Tag Archives: Environmental damage

Troubled Papua New Guinea deep-sea mine faces environmental challenge

Seabed mining machine

Community groups accuse PNG government of keeping documents for its approval under wraps

Helen Davidson and Ben Doherty | The Guardian | 11 December 2017

A controversial experimental deep-sea mine is being challenged in court by environmental groups who have accused the government of withholding key documents about its approval.

Nautilus Minerals Inc, a Canada-based company primarily owned by Russian and Omani mining firms, wants to extract gold and copper deposits from 1.6km below the surface of the Bismarck Sea, using a seabed mining technique never before used in commercial operations.

Nautilus told the Guardian it has conducted dozens of community meetings – reaching more than 30,000 people from nearby islands – and has had its key documents, including a detailed environmental impact statement, publicly available for years.

But members of nearby communities, represented by the Port Moresby-based Centre for Environmental Law and Community Rights Inc (Celcor), claim they were not adequately consulted and that they hold grave concerns over its impact.

There are also concerns over its financial viability and the PNG government’s stake in it.

Celcor, which has been assisted by the New South Wales Environmental Defenders Office, formally lodged an application in PNG’s national court and served the PNG government last week.

It said key documents had not been published, and that under the PNG constitution affected residents had a right to the information.

The plaintiffs have previously sought documents including the original permit, the environmental management plan and independent reviews, all oceanographic data on the site, and any studies or modelling of the environmental, social, health, culture and economic impacts.

They had also asked for any agreements made between Nautilus and the PNG government or other entities in relation to the project, and evidence of the mining minister’s original granting of the exploration licence and his reasons.

“Our major concern is the environmental impact of this project, since there is no independent environmental study,” a plaintiff, Jonathan Mesulam, from PNG’s New Ireland Province, said.

Mesulam criticised the company’s consultation approach, and said the community at large did not give “free, prior and informed consent” on the company’s permit.

“They had no control. It has been organised by the former minister, and a few other people from the local level government,” he said.

The Solwara 1 field, in a volcanic area between the islands of New Britain and New Ireland, was identified by Australia’s CSIRO in 1996. Nautilus was granted an environmental permit for the field in 2009, and a mining licence in 2011.

Seabed mining – which Nautilus described as “the next big disruptive technology” – is usually based around areas of metallic nodules, or active or extinct hydrothermal vents, which carry valuable metal deposits.

The proposed process uses machinery previously used in other mining industries to excavate materials from the sea floor, then draw it up to the surface as seawater slurry. The slurry is then “de-watered” and transferred to another vessel for shipping. Extracted seawater is then pumped back down and discharged close to the sea floor.

Critics have said the environmental impact assessment is insufficient as it does not include a “rigorous risk assessment” or an environmental management plan.

“The mining process would generate plumes of sediment, and our critique of the EIS is that there is not sufficient scientific research or modelling done by Nautilus on what would be contained in those plumes,” said Dr Helen Rosenbaum, coordinator of the deep-sea mining campaign.

“Our reviews all show there are significant gaps in the document. The gaps are big enough to render the EIS not fit for purpose.”

Nautilus says the Solwara 1 deposit – Solwara means “salt water” in Tok Pisin – contains high grade copper and gold deposits, up to 10 times higher than typical grades for land-based mines, and has the potential to yield “far superior” ore to mines on land with far less impact on the environment and those who live nearby.

The chief executive of Nautilus Minerals, Michael Johnston, said seabed mining did not require large pits to be dug and created no waste, and the company had carefully modelled the impact of mining on the sea floor. He said there was no impact on fishing because the mining took place more than 30km offshore and far from reef fishing areas.

Johnston said the company has run public meetings every two years, reaching more than 30,000 people, on the progress of the project and the modelled potential environmental impacts.

He said the project had “broad and strong public support” and across all levels of government, and opposition was being led by “a handful of … professional activists”.

“You always get one or two people who jump up and down,” he said. “Some people think if they make a lot of noise, they’ll be given money to go away, and we don’t do that.”

Johnston said Nautilus had helped in developments on New Ireland island, bringing toilets and running water to 25 schools, and working with health organisations running vaccination programs.

He said the company had been transparent with all the information on the project, and he was “struggling to know” how they could be more open.

“Our EIS has been on our website since April 2009, and the executive summary has been translated into Tok Pisin,” he said. “It’s with the conservation and environment protection authority offices in Port Moresby for anybody to see, and we will happily print out copies for anyone who wants one. Anyone who is sceptical about the project, we are happy for them to contact us and we’ll talk them through it.”

