budget three times bigger if it votes for independence.

Resistance fighters from the Bougainville Revolutionary Army (BRA) in a file photo. Photo: AFP/Torsten Blackwood

Leaving the door ajar, Momis has said that the moratorium only covers mining at Panguna, which is inaccessible in any case because of a “no-go” order. A new mining law passed in 2014 clarified the regulatory situation and has attracted interest from firms in Australia, China, Canada and elsewhere.

But there is a catch: the law gave traditional landowners control over minerals on their land and the right to participate in any development decisions that might affect their interests. So the fate of Bougainville’s separatist movement now rests with those who started it in the 1980s.

Landowners that do deals with mining companies will have to face the wrath of neighboring tribes that could bear the consequences of mining. There are strong risks that tensions could boil over even before the referendum.

The wild card in this game of chance is Papua New Guinea, which is not obliged to allow Bougainville to break away even if there is a “yes” vote.

Indeed, it may prefer to keep a tight rein on its renegade region, especially if predictions of a vast untapped treasure of copper, gold and other minerals are realized.

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Porgera landowners sue PNG Govt for billions

A protest against Barrick Gold. Photo: Facebook/ Kelly Taila

Radio New Zealand | 4 December 2018 

A landowners group in Papua New Guinea’s highlands region is suing the national government for $US13.28 billion over a breach of contract.

The Justice Foundation for Porgera and other landowners whose land is inside the boundaries of the Porgera gold mine are behind the suit.

They claim that Barrick Nuigini, a subsidiary of Canadian mining giant Barrick Gold, has destroyed their environment and livelihoods, and has not kept to the commitments made in the contract signed in 1989.

The Foundation’s Jonathan Paraia said the amount of money they are seeking is justified.

“That is based on the contract for Porgera Mine signed between the state and Porgera landowners, but the state has got its own agreement with the Candian mining company, Barrick. So we expect the government to call on the company to take responsibility for the claim because the company is the one that is causing the problems and destroying the people’s livelihoods,” Jonathan Paraia.

He said the initial stage of such a suit is arbitration but if that fails to reach a resolution the matter will be referred to court.

The Justice Foundation for Porgera has separately asked the courts to restrain the government from renewing the Porgera licence, which expires next May, until the issues surrounding the suit are sorted out.

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Govt will support coal power plant, says Basil

Peter Esila | The National aka The Loggers Times | November 29, 2018

THE Government will support any type of energy-producing sources developed in the country, including coal, says Minister for Energy Sam Basil.
Basil, one of the major proponents of the coal project in Lae together with Lae MP John Rosso, said this on FM 100 talkback radio yesterday in reference to that project.
Bulolo MP Basil and Ross have already encountered fierce resistance to the project in light of environmental implications.
This includes biomass energy project landowners in the Markham Valley of Morobe.
“We will continue to support all the different power-producing companies using different methods that are coming into PNG to operate, coal being one of them,” Basil said.
“The important thing that we must also look at is that when we start putting new power plants in districts and provinces, I’d like to look more into the landowners, the local level government, districts, towns and the provinces.
“What kind of benefits will we have in return for those people who may have their land and resources available for those projects to take stage?
“We should now be looking at more benefits rolling back into the host districts and provinces, and landowners.”
Basil is aware of resistance to him and Rosso.
“I would like to test new ideas, new ways of doing things because PNG has been neglected for awhile,” he said.
“Our neighbours Indonesia and Australia are heavily dependent – more than 50 per cent – on coal.
“We should be asking ourselves: How can we progress PNG forward? I think that one of the answers is having access to energy.
“We have a lot of raw resources to burn, to produce products for us, decapitating international prices by having access to our own energy here like gas, coal and others.
“It is one of the things that we should be promoting,”
Of solar energy, Basil said: “We are looking for solar places.
“For example, we are asking the DDA (district development authority) of Markham and other districts that have ample land, good sunlight, to make land available.
“Register with the Energy Department so that when people come and look around for putting up solar plants, we have got land there.
“We can also identify potential sites for geothermal.”
Basil said that the National Energy Bill, which would allow for energy investments, was in its final stages.

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Governor Orders Probe Into Ramu Nickel Mine

Gorethy Kenneth | Post Courier | November 28, 2018

MADANG Governor Peter Yama has commissioned a team of environmental experts to immediately conduct an environment damage assessment on the Ramu nickel mine.

Mr Yama announced this yesterday after raising serious concerns on how the Conservation and Environment Protection Authority (CEPA) has handled the environmental damages surrounding the Ramu Nickel Project in Madang.

“It would be irresponsible for me as governor for Madang not to outline to my people the provincial government’s stand on the current and future operations of the US$2.1 billion Ramu Nickel project,” he said.

At the end of 2012, the company completed full construction and started full operations, and was now operating at its peak.

Mr Yama had noted the landowners of Ramu Nickel project’s concern over:

  • The environmental impact, Ramu Nickel project is having on their lives; and
  • The lack of infrastructure, and social inclusion in the sustainability of their lives.

“These issues are serious and the state of the environment is currently unknown, I am aware that Conservation and Environment Protection Authority has not been monitoring the discharge of deep-sea tailings for a couple of years, posing a major threat to our marine environment.

“As such I have immediately commissioned a team of environmental experts including marine biologists to conduct an environmental damage assessment to better place me to seek redress.”

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Deep sea mining is bad: Activist

Roselyn Erehe | The Sunday Bulletin | 25th November 2018

DEEP sea mining is a risk to the people’s way of life and a threat to the environment says activist Lucielle Paru.

