Tag Archives: alluvial mining

Alluvial Sector Revenue at K550m in 2019

Patrick Tom | Post Courier |  March 9, 2020

The country’s alluvial sector production and revenue has climbed to K550 million in 2019, an increase of K140 million from what it earned in 2018.

Mineral Resource Authority regulatory operations manager Roger Gunson revealed during the launching of the Reducing Mercury in PNG ASGM sector last Friday that last year the country’s alluvial sector generates revenue of K550 million, and produced 120,000 OZ (ounces) of gold.

When put that in perspective that’s similar to a medium size mine like Simbari mine in New Ireland.

Mr Gunson said gold represents 70 per cent of mineral revenue, adding that current the gold price as of last Friday was at almost US$1670 an ounce filtering with historic highs.

“The high gold price is beneficial for PNG and the alluvial sector,” he said.

“For every US$100 increase in the gold price, our mineral revenue increases by over K650 million,” said Mr Gunson.

He said that provides some perspective on the significance of gold to our economy.

“From the grassroots miners working the rivers and streams boost their rural household income, through to the national government collecting taxes.”

“The sector is one of the largest small and medium enterprise directly benefits those communities that involve in alluvial gold mining,” said Mr Gunson.

He also pointed out that PNG alluvial sector has a significant component of the overall mining industry of Papua New Guinea.

It has been operating since 1881.

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MRA embarks to reduce mercury usage

alluvial miners at work

Alluvial miners at work on Bougainville

Cedric Patjole | Loop PNG | March 8, 2020

The Mineral Resources Authority (MRA) recently launched a project to reduce the use of mercury in small scale mining operations.

The Project aims to identify the extent to which mercury is used in the industry and how it is used and by whom, in a bid to mitigate health risks.

On March 6th, the ‘Reducing Mercury Use in Papua New Guinea’s Alluvial and Small-Scale Gold Mining Sector’ Project was launched in Port Moresby, following a workshop with key stakeholders and project partners.

The Alluvial Mining industry is one of the largest small to medium enterprise sectors in PNG that engages thousands of rural small scale miners.

It is also a sector that is great health risks due to the usage of mercury.

“This project is designed to get a better understanding of our alluvial sector general, and more specifically to identify the extent to which mercury is used how it is used and by whom,” said MRA Executive Manager of Regulatory Operations, Roger Gunson.

“In addition, it will track the supply trial and identify the regions where it is used. The data collected relating to the sector will be entered into a database administered as part of MRA’s land-folio tenement system.

“This will be able to better inform on policy development, resourcing, training and sector needs.”

Gunson, said the Alluvial Mining is one of the biggest revenue earners for the country with K550 million recorded in 2019.

He said this is similar to revenue generated by smaller mines such as Simberi Mine. However, the use of mercury in extracting gold poses major health risks to the miners.

“Unfortunately, in many parts of PNG gold is extracted through the use of mercury. This is a danger to the health of miners, their families and communities as well as we have heard from the workshop today.

“Hence, we have a paradox, we want the gold and we want to be able to seek it, but we also have a health risk that sits alongside it,” said Gunson.

The project is funded by the US Department of State and implemented by Artisanal Gold Council (AGC) in conjunction with the MRA.

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Artisanals allowed to mine ELs

PNG Report | 16 February 2020

COMPANIES with exploration licences do not have the right to stop landowners from doing alluvial mining on their tenements.

This is the word from Mines Minster Johnson Tuke, who said that in accordance with Papua New Guinea’s constitution, a company could obtain an exploration licence but alluvial mining was “confined and reserved for landowners”, The National newspaper reported.

Tuke was responding to East Sepik Governor Allan Bird’s questions relating to landowner groups in Maprik being denied access by a foreign company to do alluvial mining on their land.

Bird said even though the Mineral Resources Authority (MRA) issued a number of alluvial mining licences to landowner groups for the many alluvial prospects there, issues were still faced by those operating under those licences.

He said a foreigner was killed three months ago in his province as a result of issues relating to the MRA alluvial mining licences.

“The MRA and other government departments and agencies do not consult us before allowing foreign companies to operate in our province,” he said. 

Bird said a foreigner operating in Maprik had restricted local landowners from obtaining alluvial mining licences to operate on their land. “What happens to the rights of landowners when the MRA issues exploration licences to foreign companies to operate on their land?” Bird asked.