There have been long-running concerns about the experimental project, including a 2012 petition with more than 20,000 signatures from the residents of the Madang, Oro and New Britain provinces calling for it to be stopped.

In 2016 the then PNG attorney general and minister for justice, Sir Arnold Amet, rejected the “Papua New Guinea-pig” project, which he said was approved under the Mining Act and without an adequate regulatory framework.

“We are a developing nation, we don’t have the capacity, we don’t have the resources … There is not a tenable argument that says we ought to be used as an experimental locality,” he told the ABC.

In 2016 Oregon State University scientists discovered that hydrothermal vents and methane seeps were emerging as “a major force in ocean ecosystems, marine life and global climate” but were under threat from human activity, including seabed mining.

In June, Blue Ocean Law and the Pacific Network on Globalisation said that compared with industries with a proven track record of sustainability, seabed mining was “a gamble”, risking potentially irreversible environmental impacts and destruction of local fisheries.

Beyond the legal challenge, the Solwara 1 mining venture has also been plagued by financing issues and delays, including a three-year dispute between the company and the PNG government over the equity agreement.

In 2013, arbitration found PNG had breached the agreement, which had previously been described as “high risk” and “low return”, according to a report by Blue Ocean Law and the Pacific Network on Globalisation.

The PNG’s current stake, held by a government company, is 15%, financed by a loan from the Bank of the South Pacific.

Last week the opposition spokesman on treasury and finance, Ian Ling-Stuckey, called for an end to “silly investments best left to the private sector”, labelling the US$113m Nautilus deal a “foolhardy investment”.

Nautilus told its AGM this year “there is increased uncertainty and economic and technical risks of failure associated with this production decision”, and that it required significant additional funding to advance production.

This month Nautilus issued a statement to the Toronto Stock Exchange warning of cashflow and financing difficulties, deferring for a third time its due date for a required $10m funding injection.

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Nautilus EIS in public domain for 8 year

More lies and deception from Nautilus and the mining industry. The court case by local communities is NOT about the EIS, it is about understanding in full the information on which licensing decisions were made and the environmental, health and economic impacts…

PNG Industry News | 11 December 2017

THE environmental impact statement for Nautilus Minerals’ Solwara 1 seabed mining project has been on the company’s website for more than eight years.

The EIS – full document with all the appendices – has been available to anyone who wished to see it since April 2009.

 “We translated the summary of the document into pidgin [Tok Pisin], and that is available as well. And there are also copies of our EIS at the offices of CEPA (Conservation Environment Protection Authority),” said Mike Johnston, Nautilus chief executive officer.

Johnson was responding to a comments by an activist NGO which says it intends to launch legal proceedings against the Papua New Guinea government to “obtain key documents” relating to the Solwara 1 project. 

“We have had three public hearings for the EML (extractive minerals lease) – in Port Moresby, Rabaul and Kavieng,” said Johnson, who was responding to the claim that there had been “very little information about the Solwara 1 project” by NGO Centre for Environmental Law and Community Rights (CELCoR).

Johnston said that all the information about Solwara 1 had been freely available on the company’s website and there were public hearings through the EIS process. Solwara 1 is in the Bismarck Sea, about 30km from the nearest coast in New Ireland Province. 

“We have had ongoing community engagement and meetings,” he said.

“All of their claims are baseless, from what I see,” Johnston said, predicting that the court would throw out the proceedings.

 “It is just another publicity stunt by NGOs to try and keep things in the newspapers.  I am not sure what they are trying to achieve or where it is going to go. People believe some of this stuff. The government has followed due process, PNG has good mining laws which are very similar to Australia’s. The adopted Queensland’s mining regulations,” Johnston said. 

On Friday CELCoR said that acting on behalf of “coastal communities”, it had launched legal proceedings against the PNG government in a bid to obtain key documents relating to the licensing and the environmental, health and economic impacts of the Solwara 1 project.

Activist Jonathan Mesulam, from the west coast of New Ireland Province, said this “information” had been requested for the past four years, but the government had ignored its requests.

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Bougainville landowners back rival consortium to take over controversial Panguna copper mine

People supporting a rival mining consortium hold anti-BCL signs at the Panguna mine site. (Facebook: Me’ekamui)

Eric Tlozek | ABC News | 11 December 2017

The Bougainville Government is holding a crucial mining warden’s hearing at the abandoned copper mine which sparked a decade-long armed insurgency against the Papua New Guinea Government.

