Category Archives: Mine construction

Bougainville landowners seek help from PNG prime minister

Panguna. RNZ/Johnny Blades.

Radio New Zealand | 3 January 2020 

A landowner group at the site of the Panguna Mine has asked the Papua New Guinea Prime Minister James Marape to intervene in its dispute with the Bougainville Mining Department.

The group, the Special Mining Lease Osikaiyang Landowners, or SMLOLA, has written to the prime minister detailing its concerns that it is being shut out of involvement in any re-opening of the mine.

A resumption of mining at Panguna, closed by the civil war, has been touted by several groups as the way for Bougainville to develop a viable economy.

SMLOLA said since Raymond Masono became Mining Minister two years ago it has been shut out of any talks, despite it being one of the groups which own the minerals under the Bougainville Government’s Mining Act.

It said it feared the Mining Department was driving secret, controversial changes to this measure without the support of the wider Bougainville Government.

And it said a call for a travel ban on executives from its Australian partner, RTG, was disrespectful.

SMLOLA said the claims from the Bougainville Government about these executives causing disharmony by disrespecting local custom are “misleading and without factual substance”.

Attempts by RNZ Pacific to reach Raymond Masono for comment have been unsuccessful.

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Geopacific launches Woodlark construction

Construction has started at the Woodlark gold project. Image: Geopacific Resources.

Salomae Haselgrove | Australian Mining | December 16, 2019

Geopacific Resources has started construction at the Woodlark gold project in the Milne Bay province of Papua New Guinea.

Following a successful $40 million capital raising announced in October, the first design work has begun in preparation for process plant construction.

The work will include road upgrades, new wharf construction, process plant site clearing, Kulumadau Village relocation and Woodlark mine camp upgrades.

Once upgraded, the mine camp will be able to accommodate an additional 250 people.

The civil earthmoving will be completed by HBS Machinery while international project manager Rhodes Projects will build house and village amenities.

Geopacific Resources managing director Ron Heeks said the company was excited to begin construction activities in such a short timeframe since the capital raising.

“Extensive work was undertaken to achieve this commencement date as we aim to deliver gold production in a safe, timely and cost-efficient manner,” Heeks said.

“Geopacific has made a commitment to engage as many Woodlark residents as possible for all aspects of the project, including the Kulumadau relocation.

“This is expected to create a skills transfer and sense of community ownership of the new village and they are excited to see the benefits of skills training, employment opportunities, health and education as a result of Woodlark’s advancement.”

The village will be relocated a short distance to new areas outside the mining lease selected by the residents. New houses, trade stores, churches, schools and other amenities will be built.

With tranche two of the $40 million placement approved, Geopacific’s issued capital share consolidation is under way, converting every 25 shares into one share.

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RTG Mining inks deal for Mt Kare gold project in Papua New Guinea

RTG Mining has signed a deal to potentially acquire a majority stake in Papua New Guinea’s controversial Mt Kare gold project.

Lorna Nicholas | Small Caps | December 10, 2019

RTG Mining has inked a deal in the hopes of acquiring an 80% stake in the historic 2.1 million-ounce Mt Kare gold deposit in Papua New Guinea.

The junior explorer today announced it has signed a memorandum of understanding with Canada’s GMG Global Mining Group and Tribune Mt Kare, the two priority applicants for the project.

Under the deal, RTG will acquire the majority interest if and when the applications are converted into a new exploration licence.

RTG said the terms of the agreement equate to a purchase price of about US$8.80 per ounce of gold in total historical mineral resource.

The total resource estimate currently stands at 2.1Moz, including 1.2Moz of measured gold resources and 900,000oz of indicated and inferred resources, valuing the deal at about US$18.48 million (A$27.06 million).

An additional payment of US$2.40 per ounce of gold in historical mineral resource is payable upon a decision to mine.

Mt Kare project

Mt Kare is located about 600km northwest of Port Moresby in PNG’s Enga Province. It lies 15km southwest of Barrick Gold’s Porgera gold mine, the country’s second largest mine and considered to be one of the world’s top 10 producing gold mines.

Gold was first discovered at Mt Kare in the 1980s and it is estimated that more than A$60 million has been spent on the area by several companies, including 454 diamond drill holes totalling almost 74,000m.