Tuke said even though alluvial mining was reserved for landowners, the MRA, through its mining advisory council, had the power to determine who was capable of conducting mining activities.

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Rural alluvial miners to be empowered

Loop PNG | February 11, 2020

Morobe Governor Ginson Saonu has reaffirmed the Morobe Provincial Government’s position to empower all rural alluvial miners of Wau-Bulolo.

This was highlighted following a discussion with four tenement holders of Wau, Bulolo and Watut River in Bulolo District.

Governor Saonu said MPG has now engaged the services of Albatross Integrated Limited, who have extensive years of working with alluvial miners and other mining projects of New Ireland Province.

The company will be the coordinating body to ensure the alluvial miners are empowered.

“These are new interventions undertaken by MPG and to drive the agenda of mining in Morobe,” Governor Saonu stated.

“I have appointed a Tutumang committee chairman for mining who will work closely with the alluvial miners, landowners, miners associations and cooperative societies from here and onwards to ensure they are fully taken care of in their activities. All reports will then be presented back to PEC on the progress of the alluvial miners.

“I understand that over the many years, the landowners and historical miners of small scale mining in Wau- Bulolo have been deprived of the full benefits of their gold, and so it is time for MPG to intervene to assist them to reach maximum benefits of alluvial gold.”

Governor Saonu said plans are in place to ensure all alluvial gold collected by the landowners and tenement holders are made into gold bars to ensure financial security in the long run.

“The Regulatory Operations Division (ROD) of the Mineral Resources Authority and Albatross Integrated Limited will work now more closely with the landowners and tenement holders to ensure the all are fully taken care of in their alluvial mining activity.

“The aim of empowering the alluvial miners is part of the Economic Policy of Triple 1, where people of Morobe are empowered at which activity they are engaged in to be financially sound,” Governor Saonu explained.

He further emphasised that financial literacy training will be conducted for all Wau-Bulolo alluvial miners as well to ensure they are financially capable.

“The alluvial mining sector will be another economic opportunity for Morobe and a revenue generating activity for Morobe as well.”

Matthew Dalga, the MRA Development Engineer at the Small Scale Mining Branch representing ROD and MRA, said alluvial mining has huge potential and it can bring positive benefits if well-coordinated and supported.

“The MRA will support wherever possible in terms of compliance and ensure the regulatory process is followed so that the initiative taken progresses to a positive direction,” he stated.

Albatross Integrated Limited Principal Bridget Laimo said all good governance and transparency mechanisms will be in place to ensure all alluvial tenement holders and people are given maximum benefit for their efforts.

“Albatross working will be a family orientated partnership with the alluvial miners from onwards,” she stated.

“The levies retained from the alluvial gold sold will go back to your communities to help build roads, schools and all other necessary development infrastructure.”

Albatross Integrated Limited for six years have been working with landowners at New Ireland Province, and also up at Hides and Porgera and will now do the same for Morobe.

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Alluvial mining sector has huge potential

 

LOOP PNG | 24 December 2019

Over a billion kina can be generated from the Alluvial Mining Industry if small scale miners are upskilled.

The Small Scale Mining Training Centre in Wau, Morobe Province, is one such facility upskilling small scale miners in the sector.

And so far the results have been positive with more than 5000 small scale miners graduating through the program.

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‘Our blood shed’: At Panguna, devastation lingers

Bougainville flag flies high at Panguna. Photo: RNZ Pacific / Johnny Blades

Johnny Blades | Radio New Zealand | 22 November 2019 

As Bougainville nears its self-determination referendum, the mine that sparked its bloody civil war is seen as the key to potential independence from Papua New Guinea.

Panguna copper mine was the major revenue earner for the PNG state in its early decades of independence.

But it’s been mothballed since the Bougainville crisis broke out three decades ago over a range of social and environmental grievances related to the mine.

It’s been estimated as many as 15,000 people died.

Panguna was one of the world’s largest open pit mines. While large scale mining has long since ceased, nature has gradually reclaimed the gigantic pit.

Aside from alluvial miners who chip away at its fringes on a daily basis, the mine may initially appear as a thing of the past.

But for Maggie Voring, of Panguna’s Guava village, the trauma of lost lives and devastated communities lingers.

“Because our blood shed. Too many blood shed in here, and even today, we didn’t get the bones from all over the place, which is no good for us.”

The shelled out husk of concrete and steel that is the town of Panguna, just adjacent to the open pit mine, was once a bustling centre for Bougainville Copper Limited staff and other expatriates.