Key points:

  • RTG Mining chairman Michael Carrick says a proposal by the Central Me’ekamui Exploration Limited consortium is more realistic and “for the benefit of the people of Bougainville”
  • But BCL company secretary Mark Hitchcock says the consortium’s conduct is “less than honourable”
  • Bougainville’s Mining Secretary Shadrach Himata says all landowners will be asked for their views

The hearing will help determine if the company Bougainville Copper Limited (BCL), which was forced to abandon the Panguna mine in 1989, should retain an exploration licence for the site.

The Bougainville Government now owns part of Bougainville Copper Limited and wants it to redevelop the mine, but a rival consortium is challenging their bid, and said it has the support of key landowners from Panguna.

That consortium, Central Me’ekamui Exploration Limited, includes ASX-listed RTG Mining.

RTG’s chairman Michael Carrick said the group’s proposal was more realistic and better-supported by the people of Panguna.

“[It’s] a sensible and well-supported and economically deliverable proposal to develop the mine for the benefit of all the people of Bougainville,” he said.

RTG Mining has told the Bougainville Government that BCL’s exploration licence for Panguna has expired and legally cannot be renewed.

It wants the Bougainville Government to consider its application instead, saying the landowner association for the mine pit, the Special Mining Lease Osikaiyang Landowners Association (SMLOLA), backs its bid and would present a 2,000-signature petition in opposition to BCL.

“For the first time in 30 years a mining company has been endorsed and supported by the SMLOLA,” Mr Carrick said.

RTG Mining said longstanding resentment against BCL over the conflict and the ongoing environmental problems caused by their sudden withdrawal would prevent the company from being able to operate the mine again.

“The legacy issues for BCL are insurmountable,” Mr Carrick said.

He said the landowners would present a 2000-signature petition in opposition to BCL.

There is a legal dispute over who rightfully chairs the landowner association.

RTG Mining said the dispute had been settled with their preferred candidate, Philip Miriori, in charge; the Bougainville Government said the mediation had failed and that the matter is still before the courts.

PHOTO: The Panguna mine was abandoned in 1989 after an armed uprising known as the Bougainville Crisis. (AAP Image: Ilya Gridneff)

The Bougainville Government has also criticised the consortium for paying landowners who support them and implied it is not respecting the approval process.

“The Autonomous Bougainville Government (ABG) will not entertain companies who use the back door or break and enter through the window using self-centred individuals who think they have a monopoly over the people’s resources or represent their interests,” Mining Minister Raymond Masono said in a statement.

“… The ABG rejects companies that think they can bribe their way into people’s resources by giving certain individuals money to gain landowner consent.”

The ABG has had the PNG Government ban the key executive from Central Exploration, Sydney lawyer Renzie Duncan, from coming to Papua New Guinea.

Michael Carrick from RTG Mining says the consortium has been dealing openly with the Bougainville Government and that landowner payments are wages for its employees.

“The wages paid are in respect of services rendered to the joint venture,” he said.

“The joint venture is a commercial operation and landowners, like anyone else, are able to work and to get paid for their services.

“Our dealings with landowners have been completely transparent and professional.”

Mr Carrick said the intent of the travel ban against Mr Duncan appeared to be to help Bougainville Copper Limited.

“It is clear the ABG, on the appointment of the new mining minister, supported BCL and the temporary banning of Renzie, I assume, is designed to limit the support that could be afforded to the landowners of Panguna,” he said.

Bougainville Copper Limited is deeply unhappy with RTG Mining and its partners.

“We think they’re less than honourable in how they’re carrying on their conduct and their activities in the area,” BCL company secretary Mark Hitchcock said.

He said BCL’s licence application was legal, and wasn’t processed on time because the Bougainville Government wasn’t ready to implement the processes of its new Mining Act.

“The department didn’t have the resources to manage the application at the time it was taking place,” he said.

“It now has all those facilities in place.”

Landowners set to weigh-in on hearing

Mr Hitchcock said many landowners do support BCL, but are not being properly represented.

“From what we’ve seen, there is widespread support for mining in Panguna and mining with Bougainville Copper,” he said.

Bougainville’s Mining Secretary Shadrach Himata said all landowners will be asked for their views as part of the approval process, not just the leaders of the association.

“The warden’s hearing is a process that will engage the views of all the landowners in the resource areas,” he said.

“It won’t be affected by the leadership tussle of the SMLOLA landowners.”

Crucially, Mr Himata, said BCL is the only company currently being considered by the Bougainville Government.

“Right now, the only legal applicant on the exploration tenement is BCL,” he said.

“Until that process is completed, there are no other applicants or applications over the same tenement. That’s the position of Government.”

