Tag Archives: Frieda river mine

Where to dump Frieda’s raw waste just a ‘technical issue’: Minister

Frieda River mine set to start operations 
[the Post Courier loves a misleading headline!]

Post Courier | March 09, 2017

The giant Frieda River mine in West Sepik is now 60 percent ready of becoming a reality with the National Government waiting to issue the mining license for the project to start after few technical issues are sorted out, says Aitape Lumi MP and Minister for Treasury Patrick Pruaitch.

“Frieda River is 60 per cent reality now, we are ready to issue the license. We just need to work through with the technical people to on how they will dump the raw waste.”

“The company has put an application to convert mine waste into power generation system , but the State does not have the capacity so it is doing its best to hire people to give the best advice on how we can look at that and we can give the okay for that 40 per cent to be completed, for 100 per cent to give the mining license for project to start,” Mr Pruaitch said.

Mr Pruaitch said this at the opening of the first ever Frieda Mine Landowners Forum underway in Port Moresby’s Crowne Plaza Hotel that started yesterday and will end today.

Mr Pruaitch urged the people to work together and put together their benefits package for the National Government to consider during the project negotiation.

” Let us not send mix signals, it will give opportunity for company to go divide a few LLGs and MP’s to start the mine with the least cost possible so we can bring in impacted development for that region,

“I believe that is a big project that will transform Sandaun Province and Sepik region including Madang. This project will spread benefits across the region.”

YUP, JUST LIKE OK TEDI HAS TRANSFORMED WESTERN PROVINCE; LIHIR HAS TRANSFORMED NEW IRELAND; PORGERA HAS TRANSFORMED ENGA; AND THE LNG HAS TRANSFORMED HELA PROVINCE

HOW ARE OUR POLITICIANS STILL ABLE TO SPOUT THIS NONSENSE AND NOT GET LOCKED UP IN LALOKI PSYCHIATRIC HOSPITAL?

OR MAYBE WE NEED TO CHANGE THE LAW TO MAKE PEDDLING FALSE CLAIMS AND PRAYING ON PEOPLES DESPERATION BECAUSE THEIR GOVT HAS FAILED THEM A CRIMINAL OFFENCE?

“I want initial support from landowners because if we don’t have a project, we will not talk about benefits. We have to have a project, we have to get a leg in and another one in than we can be able to negotiate for the benefits. If we are not supporting the project than we can be standing here as leaders driving a lost cost, we must have a project, we must have shareholding understanding with impacted landowners, we must have understanding with the Telefomin district, we must have that understanding with the Telefomin LLG and sandaun Provincial Government.”

“I want Frieda mine which is going to be the first mining for the next government to use LNG precedent to allocate these benefits.”

Landowners to discuss benefits amongst others

FRIEDA Mine landowners have come together to discuss issues including benefits for negotiations with the National Government and developer PanAust when Frieda Mine project comes into development.

Member for Telefomin Solan Mirisim who initiated the first ever landowner forum to discuss issues surrounding the Frieda River Project, the Political Leaders from the West Sepik Province. MRA and stake holders emphasised on how best they can work hand in hand and support the Company, landowners and the State to kick start the Project once the SM application is granted.

“I stand up here representing the views, the cries and the excitement of over 50,000 people from Telefomin District, including people from ward 21, particularly the seven impact Villages within the vicinity of Special Mine Lease area.”

Mr Mirisim said Telefomin is the host District of the Frieda River Project and is one of the most remotest districts in the country that has no road link, only mode of transport is by Air and the four LLG are all accessible by third level airline and it is very expensive District to deliver goods and services to our people on time.

“Frieda River Project is the only Project in this country that has taken over 40 years of exploration after exploration, I must take this time to thank many exploration companies who have worked on the Frieda River Project for many years to this time, it is long time awaiting for our People in Frieda River and Telefomin District.”

“I would like to thank the Highlands Pacific and the PanAust for taking the project closer to fruition. One final step to finish and we will have a world class Mine that will be mined and developed in our District which will no doubt create prime opportunity to impact and transform the lives of our people through employment, training, economic empowerment, contracts and all kinds.

