It is proving to be a bad month for the mining industry in Papua New Guinea.
PNG’s Chief Inspector of Mines has shut down the Ramu nickel mine’s Basamuk refinery before it has even opened for business. All workers have been evacuated from the plant over health and safety fears. The mine is owned by MCC, a Chinese state enterprise, and Australian based, Highlands Pacific.
The Lihir gold mine has announced its second production down-grade for the year after electrical problems affected its processing plant. Initial estimates suggest the company could lose as much as $170 million while it tries to fix the faults in its power plant.
Production has also been halted at the huge Ok Tedi mine after the tailings pipeline sprang a series of leaks, spilling toxic waste which has seeped into local waterways. Production cannot resume until either the pipeline is replaced or a new tailings dam is constructed, in the meantime the clean-up exercise continues.
Meanwhile at Hidden Valley, tensions are high between the mining company and communities along the Watut river over continuing concerns about the pollution of the Watut river with acid forming rocks and soils that have increased sediment loads.
Times are also tough for Nautilus Minerals, owner of the Solwara 1 deep-sea mine. On Friday Nautilus had to announce it was abandoning plans to raise $150 million through a public share offering because of weakness in global financial markets. Nautilus wanted the funds to continue the development of its under sea mining plans. To rub salt in the wound, the Australian senate is set to vote on whether it will order an investigation of deep-sea mining and its potential impacts.
Other proposed mines facing problems are Panguna on Bougainville and Mt Kare in PNG’s central Highlands. Landholders from both areas are engaged in very public disputes over whether the mines should proceed and on what terms.
Barrick Gold, owner of the Porgera mine, is facing on-going criticism over serious human rights abuses in Papua New Guinea and Africa. The latest allegations to emerge concern the shooting dead of five local people at Barrick’s North Mara mine in Tanzania.
And it is not just the miners facing a hard time.
PNG’s Public Account Committee and Auditor General have heavily criticised the Mineral Resource Development Company, one of PNG’s richest public entities, over its financial record keeping which is described as ‘seriously defective’.
Finally the United Resources Party of Environment Minister Benny Allen has lost one of its Ministry’s in PNG’s ruling coalition with the sacking of Petroleum Minister, William Duma. One of the party’s highest profile donors, Australian Billionaire Clive Palmer has also fallen on hard times, having been forced to cancel the planned floatation of his resource company, sponsored by MCC (remember MCC also owns the Ramu nickel mine), after the market decided the float was over-priced and faced too many potential infrastructure hurdles.