Delisted ASX company Indochine Mining had acquired the project in 2011 and announced the 2.1Moz historical mineral resource estimate in 2013. However, the company was placed into voluntary administration in 2015 and the exploration licence, which expired in 2014, was not renewed.

In 2017, the PNG Mineral Resource Authority confirmed GMG had priority over the exploration licence application, but this was challenged by Tribune in the courts. The two parties ended up settling their disputes and agreeing to work together.

RTG said it would focus exploration on the depth potential of the deposit, with Mt Kare being situated on the same north-east trending structure as the Porgera mine with similar geology including the same host rocks, mineralisation types and age, and similar geological structures.

The area recently came into the spotlight in July when French news agency AFP reported on an alleged link between the control of Mt Kare and a PNG tribal massacre. However, this connection appeared unclear and Indochine reportedly told media it was no more than “speculation”.

Other gold projects

RTG also has a proposal with a landowner lead consortium to secure an exploration licence at the high-tonnage Panguna copper-gold project on PNG’s island of Bougainville.

The company’s other projects include a 40% stake in the Mabilo copper-gold-magnetite project in the Philippines and during the September quarter, RTG entered into a sale and purchase agreement with White Cliff Minerals  to acquire its 90% stake in the Chanach gold-copper project in the Kyrgyz Republic.

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‘The revolution is ongoing’: Bougainville to revive radical mining proposal

Heavy trucks sit rusting on the edges of Panguna copper mine, closed in 1989 as a result of sabotage. CREDIT: FRIEDRICH STARK / ALAMY STOCK PHOTO

* Bougainville mining proposal to go before parliament in December

* Plan gives a 60% share of mines to Bougainville

* Bougainville is currently voting on independence from PNG

* Proposal was shelved ahead of independence referendum (Adds BCL share price, quotes, context)

Jonathan Barrett | Reuters | 28 November 2019

Bougainville Vice President Raymond Masono said he will revive a plan to overhaul the region’s mining laws after its ongoing independence referendum, which could strip the former operator of the Panguna gold and copper project of its interests.

The proposed changes, which have been criticised by Panguna landowners, would also erase an interest in the project held by the Papua New Guinea government, potentially complicating negotiations between the two governments after the referendum.

Under the proposed mining law amendments, Bougainville would take a 60% share in all projects and retain all mining licences, leaving a 40% share that investors can bid for.

“Panguna is the most likely project that can bankroll Bougainville’s independence from Papua New Guinea,” Masono, who is also Bougainville’s mining minister, told Reuters by telephone from the town of Buka.

“They don’t own the licence and the mine, we own it – they come on our terms. The revolution is ongoing.”

He said companies like former Panguna operator Bougainville Copper Ltd (BCL), which counts the PNG government as a major shareholder and claims exploration rights at Panguna, would not get “special treatment”.

“They can only come in through the new framework. If they have money they can invest as will other investors.”

BCL declined to comment. The PNG government did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Masono said he would push for the plan to go through Bougainville’s parliament in December, after it was shelved in the lead-up to the referendum amid a backlash from some landowners and government members.

Once the economic engine room of PNG, Bougainville has fallen to the bottom of almost every financial indicator, despite boasting mineral riches, fertile volcanic soil and stunning geography.

The autonomous region is now grappling over how best to re-establish a mining industry while maintaining peace, 20 years after the last shots were fired in a bloody conflict between Bougainville rebel fighters and PNG forces, killing 20,000 people.

As part of the peace agreement, Bougainville is holding a non-binding vote on independence that ends on Dec. 7, with the results to go before the PNG parliament and be subject to negotiation.

BCL is one of at least two companies, alongside a group including explorer RTG Mining Inc , that claims the rights to develop Panguna, with the dispute currently being tested in the PNG courts.

BCL shares had been on a bull run since the start of last week, rising almost five-fold to hit A$0.49 on Nov. 26, underpinned by positive sentiment flowing out of the independence vote.

BCL shares have since retreated to trade just under A$0.30 on Thursday.

Another Australian company, Kalia Ltd, is exploring for gold and copper on land located northwest of Panguna.

