Tag Archives: Frieda river mine

Frieda Mine Road Construction a Threat to Upper Sepik Environment

frieda road sepik

William H. Townsend, Ph.D., P.E.

It is clear that constructing the Frieda Mine Access Road from Nikie to Kubkain by way of Yabatawe in East Sepik Province will have major impact on the forest along the road, which runs through several Sanio-Hiyewe communities. By damaging their sago and other food sources, a sustainable food supply will be threatened in this challenging environment.

I lived with the Saniyo-Hiyewe for 20 months in 1966-1967 and shorter periods between 1980 and 1984. One of my activities during this time was mapping ridges, swamp forests, and paths between villages. Another was weighing food and measuring sago stands.

In 1981 through 1984 I served the PNG Government as its technical advisor on the Ok Tedi Mine, reporting to the Secretary of Minerals and Energy and the Secretary of Finance. As a civil engineer, I was responsible to monitor construction of the mine and report on OTML’s progress as it affected local facilities and environmental impact. 

Responding to a Directive from Parliament in 1982, I did an inspection of the Access Road from Kiunga to Tabubil and reported back to Parliament. This inspection revealed that the construction of the road through rain forest was slower and more difficult than anticipated. The side cast method of road construction used there discarded topsoil away from the roadway, pushing it into the adjacent forest.  (See photo.)

If the same construction methods for mine access roads are used on the Frieda Mine that were used in Western Province, runoff will deposit materials that will damage the prime sago areas, which have taken generations to develop, and other food sources. Damage to the fragile forest during construction would take decades to remediate and restore sustainable living to the people of the Upper Sepik tributaries.

While commentators are rightly concerned about the massive damage that occurs from riverine disposal of mine wastes during production or through the failure of poorly constructed tailings dams after mine closure, vigilance is also necessary from the beginning of construction. Environmental damage from construction shortcuts is especially likely during the pre-production and early production phases, before the project returns a profit, as Ok Tedi should have taught us all.

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PM Peter O’Neill: Government will address all mining issues

o'neill in parliament

Jack Lapauve Jnr. | EMTV News | August 9, 2016

PNG Prime Minister, Peter O’Neill, told parliament today that the government is at the centre of addressing all mining-related issues.

Mr O’Neill said a formal statement will be released to address grievances by landowners in Hela, and shares in Panguna and Ok Tedi.

“I want to assure the house and our country that one thing is very obvious. We need to look after all our stakeholders. More importantly, the landowners, provincial governments, and of course our citizens and our country. We need to have a greater stake in the industry, and the industry laws today, does not allow us to exercise that option.

“We are looking at this in a very diligent manner. We want to be fair to everybody. Even the investors. Without the investors, some of the large scale mines like Frieda and Wafi cannot be developed. If we take up all the equity, investors will not have any equity to take. But over the course of the next two weeks, I will be making statements in this house, in regards to the shareholding in Ok Tedi and Bougainville, for the first time these two mines are being controlled by Papua New Guineans.

“And of course, in relation to the 4.27 percentage stakeholding by the landowners in the Hela province, and of course, the LNG project.

“I will make a separate statement in this house on it, but Mr Speaker, I want to assure the good member, we will communicate with the industry. The matter was discussed in cabinet this morning, but we have also deferred the discussion till next week, because I want to put a senior ministerial committee to discuss with other stakeholders, some of the concerns. We have to iron out all these concerns before we take this,” Mr O’Neill said.


Filed under Financial returns, Papua New Guinea

Engineer warns of Frieda river mine impacts

A massive wave of toxic mud swept away the lives of locals living below the mining waste impoundment. Photo: Romerito Pontes

A mine in Brazil recently released a massive wave of toxic mud that swept away the lives of locals living below the site. Photo: Romerito Pontes

Joan Bailey | Post Courier | July 14, 2016

AN engineer from East Sepik Province has warned of massive environmental destruction if the proposed Frieda copper mine goes ahead. Thomsen Benguma said the volume of destruction will be unprecedented.

Mr Benguma has called on the Mineral Resources Authority and the West and East Sepik Provincial Governments to take high level precautions and insist on the developer  to design comprehensive waste management plans. This is to manage the tailings and the overburden or top soil that is dynamited and pushed off the side of the mountain.

Mr Benguma said the management of the tailings is normally captured in the waste management plan but the overburden which is also waste is never taken into account.