“We want to see a Pathway that will improve our way of life, a pathway that will change the areas of Infrastructure, a pathway that will see a society transformed with Improved Social and Health Indicators.

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Greedy foreigners continue to fight over who profits from the destruction of the Sepik

The Chinese and Australians are fighting over who will control the destruction of the Frieda river and the region’s rainforests, swamps and staple sago trees

PanAust speaks out on HPL

Post Courier | March 08, 2017

MINER PanAust Limited has broken its silence on the rift that has developed with its joint venture partner-Highlands Pacific Limited (HPL).

Responding in a market report managing director Dr Fred Hess clarified the proposal was to reinvigorate its (HPL) board and that it had omitted material information to the proposal.

“PanAust also wishes to note that in its view each nominee would meet the test of independence as set out in the Australian Stock Exchange (ASX) Corporate Governance Principles and Recommendations.” he said.

“PanAust also wishes to clarify that the proposal to reinvigorate the Highlands board is unrelated to the ongoing dispute in relation to the Frieda River project and the proposed independent directors have no involvement in the Frieda River joint venture.

“In particular, the announcement failed to disclose that PanAust views each nominee as independent from PanAust, and that there is no arrangement or understanding that the proposed independent directors will act at the direction of, or report to PanAust.”

Dr Hess said the reasons for PanAust seeking to change the composition of the Highlands board include to implement a new strategy and direction for Highlands.

Dr Hess said this is with a view to increasing shareholder value in circumstances where the HPL share price has decreased significantly over the last five years.

“PanAust notes that voting patterns at the last annual general meeting reflect substantial shareholder discontent with the current board following the US$68 million loss in 2015 which included the payment of short term incentives to senior management.

“Sentiment is unlikely to have improved following the 2016 half year loss of US$23.5 million which has been exacerbated by the board’s delayed and ineffective response to implement austerity measures and also in the absence of any disclosure in respect of strategy to create shareholder value.

“Clearly, change is overdue with barely US$10.5 million cash left in the bank at year end after spending US$3 million on staff costs for the year,” Dr Hess said.

He said PanAust disagreed with the comments that had been made by Highlands that, should the proposal be implemented, it would result in a “PanAust-dominated board” which “would be at risk of operating in the interests of GRAM, rather than in the interests of all its collective shareholders.”

“PanAust considers that the appointment of a new, independent board is an important step towards a strategic reinvigoration of Highlands with a view to stemming ongoing value destruction.

“PanAust notes that it is still waiting on a response from Highlands on the date of the shareholders meeting to consider Highlands board composition,” he said.

He urged investors to consider the resolutions being proposed by PanAust carefully, together with the information and reasons put forward by PanAust.

Further, that they vote in favour of the resolutions at the special meeting, which will be held in May, 2017.

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China ‘angling for control’ of massive Mt Frieda copper deposit in PNG

Exploration drilling at the Mt Frieda deposit, in Papua New Guinea. 

Exploration drilling at the Mt Frieda deposit, in Papua New Guinea.

Brian Robins | Sydney Morning Herald | 2 March 2017

Frieda River is one of the largest undeveloped copper deposits in the world. Now, the smaller shareholder in the project, in the remote highlands of Papua New Guinea, has cried “foul’ warning that a proposed board spill will give the Chinese government control.

Less than two years after paying $1.2 billion to snap up PanAust, an Australian miner with interests in projects in Laos and Papua New Guinea, Guangdong Rising, a Chinese investment company owned by the Guangdong provincial government of southern China, is angling to gain control over the Mount Frieda gold and copper deposit.

The Frieda River deposit has been under study for development for more than 30 years. Now controlled 80 per cent by PanAust and 20 per cent by Highlands Pacific, it has had a series of owners, from Japanese to American groups, with Swiss trader Glencore the majority owner before it sold to PanAust. All of the owners to date have struggled with the cost of developing the resource.