The town was big. It had a supermarket, a cinema, squash courts. A far cry from the level of services in most parts of Bougainville and PNG.

But the war brought all that to an end.

Ms Voring used to work at the supermarket. She said she saw lots of wealth pumping through the tills, via foreigners who came to exploit Bougainville’s natural resources.

“This is no good. I’m not getting money from my wealth. They have stolen my wealth out of here. Even Papua New Guinea government done to us. We are really poor on that. I’m the grandmother for 11 kids.

“I don’t have better place to put my grandchildren to school like a university in Arawa. No, I cannot afford to get the money to send my grandchildren out there in Papua New Guinea side.”

Nature has gradually reclaimed the massive open pit of Bougainville Copper Limited’s former lucrative mine. Photo: RNZ Pacific / Johnny Blades

Another Panguna local, Sylvester Birou, is a former commander of the Bougainville Revolutionary Army (BRA) which squared off against the PNG Defence Force during the war.

He said the resources which caused the crisis were also the key to the future.

“Papua New Guinea never fought the war to gain independence. Bougainville, we fought the war to gain independence. Papua New Guinea government was just given in a golden plate, independence. And that independence of Papua New Guinea government was by Panguna mining.”

In Arawa, the man who led the BRA, Sam Kauona, is pitching to be the leader of a new independent Bougainville.

This week he made the news in Australia, announcing that he has received overtures from the Chinese private sector looking to help develop Bougainville’s natural resources.

The former leader of the Bougainville Revolutionary Army, Sam Kauona. Photo: RNZ Pacific / Johnny Blades

“What I see is that if Chinese come into Bougainville, they have to come under a good arrangement, good laws signed between governments, signed between the resource owners of Bougainville. No one can come in without having good laws protecting both interests, local interests and investor interests.

“That’s why Chinese are welcome. Japanese, Americans, Australians, New Zealanders, all welcome.”

The result of Bougainville’s non-binding referendum is subject to ratification by PNG’s national Parliament.

A period of consultation between the two sides is expected to take place first, after the count.

But no one is certain how long this process may take.

However, Sam Kauona said there must be a transitional type of government to take over the current Autonomous Bougainville government.

“A government to lead us into the future Bougainville government, which all the factions will have to come under, will have to be drawn into the new system. It’s not ABG government in the future, it’s totally a different government of Bougainville.”

Confident of a strong majority vote for independence, Mr Kauona said he and many other resource owners wanted the Panguna mine re-opened soon.

Not everyone agrees that the mine should open again soon, while long-standing grievances related to it remain unresolved. Furthermore, the gold panners say they don’t want large scale mining to return, it may interrupt their business.

With Bougainville Copper Limited estimating there is $US58 billion worth of mineral reserves still to be tapped, Mr Kauona said the mine would bankroll a new independent Bougainville.

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Can Bougainville rebuild on the broken corporate dreams of the colonial age?

Bougainville Revolutionary Army guerillas stand next to a destroyed dump truck at Panguna mine in 1994. CREDIT: BEN BOHANE

Ben Bohane | Fairfax Media | November 16, 2019

To view the Panguna pit is to witness an industrial apocalypse and one of the largest man-made holes in the world; a vast open-cut copper and gold mine in the highlands of Bougainville island, slowly being reclaimed by jungle.

Bits of twisted metal and rusting debris lie scattered everywhere, buildings and heavy machinery smothered under moss and creeping vine. Here lie buried the broken corporate dreams of a colonial age but also the promise of a future with local landowners in control.

Before guerrillas from the Bougainville Revolutionary Army forced its closure in May 1989, Panguna was one of the most advanced – and profitable – mining operations in the world. It was operated by a company called Bougainville Copper Limited. Its parent company Rio Tinto, one of the biggest in the world, called Panguna “the jewel in our crown”.

Yet locals saw little of the wealth. Australian officials administering Papua New Guinea in the late 1960s made it clear to local landowners that Panguna’s riches were to underwrite the economy of the whole country as it headed to independence in 1975 and beyond. And that, inevitably, led to war.

‘Kastom’: responsibility

Although anthropologists had told the company that Bougainville was matrilineal – that it was women who owned the land, not men – the mine proceeded to do all its dealings with men. Women opposed it from the start.

In 1988 the New Panguna Landowners Association usurped the previous one and the senior woman in the area, Perpetua Serero, issued a demand to the mining company: pay 10 billion kina ($4.2 billion) in compensation for use of the land and renegotiate the mine lease. Their demands were ignored.