The eventual decision on the exploration licence will be made by the Bougainville Executive Council, the regional government’s Cabinet, probably sometime in 2018.

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Locals file case to stop seabed mining

Jemimah Sukbat | Loop PNG | December 8, 2017

The Solwara Alliance has filed a case against the government at the Waigani National Court to stop the operation of seabed mining in West Coast New Ireland.

Filed on Thursday afternoon, the Alliance wants the Government to make public all necessary and relevant documents under seabed mining agreement, who is involved in approving the project and on what grounds and why the government is still pursuing the project.

Jonathan Mesulam, a West Coast New Irelander and a member of the Solwara Alliance, says the people in the village are strongly against seabed mining because their livelihood will be affected by the project. They want the Government to ban the project.

“No one knows the environmental impacts of this project. There is also no independent environmental studies so why is the government pushing for this project?

“There will be negative impacts in the local and national economy, especially the fisheries sector,” says Mesulam, who is currently in Port Moresby to file the case.

“Solwara 1 is not a good investment, it will only last for three years.”

They want the developer, Nautilus Minerals Limited, to pack up and leave by next year.

When asked if the villagers were consulted before the agreement was signed, Mesulam said the developer never consulted the locals.

“This MOA was signed by a few people who only think about themselves.”

From the footages taken from the villages along West Coast New Ireland, the people say they own both the land and sea and the mining will greatly affect their lifestyle, especially in shark-calling.

Mesulam said New Ireland does not need a seabed mine. They already have fish, cocoa, coconut and other resources where they can depend on for economic benefits.

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Bougainville Vice President warns Panguna Landowners

The abandoned Panguna mine pit, as it is today. Photo by Catherine Wilson.

DO NOT MEDDLE WITH PANGUNA SAYS MASONO

By Aloysius Laukai | New Dawn | 6 December 2017

ABG Vice President and Minister for Mining, RAYMOND MASONO is calling on Panguna leaders, PHILIP MIRIORI and LAWRENCE DAVEONA to know that the Panguna mine is no ordinary mine.

He said that the Panguna mine has a bad history that has crippled the economy of PNG and Bougainville and with many lives lost fighting for it.

The Vice President said that the Panguna mine no longer belongs to the landowners because Bougainvilleans blood were spilt over that particular mine.

He said that whilst the resources in Panguna and other parts of Bougainville might belong to the people, the ABG has a responsibility to protect its people from unscrupulous companies whose sole interest is to exploit our people for their own economic interests.

The Vice President said that we have seen how Bougainvilleans were exploited by foreigners since colonial days and the ABG does not want a repeat of the past.

He said that he was surprised that certain individuals can so easily sell their birth right for as little as FOURTY THOUSAND KINA a month to a foreign company when foreign exploitation was one of the issues against which our people fought and died.

Also the ABG rejects companies that think they can bribe their way into the people’s resources by giving certain individuals money to gain landowner consent.

PANGUNA WILL BE DEVELOPED SAYS VICE PRESIDENT

The ABG Vice President and Mining Minister, RAYMOND MASONO says that the PANGUNA MINE in Central Bougainville will be re-developed under the Bougainville Mining Act 2015 and by a developer or developers who respect the Autonomous Bougainville Government and its laws.

In a press statement, MR. MASONO said that the developer must also come through the main door.

MR. MASONO made these remarks when commenting on a statement by RTG of a deal supposedly made between MR. PHILIP MIRIORI and LAWRENCE DAVEONA to support RTG to develop the PANGUNA mine.

He said that it seems ironic that two people who were fighting over the leadership of the Osikayang Landowners Association in court, a mediation case which is still the subject of a court decision can suddenly reconcile to support a company that does not respect the legitimate government and its mining laws.

The Vice President said that the ABG, the landowners and the people of Bougainville will not entertain companies who use the back door or break and enter through the window using self-centred individuals who think that they have a monopoly over the people’s resources or represent their interests.

He said that the landowners will decide who the preferred developer would be through a transparent process undertaken by the ABG Department of Minerals and Energy Resources currently underway.

MR. MASONO said that the process has not yet been exhausted and any deals supposedly made between landowner leaders,companies,or the National Government and in particular RTG are premature at this stage.

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Adani’s Australian Coal Mine in Trouble as Chinese Banks Refuse Loans

Image Courtesy: Tracey Nearmy/AAP

The proposed $22 billion project will have destructive impact on environment, including the Great Barrier Reef.