The deep sea mining which covers 16 marine-time provinces in Papua New Guinea does not have laws governing the seas, said Paru.

“We don’t have any laws governing our seas and how they should be managed,” Deep Sea Mining Campaign- Papua Land Rights Council and activist, Paru said.

There is a high possibility of the deep sea mining running through New Guinea Islands – Manus, East New Britain, and New Ireland; the Momase region – East and West Sepik, Morobe and Madang province; and the Southern region- Oro and Milne Bay provinces.

She raised her concern on the issue of Deep Sea Mining in relation to Papua New Guineans not taking the issue too seriously by letting the government and foreigners mine their land at the helm of the recently concluded Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Leaders’ Summit.

“That is a very big issue in terms of how the sea should be mined and how to govern the ocean, and whose territory it is,” Paru said.

She called on the people to not only see the benefits of mining but to also see the disadvantages of mining operations in the country.

She said, “The world may be looking at technology and the world maybe looking at mining but how much does that actually benefits us? And we are actually destroying what belongs to us.”

“Why are we allowing other countries to come into our country and destroying what makes us proud”.

Paru will be the first Papua New Guinean to represent the country and bring the ‘deep sea mining’ issue to the United Nations (UN) attention during the UN conference in Geneva- Switzerland from the 26th – 28th November, this year.

Her aim is to ask the UN to ban the deep sea mining in PNG and hopefully in the Pacific as well.

Issues she’ll be raising at the UN meeting are;

  • Mining Territory Claims
  • Environment and Climate change, especially when Papua New Guineans are depending on sustainable living, like fishing.

And basically how all these issues are linked to deep sea mining and how the people of PNG will be affected if its operations take place in PNG and in the Pacific Ocean.

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No power deal to use coal, says Blacklock

“Why should PNG that has all these beautiful water running through its rivers, is sitting on an ocean of gas, rush down the path of dealing with salesmen from other countries who want us to buy a coal-fired power station?”

Helen Tarawa | The National | November 23, 2018

PNG Power Limited acting managing director Carolyn Blacklock says the company does not have any power purchase agreements that involves coal.

She told The National that a proposal for a purchase agreement using coal-fired electricity supplies was “unsolicited”.

“This is not something we went to market for competitive bidding,” Blacklock said.

The Mayur Resources Enviro Energy Park project to be built in Lae has received support from Morobe and Gulf provincial governments, and the endorsement of the Conservation and Environment Protection Agency.

Mayur had agreed to a K125 million funding package for Morobe over 25 years. But it is awaiting the green light from PNG Power.

Energy Minister Sam Basil recently wrote to PNG Power chairman Peter Nupiri stating that Mayur’s response to a solicited request from Blacklock should be presented to the board for consideration.

He requested PNG Power to give Mayur, “being a genuine investor”, a fair chance by taking his response to the board. But Blacklock said “we are not scared about the fuel source”.

“Coal is not something that PNG Power worries necessarily about doing.

“If we have to do coal or gas or hydro, we do it on a basis that it is built around PNG Power’s plan which says we need this much generation at this time in this location.

“We don’t go into market to do that. So why should PNG that has all these beautiful water running through its rivers, is sitting on an ocean of gas, rush down the path of dealing with salesmen from other countries who want us to buy a coal-fired power station?

“They don’t have a balance sheet and they have never worked in PNG. I’m not Papua New Guinean but I’ve seen enough of this nonsense. We need to be building power stations based on true planned demand not on what somebody else thinks is our demand.

“We’ve got to get this right otherwise we end up with other power projects with other power projects that are costing us too much money or are not in the right place or too much power.

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Landowners want Ramu mine to shut down

The National aka The Loggers Times | November 23, 2018

LANDOWNERS of the Ramu Nickel mine in Madang have petitioned the government to shut down mine operations following the signing of a K5 billion extension programme last week.
Landowner association chairmen representing landowners of project impacted areas in Bundi, Usino and Raicoast petitioned the Government through Mining Minister Johnson Tuke to shut down mining operations within seven days.
Their reasons were that Ramu Nickel management and Government did not take into the account interest of landowners before they signed the agreement for mine expansion.
They said they did not know the content of the agreement.
The copy of the petition was presented to Ramu Nickel yesterday.
Kurumbukari Landowners’ Association chairman Tobby Bare said signing of the K5 billion mine expansion took them by surprise.
Bare said there were a lots of issues that needed to be raised and captured in the agreement before signing.
The landowners raised several issues related to unfair distribution of spin-offs, rising social problems, and equal participation in project development in the petition.
The petition also included concerns about delay in the mine’s memorandum-of-agreement review.
Bare said landowners felt they were marginalised on their own land.
Raibus Group of Companies chairman Steven Saud said the K5 billion expansion was like “erecting another mine within the mine”.
He said over the last 13 years since the company started operations, landowners had learnt a lot.
Saud said there were certain things the company and Government should have done to meet expectations of landowners but had failed to do so.
Ramu Nickel management yesterday said the MOU signing done on Nov 16 in Port Moresby was “a high level understanding to demonstrate commitments by both PNG and Chinese governments to support the company’s expansion plan”.
“It is obvious that there is gross misunderstanding among ourselves that led to landowners issuing such threats, and making baseless allegations against the company,” the management said in a statement.
“However, we are committed to engaging with landowners in a mature and responsible manner and respond to each allegation levelled against the company.”
The management said the MOA review for the mine would take place once all stakeholders prepared their position papers. The MoA review would be due on December 13.

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