When Serero died soon after, her brother, Francis Ona, a former surveyor at the mine, took on the “kastom” – responsibility – on behalf of the women owners to reclaim the land, even if it meant war. Ona went bush with a stack of stolen dynamite from the mine and formed the first cell of the Bougainville Revolutionary Army (BRA), soon launching attacks on the mine. Several mine workers, including an Australian, were shot, prompting closure of the mine and declaration of a State of Emergency by PNG.

Within months Bougainville descended into a war as the PNG Defence Force tried, unsuccessfully, to regain control of the island. In the next 10 years, an estimated 10 to 15,000 people died, mostly from preventable disease because PNG imposed a naval blockade of the island which stopped vital medicines getting in.

The mine – or more accurately, the total mineral wealth of this island in the south Pacific – remained at the centre of the dispute. When I interviewed Ona in his Guava village above the mine in 1994, at the height of the war, he showed me plans by BCL to establish several other mines on the island.

BRA leader Francis Ona with his men in his home village of Guava, above the Panguna mine, in 1994. CREDIT: BEN BOHANE

“When we broke into the company safe and I saw the plans, I knew our fears were true,” he said. “BCL wanted to mine the whole island and our people were worried they would all be moved off the island so the company could mine everywhere.”

Although it’s unlikely the mine could have done so, or the PNG government would have allowed it, such concerns in a community with little access to information or understanding of the space-age project planted on top of a tribal culture added to resentment and suspicion. People were already angry at pollution from the mine, the lack of royalties accruing to them and the growing number of PNG mainlanders arriving to take jobs that locals believe should have been reserved for them.

Ceasefire and reconciliation

By 1997, the women had had enough of the war and convinced their men among the rank and file of the BRA to seek a peaceful, diplomatic route to achieve their common goal: independence.

A ceasefire was brokered in 1997 by New Zealand and in 2001 the comprehensive Bougainville Peace Agreement was signed by PNG and all the warring factions, except a BRA breakaway group called the Me’ekamui Defence Force (MDF). The MDF still controls the Panguna site today. Nevertheless they have recently contained their weapons under UN supervision and will join the rest of Bougainville in voting.

Rebel guerillas above the Panguna copper and gold mine in Bougainville in 1994. CREDIT: BEN BOHANE

Any grievances about the mine and colonial administration need to be weighed against the fact that Bougainville was the most prosperous province of PNG during the 1970s and ’80s. It had good infrastructure, including roads, hospitals and schools. BCL paid substantial tax but was caught in tensions between provincial and national governments. Many Bougainvilleans were trained by the mine and local businesses, with some going on to careers elsewhere in PNG and overseas.

Today, Bougainvilleans have reconciled after a 20-year peace process and are poised to vote in a referendum they have long awaited. Although it is expected a large majority will vote for independence, the final outcome must be ratified by the PNG parliament – which is not certain. If successful, Bougainville will become the newest nation in our region since East Timor.

A sign advertising a weapons surrender process and urging an independence vote on Bougainville. CREDIT: BEN BOHANE

More than 206,000 voters are registered and 246 polling teams have spread across the Bougainville islands, Australia, PNG and the Solomons. The two-week voting period begins on November 23 and ends on December 7, with results expected soon after. Overseeing the vote is the chairman of the Bougainville Referendum Commission (BRC), former Irish prime minister Bertie Ahern, who has said the referendum “should be celebrated”.

Despite being scarred by the history of mining there, Bougainvilleans are pragmatic and many believe they need mining to underwrite a newly emerging nation. Although its infrastructure has been destroyed, Bloomberg recently estimated that the Panguna mine alone still contains up to $US58 billion ($84 billion) worth of copper, gold and silver.

In fact, the whole island is known to be rich in minerals and mining has never stopped. Villagers continue to pan for alluvial gold in rivers and streams across Bougainville, as well as the tailings area of the Panguna mine. Recently I watched young and old villagers close to Panguna clawing away at the hillside, using high-powered hoses and pickaxes to create a slurry they could then pan through to find precious little nuggets.

During the war I saw Nescafe jars filled with gold being smuggled out of the island to buy essential goods in the neighbouring Solomon Islands. Estimates vary, but since the war ended somewhere around $50 million per year is being earned by locals through alluvial panning.