Located in the remote north-west of PNG, Frieda River is 175 kilometres north-west of the Porgera gold mine and 75km north-east of the Ok Tedi mine.

Development costs have been put at as high as $US6 billion, which is a stumbling block, since few private companies could finance a project of that size, and most banks would baulk at the large sums involved and the associated development risk. One reason for the high cost is the need for a hydro-electric dam to generate the power needed by the project.

The most recent project study put forward by PanAust last year was based on a plant capable of handling 40 million tonnes of ore annually, producing 175,000 tonnes of copper and 250,000 ounces of gold, with an initial mine life of 17 years. This would cost an estimated $US3.6 billion to develop, excluding some key costs such as the power station and other items of equipment.

Highlands Pacific rejected the study, and obtained a review of the proposal arguing it was deficient, a view which was supported by an independent assessor which found that less expensive, lower risk options should be put forward for consideration.

PanAust had in September 2014, well before the Chinese government took control of the company, put forward a $US1.7 billion estimate to develop Frieda River. The second, more expensive development concept reflects the larger annual production capacity of the project, additional spending on waste and tailings management and increased construction costs.

In February, just over a month after the peer review of the feasibility study was released, PanAust moved to take control of the Highland Pacific board, seeking to replace its four independent directors with its own nominees.

Guangdong Rising has a 14 per cent shareholding in Highlands Pacific, with Trafigura, the privately controlled commodity trader, owning 16 per cent and an arm of the PNG government another 11 per cent.

Guangdong Rising’s “proposed board spill would constitute a change of control of the company, without any payment or premium for control”, Highland Pacific’s outgoing chairman Ken MacDonald and Ron Douglas, the chairman elect, said in a letter to shareholders.

“Our shareholders deserve better. If GRAM wants control, it should make a takeover offer and pay a full price.”

For its part, the Chinese company has stated the proposed board spill is simply an attempt to “reinvigorate” Highland Pacific’s board.

“PanAust considers that the appointment of a new, independent board is an important step towards a strategic reinvigoration of Highlands with a view to stemming ongoing value destruction,” it said in a statement, denying the proposed board spill is about gaining full control over the Mt Frieda project.

It also argues that the nominees it has put forward to stand for the Highlands Pacific board are viewed as being independent of itself, and they will not act under its direction. 

Along with the Frieda River stake, HIghland Pacific has a small share in the large Ramu nickel project, controlled by China Metallurgical Co, along with some advanced exploration projects.

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Tussle over HPL’s future control and the Frieda river mine

hpl

See also: Frieda river mining companies involved in internal war

Post Courier | February 27, 2017

A RIFT has developed between Highlands Pacific Limited (HPL) and its shareholder, Chinese group Guangdong Rising Assets Management Co Ltd (GRAM), over the future control of the Papua New Guinea company.

HPL says it is a battle with potentially major ramifications for its multi-billion kina PNG projects, including Frieda River, Ramu Nickel and Star Mountains.

Last week, GRAM subsidiary PanAust, which owns a 14 percent stake in HPL, had demanded a meeting of HPL’s shareholders to remove four of the company’s five non-executive independent directors and replace them with three GRAM nominees.

HPL argued the highly aggressive move would deliver GRAM control of the firm which was valued at about A$60 million (K146 million), without GRAM having paid anything to the other shareholders of the company that collectively hold 86 percent.

The move also would deliver GRAM essentially full, unassailable control of the giant US$6 billion (K19bn) Frieda River project in West Sepik Province. HPL and GRAM are joint venture partners in the project, with GRAM holding an 80 percent interest and HPL 20 percent.

HPL also holds an 8.56 percent interest in the Ramu Nickel project, as well as a major shareholding in the ‘exciting’ Star Mountains exploration project.

HPL directors had opposed GRAM demands, stating that handing control of the Company to GRAM/PanAust would not be in the interests of its shareholders.

Chairman Ken MacDonald said the GRAM/PanAust proposal effectively amounted to a takeover of Highlands without offering to pay shareholders.