He explained that when the top soil is dynamited, unburden sodium mitrite and sodium nitrate is trapped in the soil and when this waste comes into contact with water, paste is formed.

“When this material is carried down by flood during rainy season, there will be heavy deposits in the river system which overtime will fill up the river, thus displacing aquatic life,” he said.

Mr Benguma who is also a waste management engineer by profession said the storage of tailings in high altitudes also poses a threat and suggested that it be put through a gas plasma system where the waste is burned or melted, resulting in the recovery of processions metals contained in the wastes.

He called on the Mineral Resources Authority to take heed and refrain from drawing conclusions that all will be fine and suggested that the developer must sign a memorandum of understanding to fully compensate the people of East Sepik, especially those living along the Sepik River if a environmental disaster occurred.

Related stories:

Frieda river mine will blow a huge hole right through Vision 2050

Mining Threatens Papua New Guinea’s Mighty Sepik River with Utter Ruin


Filed under Environmental impact, Papua New Guinea

Chinese look to win hearts and minds in the Sepik

Frieda River camp. Source: PanAust

Frieda River camp. Source: PanAust

PanAust looks for ‘social licence’ to operate Frieda River mine in Papua New Guinea

David James | Business Advantage | July 12, 2016

Frieda River Ltd, the wholly-owned Papua New Guinea subsidiary of PanAust, has lodged a Special Mining Lease application with PNG’s Mineral Resources Authority to develop the Frieda River Copper-Gold Project. Glen Connell, PanAust’s General Manager, Government and Community Relations, tells Business Advantage PNG that developing a ‘social licence’ to operate is critically important for the success of the project.

With a potentially long term operation, Glen Connell says establishing a sound relationship with the community is fundamental:

‘If you don’t have the social licence to operate you won’t have any longevity whatsoever. I think we have long accepted that and it is something that we have learned in Laos.

‘It put us in good stead in that country, which wasn’t a mature mining investment destination when we went in. The key very much to our success in Laos has been community engagement, good environmental practices, strong safety performance, and looking after our people.

‘Whether it is PNG, or anywhere else in the world, the same philosophy applies.’

‘I guess the trick is to work out how you tailor that to any given situation. Whether it is PNG, or anywhere else in the world, the same philosophy applies.’


The Frieda River Joint Venture is 80 per cent owned by PanAust, which is in turn owned by Guangdong Rising H.K., a subsidiary of the Chinese State Owned Enterprise Guangdong Rising Assets Management Company (GRAM). Highlands Pacific owns the remaining 20 per cent stake. Frieda River Limited is the manager of the JV.

‘PNG is a more mature mining destination with decades of experience.’

PanAust’s Glen Connell (left) and Lebin Ulamtemab in Wameimin Village 1. Source: PanAust

PanAust’s Glen Connell (left) and Lebin Ulamtemab in Wameimin Village 1. Source: PanAust

The PNG government has a right to acquire at cost up to 30 per cent of the project.

The Joint Venture’s recently released feasibility study claimed the potential mine is ‘one of the largest undeveloped copper-gold deposits in the world’, with an initial 17-year mine life.

Connell says there are similarities between Laos and PNG. Both nations are developing countries and in similar socio-economic situations. But he says there are some crucial differences.

‘PNG is a more mature mining destination with decades of experience,’ he says. ‘The legislative frameworks are well developed; the bureaucracy understands mining and is attuned to it.’

Long term outlook

Connell says the company does not focus on short-term fluctuations in metals prices. He says that periods of weaker prices often represent the best times to be advancing and building projects.

‘You need a little bit of tunnel vision.’

‘It is not about what today’s copper or gold prices are and projecting those forward for the next six months. We are looking at a project that could operate for decades.

‘So, we look at what the longer term outlook is and I think with copper it is safe to say that most, if not all, analysts see a good future for copper. If not in the near term then certainly in the medium to longer term. We share that view.’


Connell says falling interest rates in the developed world means a potentially lower cost of capital. ‘But the external environment will do what the external environment does. You design the most robust project you can and you seek to deliver it.

‘We have been in close contact at all levels of government and other stake holders to make sure that we secure the business licence.’

‘You need a little bit of tunnel vision in that regard. At the same time, we have to think about the long term price of oil, or any given commodity, or economic factor that you have to deal with.

‘It all comes down to the robustness of the design, development, implementation and your ability to operate. I think we have ticked the box on each of those in Laos and there is no reason to think we won’t do the same in PNG.’