But big external players are circling too, hoping to get exploration licences to mine Bougainville’s riches. Apart from the contested Panguna licence, four exploration licences have been issued by the Autonomous Bougainville Government since they were able to draw down mining powers from PNG.

The Panguna mine: one of the largest man-made pits in the world.

Former BRA commander “General” Sam Kauona has one licence, Filipino company SRMI has another while Perth-based Kalia has two licences. Other Australian companies such as Fortescue are in talks, while China is also pitching infrastructure deals based on the “collateral” of Bougainville’s mineral wealth.

Last December a delegation of 10 Chinese businessmen approached the “Core” group of Bougainville veterans and leaders offering up to $1 billion to invest in mining, agriculture, tourism and the “transition” from autonomy to independence.

Even today, some Panguna landowners are in favour of BCL or its former parent company, Rio Tinto, returning “after they have properly reconciled with us and cleaned up their mess”. Amidst the uncertainty of new players circling, as well as growing geopolitical tensions, there is an oft-heard refrain: better the devil you know.

‘Australia’s secret war’

While some worry about growing Chinese influence, others are equally critical of Australia’s failure to present a viable alternative and the lack of personal engagement by Australian officials on the ground. Although Australia’s leaders are mindful of PNG sensitivities ahead of the referendum and want to avoid being seen to favour either side, Bougainvilleans wonder if Australia is indeed “neutral” now or will continue to work with PNG to deny Bougainville’s independence.

PNG army troops on patrol in heavy jungle in 1997, hunting for guerillas who had shot a boy dead nearby. CREDIT: BEN BOHANE

This has geopolitical consequences as China woos key players on Bougainville who remain suspicious of Australia’s position.

Australia has a long and sometimes troubled history with Bougainville. Today it is a valuable aid partner, providing around 12 per cent ($50 million per year) of Bougainville’s bilateral aid program, the highest of any donor. It has positioned itself as the partner of choice for Pacific nations, particularly after the “step up” began in 2017.

Between 1915 and 1975 Australia directly administered the territory. The very first action of the national Australian military at the outbreak of World War I – well before the Gallipoli landing – was to take control of German New Guinea, including Bougainville.

In World War II, 516 Australian soldiers and up to 40,000 Japanese died fighting on Bougainville. Australian Coastwatchers, hiding in the hills and protected by loyal locals, provided such valuable intelligence to the Americans taking Guadalcanal to the east that after the war US admiral “Bull” Halsey personally thanked them, saying they had “saved the Pacific”.

After the war, large cocoa plantations were established along with the Panguna mine. Australian riot police were used several times to quash the budding local independence movement. Two universal declarations of independence, first in 1975 and then in 1991, went unrecognised.

And during the Bougainville war between 1988 and 1998, Australia continued to train and equip  PNG forces. Some called it “Australia’s secret war” since Canberra tried to maintain an appearance of neutrality while supplying PNG with four helicopters that were soon turned into gunships.

Since the war Australia has funded a 20-year peace process and has won local and regional admiration for the way it allowed traditional reconciliation processes to unfold.

While Bougainvilleans remain suspicious of Australia’s real position on independence, they are thankful for the role it has played in the peace process and its ongoing development assistance.

Rough seas ahead?

In the wake of the referendum, if PNG, Indonesia or Australia were to attempt to deny or campaign against Bougainville independence, there is a strong possibility that hardliners on the island would issue another unilateral declaration of independence that some countries in the Pacific – and Beijing – might recognise. In that scenario, the potential for another security crisis in the region is real.

If the outcome of the referendum is an overwhelming vote for independence, Canberra must be prepared for two possibilities: either the creation of a newly independent nation in the region, or a crisis unfolding if the PNG government refuses to ratify the result.

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

On top of all this there are Australian miners courting various groups within Bougainville to get access to the hidden riches of the Panguna mine and other mineral resources across the islands.

It has prompted some observers to wonder if these new mining players in Australia and China are fully aware of the history of mining and conflict here, as they try to cash in at this sensitive moment when Bougainville is on the cusp of nationhood and trying to forge unity among its people.

Recent reconciliation ceremonies between the PNG military and Bougainville militants declared there will be “no more war”. Now, as polling day nears, Bougainvilleans look set to accomplish something Francis Ona told me during the war he wanted.

“We have been ruled by four colonial masters over the past 100 years: first the Germans, then the Australians, then the Japanese, the Australians again, then PNG.

“We believe it is time we ruled ourselves now.”

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