The mining law amendments, which have previously been backed by Bougainville President John Momis, were put on hold before the referendum amid concerns that landowner rights would be eroded, with control over assets being handed to the Bougainville government.

“It is totally unacceptable to be trying to steal Panguna from the customary owners,” Panguna landowner, Lawrence Daveona, said in a statement in June.

A Bougainville parliamentary committee was also heavily critical of the proposed changes, and noted that there had been a lack of consultation.

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The High-Stakes Race For Bougainville’s Copper And Gold

Satellite imagery of the Panguna Mine located in the autonomous region of Bougainville in Papua New Gunea. GETTY IMAGES

Tim Treadgold | Forbes | November 27 2019

Fat profits are being made by speculators confident they can beat a Chinese takeover of one of the world’s great copper and gold deposits on the Pacific island of Bougainville even though it hasn’t produced a pound of metal in 30 years.

The once fabulous Panguna mine was closed in 1989 during a civil war which pitted locals, fighting as the Bougainville Revolutionary Army, against troops of the government of Papua New Guinea which claimed control of the island.

An estimated 20,000 people died from the fighting and disease in what ranks as the worst conflict in the South Pacific since World War Two.

An uneasy truce in 2001 formally ended the conflict but Bougainvilleans have continued to push for independence which is being tested in a two-question referendum which started this week and will end on December 7 with voters being asked whether they want complete independence or just greater autonomy from Papua New Guinea.

Strategic Location In The Pacific

Strategically placed to the north-east of Australia, Bougainville commands a large area of the South Pacific Ocean and is seen as a perfect location for China to extend its influence in the region.

The island’s population has closer demographic connections with the Solomon Islands than Papua New Guinea with a culture clash one of the civil war causes.

Another contentious point which help trigger the war was the Panguna mine operated by a subsidiary company of the Anglo-Australian mining giant, Rio Tinto.

In its peak years between 1972 and 1989, Panguna was producing an average of 175,000 tons of copper a year and 18 tons of gold, but the mining and ore-processing methods at the time where not environmentally friendly with heavily-polluted water running off the mine site.

Unfortunately for local residents Panguna was a critically important asset for the Papua New Guinea government accounting for an estimated 44% of national income, which is one reason why the government fought hard to keep the mine operating, a task which proved to be impossible in a war zone.

The promise of independence has sparked interest in the abandoned mine which is estimated to still contain one billion tonnes of ore, an attractive target but one which will be hard to mine, and even harder to process.

High Cost Of Restarting

The first challenge will be the need to mine a large amount of ore annually to compensate for the low grade of the raw material. A second challenge will be spending an estimated $5 billion on a new processing plant because the original has rusted away in Bougainville’s tropical weather.

But the cost of restarting Panguna might be worth it because a “gold equivalent” calculation, which is the combination of the value of copper and gold in the ore, produces a world-class estimate of 45.3 million ounces of gold equivalent (a mix of copper and gold).

Papua New Guinea soldiers guard the Panguna mine. January 26, 1990. (Photo by Miller/Fairfax Media)

It’s the large amount of unmined copper and gold which explains the race which has developed among rival companies seeking permission to redevelop Panguna with companies from Australia and China leading the way.

Interest in the mothballed mine reached a high point yesterday when two were asked by regulators from the Australian Stock Exchange why their share prices had risen rapidly over the past two weeks.

Shares On Fire

Bougainville Copper, a company in which the local government (known as the Autonomous Bougainville Government) has a 36.4% stake is up 200% over the past three weeks with a rise from 6.5 cents to 20c — though at one stage on Tuesday the stock hit a 10-year high of 33c, triggering an exchange “speeding” inquiry.

RTG Mining, another Australian-listed hopeful in the race for Panguna, also received a speeding inquiry when its shares rose by 37.5% to 7.5c. RTG has secured a development agreement over the mine with a local land owners association.

There is a long way to go before Panguna can be redeveloped, if at all, given the history of conflict and fractious nature of the local politics.

The result of the referendum will be a first step in the mine re-start process. Choosing a company acceptable to all Bougainvilleans to do the job will be next, followed by funding and then proving that the mine can operate profitably and in an environmentally acceptable way.