Now that the application for a Special Mining Lease has been lodged, Connell is not willing to speculate about how long the approval process will take. ‘We have been in close contact at all levels of government and other stake holders to make sure that we secure the business licence to operate as well as the social licence to operate. That process has been positive.

‘But I can’t answer how long it will take. It is not a process that we can control,’ he tells Business Advantage PNG.

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Frieda river mine will blow a huge hole right through Vision 2050

oneill ministers

The PM and his Ministers love to trumpet on about Vision 2050 and how clever we are to have a long-term development plan but have they actually read and understood what it says?

The government says it fully supports the construction of the proposed Frieda river mega-mine [see story below] but seems oblivious to the fact such projects are wholly incompatible with Vision 2050 and the National Goals in our Constitution.

In order to be a “smart, wise, happy and healthy society” Vision 2050 says we need to move away from an economy dominated by the mining and energy sectors and “instead concentrate on the growth in manufacturing, services, agriculture, forestry, fisheries and the eco-tourism sector”.

Vision 2050 says having an economy dominated by resource extraction is not healthy and has failed to deliver sustainable development and improved livelihoods for the majority of people. The Vision says we must transition away from the current situation where large-mines and gas projects account for 80% of export revenues to a society in which they represent just 30% of gross domestic product.

To achieve that goal we need to do two things – stop the endless cycle of new mines, cutting back on the exporting of gold and other minerals and hydro-carbons, and put far more resources into other areas of the economy.

New large-scale mines like Frieda will just perpetuate a failed economic model and drive us in completely the opposite direction to Vision 2050.

According to Vision 2050 we need increased indigenous participation in the economy, we need to maintain equality amongst ethnic groups, between genders and between areas; give greater attention to rural and village development; and, above all, become self-reliant.

These are all themes that were espoused by the Constitutional Planning Committee and enshrined in the five National Goals and Directive Principles in the Constitution:

  • Integral Human Development;
  • Equality and Participation;
  • National Sovereignty and Self-Reliance;
  • Natural Resources and Environment; and
  • Papua New Guinean Ways.

These same themes were embraced in Vision 2050 as the key to enhance our socio-economic performance and improve our overall human development ranking.

The Prime Minister, on his own website, says “Our collective efforts will bring Papua New Guinea and its people 5 years closer to Vision 2050” – but supporting projects like the Frieda River mine would make that just one more broken promise.

PanAust gets Govt support
Post Courier | June 30,2016
PANAUST, the developer of the Frieda River Gold project, has been assured of the government’s commitment and support towards mine start up.  Mining Minister Byron Chan said this while congratulating the company on the submission of its Application for the Special Mining Lease (SML) recently.
“The government of PNG stands ready to dialogue and work with PanAust. All relevant government agencies are ready to provide you their services where they are required.” “I call on the West and East Sepik provincial governments, landowners, LLGs, politicians and citizens to embrace the project.
“Work with the company to ensure that this project successfully gets off the ground so that resource owners, provincial governments, national government and its citizens can benefit,” Mr Chan said.
According PANAUST, its average production is 175,000 tons of copper and 250,000 ounces of gold on an annual basis over a mine life of 17 years. There is great potential to increase the mine life with further project audit, adjustments and exploration programs.
The project is one of the three significant new generation projects that are expected to contribute to the economy of Papua New Guinea. It will increase the national gross domestic product (GDP) and export earnings, provide long term government revenues and contribute to employment opportunities.
The Frieda River project will be the first major large scale resource project in East and West Sepik. This project should be the catalyst to grow other sustainable economies of the Sepik region.
“This is a priority project for the O’Neill Government as it comes on the back of the LNG project,” the minister said.


Filed under Financial returns, Human rights, Papua New Guinea

Highlands Pacific slashes costs and dumps MD John Gooding

ACT NOW! outside the Highlands Pacific office in Brisbane

Junior mining company Highlands Pacific has announced it is slashing costs and dumping its Managing Director, John Gooding, and two other senior executives. The remaining Directors and senior executives will be taking a 20% pay cut.

Highlands Pacific is the company responsible for the Ramu nickel mine, with its marine tailings dumping, and retains a small stake in the operation which is now owned by the Chinese State. The mine has been closed for several months following a fatal accident.

Highlands Pacific is also a junior partner in the proposed Frieda river mine, also owned by Chinese State interests.