Newsclick | 6 December 2017

With three Chinese banks announcing that they will not be financing Adani group’s controversial Carmichael mine in Queensland, Australia, the mining giant’s ambitious project – worth $21.7 billion – appears to be doomed. Earlier this year, Australian banks had backed out of financing the project. Adani Mining is facing a financial crunch as 24 banks around the world have earlier refused to finance its mining ventures in Australia.

Adani’s extravagant expansion into Australian mining seems to be dogged by accusations of crony capitalism and destruction of environment, very similar to the ones in India for his Mundra SEZ project and mining activities. The opposition in Australia however has taken on a much more widespread scale.

Recently, Australian journalists who visited Mundra in Gujarat to study Adani Group’s activities were harassed by local police, presumably at the behest of powers that be.

The Carmichael mine has drawn the ire of Australians ever since Adani bought it in 2010. A recent survey showed that 62% people in Queensland opposed the Adani mine. There have been a series of protests in Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne, Townsville, Cairns, Mackay and at Adani’s work sites near Belyando in Central Queensland. Such was the pressure built by public opinion that Queensland premier Annastacia Palaszczuk reversed the government’s previous position and pledged to veto a loan to Adani if re-elected. In March this year, 13 NGOs came together to form the Stop Adani Alliance which organized a National Day of Action on October 7. During November 20 and 24, a Stop Adani Shakeup week was observed to pressurize federal MPs into opposing the mine. All over Queensland, and even elsewhere, anti-Adani T-shirts, badges, caps and other protest markers can be seen on people.

Adani group has reportedly faced a series of regulatory actions in India for its riding roughshod over environmental and other laws. It has also been alleged that its explosive growth is largely due to Gautam Adani’s closeness to Prime Minister Modi since the latter’s stint as Gujarat Chief Minister. Recently, Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s investigation on its well known Four Corners programme, unearthed various dealings of Adani Mining through secret tax haven accounts in Cayman Islands and the British Virgin Islands.

The Galilee basin, where the giant mine, projected to be one of the world’s largest, is located contains an estimated 7.8 billion tonnes of coal. Adani group has claimed that the mine will have peak production of 60 million tonnes of coal per year by 2022. The company has acquired Abbot Point coal terminal near Mackay for $1.98 billion from the Queensland government and plans to build a 388 kilometer rail link from the mine to the port. The company is awaiting a concessional A$900 million loan from the government’s Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility (NAIF) for the rail link.

The most significant reason why most Australians are opposed to the mine is its environmental impact. The mine is estimated to generate 4.7 billion tonnes of greenhouse gases. It will also use 26 million litres of water every day severely depleting the groundwater in this drought prone region. The Great Barrier Reef, already under threat from warming of the oceans and their acidification, will also be affected by the mining activity. The project involves dredging of 1.1 million cubic meters of seabed from near the Reef.Experts have vigorously argued that this will have an adverse impact on the delicate ecosystem that sustains the Reef.

Adani Australia have argued that an estimated 10,000 jobs will be created in Queensland, which is currently suffering from severe unemployment. This claim has been supported even by Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. However, Jerome Fahrer, an economist who appeared on behalf of Adani Mining before the Queensland land court, testified in 2015 that the project would create precisely 1,464 jobs.

The land where the mine is planned to be built belongs to the Wangan and Jagalingou traditional or indigenous people, and is part of 30,000 sq.kms land area for which they have filed a ‘native title claim’ in 2004. The W&J peoples have launched a long and complicated legal battle to oppose the Carmichael mine, and hearing is scheduled for March 2018.

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Villagers oppose Solwara 1 project

Concerns have been raised on how seabed mining would affect marine life/resources of the Bismarck Sea

Jemimah Sukbat | Loop PNG | December 4, 2017

West Coast New Ireland villagers near the Solwara 1 project strongly oppose the Nautilus Minerals Limited operation.

John Merebo, a Messi villager, revealed to Loop PNG that West Coast New Irelanders were never part of the agreement when it was signed.

The seabed mining agreement was signed in 2012 by the then Mining Minister and Namatanai MP Byron Chan, the New Ireland Provincial Government and National Government.

He said they do not want the development of the project to go on because they do not see any benefits in it.

“There is not a lot of economic activity out of the project because everything will be done by the company off shore.”

But since the government has already signed for the project, Merebo said they want to be part of the negotiating team in the next part of the operation. This is to discuss spin-off benefits.

Meanwhile, during a recent conference, UPNG Professor Chalapan Kaluwin said seabed mining would be disastrous for New Ireland Province.

Professor Kaluwin stated the project could be catastrophic for our waters given the fact that PNG has 20 percent of the world’s tuna; it also has the world’s warmest waters and fastest currents.

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