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Bougainville’s Faustian Bargain

Over 2,000 residents, including chiefs, elders, and politicians attended the historic ceasefire signing ceremony on the island of Bougainville, April 30, 1998. Credit: AP Photo/Australian Defence PR

An ongoing independence referendum does not address the key question at the root of the conflict: the future of the Panguna mine.

Paul R. Williams* and Carly Fabian* | The Diplomat | November 27, 2019

On the small island of Bougainville, a region of Papua New Guinea, voters are currently taking part in a long-awaited referendum on independence that started this Saturday. Twenty years after the end of the deadly Bougainville conflict, this referendum gives voters the chance to decide between substantial political autonomy or complete independence. While the voting period lasts until December 7, early estimates predict that Bougainvilleans will vote overwhelmingly for independence.  

The peace agreement that ended the conflict in 2001 has so far allowed the region to take incremental steps toward enhanced self-government while maintaining a delicate peace. Whether this peace process will result in a durable peace depends entirely on the outcome of the referendum, the final and most important step of the process.

The structure of the referendum, however, renders it an imperfect and perhaps even fatally flawed vehicle for resolving the conflict. Notably, the referendum is not binding on Papua New Guinea, meaning that the outcome will depend on whether Papua New Guinea accepts the outcome of the referendum, or whether it imposes conditions on Bougainville’s independence. Most importantly, the referendum does not address the key question at the root of the conflict: the future of the open-pit Panguna mine on the island.

The Bougainville conflict centered around the Panguna mine, a large-scale copper and gold mine that was built in 1972 amid significant local opposition. During its operation, the mine was responsible for over 40 percent of Papua New Guinea’s national export revenue. The mine dramatically reshaped local society as the mining company clear-cut forests, forcibly relocated villages, and introduced thousands of higher-paid foreign workers to operate the mine. The millions of tons of pollution created by the mine’s operations also quickly contaminated the surrounding bodies of water and agricultural lands.  Collectively, these changes presented what the indigenous Bougainville people viewed as an existential threat to their way of life.

In 1989, Bougainvilleans forcibly shut down the mine. This provoked a harsh armed response from Papua New Guinea.  In response, the rebels declared independence from Papua New Guinea.  Over the next decade, the two sides fought over the future of the mine and, by extension, Bougainville’s political, environmental, and economic independence.  The conflict, marked by atrocities, forced relocation, and a debilitating blockade by Papua New Guinea, resulted in 20,000 deaths, 10 percent of Bougainville’s population, as well as the displacement over another 30 percent of the population.

Somewhat surprisingly, the comprehensive and detailed peace agreement that ended the conflict did not address the future of the mine – the primary conflict driver.  The agreement instead focused on increased self-government and a path to potential independence. This framing has so far allowed Bougainville and Papua New Guinea to maintain a delicate peace as the Bougainville government assumed greater governing responsibility yet kept the mine closed.

At the same time, this framework also presented Papua New Guinea with an opportunity to separate the promise of political independence from Bougainville’s broader goal of protecting the environment and its indigenous way of life. With growing external pressure to reopen the mine, these issues have increasingly been framed as mutually exclusive options that Bougainville must inevitably choose between.

Since the creation of the Autonomous Bougainville Government in 2005, Papua New Guinea and other external funders have provided the Bougainville government with the majority of its funding.  Bougainvilleans have so far envisioned a future economy centered on sustainable agriculture and fishing industries.  It will take significant time, patience, and investment, however, for these industries to produce revenue that could replace the external aid Bougainville currently receives.

To prepare for independence, Papua New Guinea has pressured the Bougainville government to instead achieve fiscal self-reliance by reopening the Panguna mine.  A number of mining companies have expressed an interest in contracting and operating a reopened mine.  Notably, both the government of Papua New Guinea and the government of Bougainville each hold a substantial (36.4 percent) ownership interest in the mine, which was transferred to them in 2016 by the mine’s previous majority shareholder Rio Tinto.

The environmental scars from the mine continue to haunt the island. Cleaning up the pollution that remains would potentially cost billions of dollars, a price far out of reach of Bougainville’s current economy. After the transfer of shares, Rio Tinto rejected responsibility for the mine’s environmental damage.  Today, some parties argue that reopening the mine with greater environmental protections is the only feasible option for generating sufficient revenue to remediate the prior environmental damage.