In a statement released last week, the Highlands Pacific board said there was no prospect of commercial operations at Frieda river until at least 2024 and therefore the Board had “to make substantial changes to significantly reduce the Company’s future cost base”.

The statement says the announced staff changes will save the company $1.75 million a year.

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Mining Threatens Papua New Guinea’s Mighty Sepik River with Utter Ruin

The Frieda river will be polluted, destroying the region’s rainforests and Sepik River’s swamps and staple sago trees downstream

The Frieda river will be polluted, destroying the region’s rainforests and Sepik River’s swamps and staple sago trees downstream

Dr. Glen Barry | EcoInternet | JULY 4, 2016

The Chinese government’s massive open-pit mine in the rainy Papua New Guinea highlands, with its tons of toxic tailings full of sulphides and heavy metals, is to be poised above the Sepik River and its primary rainforests, intact local cultures, and the South Pacific Ocean. Apparently Papua New Guinea’s urban elites have learned little from decades of foreign industrial mining (and logging) causing conflict and despair, environmental damage, and social and economic decline.

“From a biological perspective I can hardly think of a worse place for a copper mine,” Professor Tim Flannery

“Dispela kain giaman divelopmen long ples mas pinis o bihaintaim bai had long ol papa graun karim kaiki long ples (This false development must end or it will be hard for local peoples to feed themselves in the future)” – Dr. Glen Barry, Mangi Madang

A proposed large-scale copper and gold mine in PNG will irreparably harm the relatively pristine Sepik and Frieda Rivers, and devastate the region’s primary rainforests and indigenous cultures. The Sepik is one of the largest wild river systems left in the Asia Pacific. The Frieda River runs for 100 kilometres from the mine site in the steep, forested highlands before it joins the Sepik which flows another 600 kilometres through a wetland-dotted plain before reaching PNG’s northern coast. Mammal faunas in that area are the richest in all of Australasia, with large tracts of contiguous primary rainforests, and the region is culturally rich as well.

PNG has a troubled history of extreme environmental and social damage from mining, with few economic benefits to locals who bear tremendous environmental and economic burdens thereafter. Both the Bougainville and Ok Tedi mines tremendously damaged whole river systems, as did the Freeport mine in Irian Jaya. The Bougainville mine led to a civil war that killed tens of thousands, and the mine developers Rio Tinto have now abandoned the mine without any restitution for environmental and war crimes. The Sepik region has been heavily logged for decades, with over $USD one billion in timber extracted, leaving local peoples in abject poverty no longer able to subsist. Industrial mining and logging by foreigners have totally failed to provide local benefits, with proceeds flowing to the urban elite, leaving ravaged industrial wastelands where primary rainforests and indigenous forest gardens once stood.

Civil War in Bougainville caused by mining devastated PNG’s indigenous peoples and environment. Now the miners have ran away with the profits, paying no compensation.

Civil War in Bougainville caused by mining devastated PNG’s indigenous peoples and environment. Now the miners have ran away with the profits, paying no compensation.

The scope of the mine continues to expand, threatening to be one of the largest copper and gold mines in the world. There are expected to be several billions of tonnes of waste rock generated in a seismically-active region with very high rainfall. Exposed mineral sulphides become unstable when exposed to air and water forming sulphuric acid, dissolving heavy metals which in high concentrations kill fish and devastate riparian and marine ecosystems.

China-owned PanAust has recently applied for a special mining lease for the large-scale, open pit mine. Frieda River Copper and Gold Project is controlled by an 80:20 joint venture between Chinese-owned company PanAust and Australian Stock Exchange-listed junior Highlands Pacific. PanAust is in turn owned by the Chinese State through Guandong Rising Asset Management – just like MCC and its faltering Ramu nickel mine in Madang, which is leaking profusely.

The company claims the mine will be of “world standard” when they haven’t yet revealed how they will manage the toxic tailings and have not submitted any environmental plan. Once the mine is operating, 4,000 tonne barges will travel up the Sepik River daily. Chinese development in PNG is continually sub-par and shoddy, virtually ensuring major toxic spills in an earthquake prone area containing large intact natural rainforests and a complex hydrology. The proposed Frieda/Sepik rivers mine will leave the special Sepik ecosystem an industrial wasteland. The mine poised above the Sepik must be stopped and never be built.

TAKE ACTION NOW to protect Papua New Guinea’s rainforests and indigenous people!


Filed under Environmental impact, Papua New Guinea