Strong public resistance in Bougainville has so far kept attempts to reopen the mine at bay.  With the arrival of the referendum date, however, the forces coalescing around the reopening of the mine have redoubled their efforts to overcome this public resistance.  Amid this pressure, rather than resolving the conflict, the referendum’s narrow focus on political independence may instead reignite it.

If voters choose independence, Papua New Guinea may present Bougainville with a Faustian bargain: in exchange for independence, Bougainville will first have to achieve fiscal self-reliance by reopening the mine. If that happens, Bougainvilleans will have to choose between abandoning the promise of political independence, which has underpinned the last two decades of peace, and reopening the Panguna mine, which drove a decade conflict.

Dr. Paul R. Williams is the Founder of the Public International Law & Policy Group, and the Rebecca I. Grazier Professor of Law and International Relations at American University.

Carly Fabian is a Research Fellow on Justice, Peace, and Security at the Public International Law & Policy Group.

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Nautilus Minerals: still lost at sea with no life raft in sight

Deep Sea Mining Campaign | 25 November 2019

On 21st November, Nautilus Mineral’s court-appointed monitors, Price Waterhouse Cooper (PwC) confirmed that the relevant legal papers had been filed to assign Nautilus Minerals Inc. into bankruptcy. Whilst this news was expected, there has been no news on their plans for the Solwara 1 deep sea mining project in Papua New Guinea, leaving local communities and civil society who are opposed to the project with many questions.

Nautilus filed for protection from its debts in a Canadian Court in February 2019. The company tried to restructure but it failed to find any buyers for its assets. In August 2019, court approval was obtained for creditors to liquidate the company in order to get back a fraction of what they were owed.

Andy Whitmore of the Deep Sea Mining Campaign stated, “This should be the end of the story, but sadly the liquidation was enacted to give birth to a new, smaller Nautilus.”

“The two main shareholders – MB Holding and Metalloinvest – have effectively taken control of this ‘new’ Nautilus at the expense of major creditors and hundreds of small shareholders. Despite filing an appeal in the Canadian Court, through its company Eda Kopa, the PNG Government remains the biggest loser from the deal holding 15% equity in Nautilus PNG and the Solwara 1 project, effectively losing $US125m.”

“Nautilus gave the impression that the new company was ready to roll. But it has been over a month since the confirmation and there’s been no other information on what Nautilus’ new plans will be.”

“Nautilus stated in court papers that, once liquidation occurs, there may still be a buyer for at least some of the new company’s assets. Does this mean the major shareholders will sell their licences and machinery to make a quick profit and run?” questioned Mr Whitmore.

Local communities opposed to Nautilus’ Solwara 1 project in their seas are still steadfastly opposed to the project, and there are still legal cases in the PNG court system.

Jonathan Mesulam from the Alliance of Solwara Warriors has recently returned to PNG from meetings in Canada where he represented the fierce opposition of PNG coastal communities against experimental seabed mining.

Mr Mesulam stated, “It’s unbelievable for Nautilus to still consider mining the Solwara 1 project. Even if free of its long-term debt, this new company is created on the back of the huge financial loss for our government and the people of PNG. Our people want nothing to do with this company and its lies of prosperity. In Canada I learned that such a project would never be allowed in this company’s home waters.”

This loss adds to PNGs public debt which is at about 33 per cent of GDP. Australia has recently committed a $AUD300 million loan as direct budget assistance to ‘aid its economic reforms and government financing.’

Mr Mesulam continued, “A recent article in PNG Business News seems to suggest the ‘new’ Nautilus has applied to the PNG Mineral Resources Authority to vary the existing mining lease. This is against a background of calls from right across Papua New Guinean society to cancel the licenses.”

An added mystery is that someone is still buying shares in the old, defunct company. When Nautilus was removed from the Toronto Stock Exchange as part of the bankruptcy proceedings, it moved to unregulated trading of the now virtually worthless stock. Yet there has been a recent spike in buying that sent the price up to 0.003 cents per share.

“So many questions, and yet to date no answers. The company still looks to be lost at sea with no life raft in sight” claimed Mr Whitmore.

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