HPL managing director Craig Lennon said the future of Highlands was vitally important for the development of its projects, and could have serious economic implications for PNG.

“We want to see these projects, especially the Frieda River project, develop in a timely fashion, creating potentially enormous economic benefits for PNG by creating jobs, generating revenues for government and earning foreign exchange income,” he said.

“With Highlands remaining as an independent company, we have the best chance of achieving that outcome.”

The special meeting to consider the matter would be held in Port Moresby, and shareholders would vote on the proposals to remove four of the five non-executive independent directors including the chairman.

The two directors who GRAM is not trying to remove for now are the managing director Craig Lennon and Bart Philemon, the highly respected former treasury minister.

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Frieda river mining companies involved in internal war

The Chinese are fighting to get three Highlands Pacific directors off the PanAust board

The Chinese are fighting to get three Highlands Pacific directors, including Chairman Ken MacDonald off the PanAust board

Australian mining company Highlands Pacific is involved in a war with Chinese state-owned Guangdong Rising Assets Management (GRAM), over the future of the Frieda River mine. Highlands Pacific owns 20% of the proposed Frieda River mine through the joint venture company, PanAust. The Chinese own 80%.

Highlands Pacific has accused the Chinese of failing to complete the Frieda River mine feasibility study to the required standard. GRAM has responded by trying to throw three Highlands Pacific executives off the PanAust board… none of which bodes well for the future of the mine or the people of the Sepik…

HPL members asked to resign

Post Courier | February 17, 2017

REQUESTS by PanAust to Highlands Pacific Limited(HPL) for the resignation of three of its board directors have not gone down well. PanAust made the demand, in a notice it issued to HPL also seeking a special meeting be convened. PanAust, is a subsidiary of Chinese state-owned-enterprise, Guangdong Rising Assets Management Co Ltd (GRAM). PanAust holds 13.9 percent of HPL, and is a joint venture partner in the proposed Frieda River project.

The appointees PanAust is seeking to remove are Highlands Pacific’s Ken MacDonald (chairman), Ron Douglas (director), Mike Carroll and Dan Wood (independent director) and they be replaced with three nominees from GRAM. However, HPL on Tuesday had urged its shareholders, no action, stating it to be the strong view of the company that the replacement of four of the existing five non-executive board members with the PanAust nominees would not be in the interests of the other shareholders, who number over 7,500.

HPL said the PanAust proposal effectively would amount to a takeover of HPL without offering to acquire any shares, let alone with an appropriate premium.

“It is clear that a PanAust-dominated board would be at risk of operating in the interests of GRAM, rather than in the interests of all of our shareholders,” Mr MacDonald said.

“It is important for shareholders to be aware that HPL is currently in dispute with PanAust regarding the funding and methods of progressing the Frieda River project.

“HPL remains of the view that the PanAust approach to the project is suboptimal, and we have been urging it to adopt a different course of development that would generate better returns and reduced risks for our 7,500 shareholders.

“It also is our view that PanAust has failed to complete the Frieda River feasibility study to the standard required under the joint venture agreement,” Mr MacDonald said.

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Papua New Guinea’s Frieda River project still faces obstacles, says Managing Director Fred Hess

Image: PanAust’s Fred Hess. Source: Business Advantage International

PanAust’s Fred Hess. Source: Business Advantage International

EMTV News | 29 December 2016

PanAust [owned by the Chinese company, Guandong Rising Assets Management] is keen to start development of the Frieda River copper-gold project, Managing Director Fred Hess told the Papua New Guinea Mining and Petroleum Investment Conference in Sydney last week. But he warned there are many obstacles to overcome before a final decision to go ahead with the mine.

Hess said the nature of the resource at Frieda River in West Sepik Province is well understood, noting that the project ‘has been known about’ for almost 50 years.

‘We are now in the phase where we are waiting for permit approval to take place,’ he told the conference.

‘Realistically, with the elections due next year, and with the size and complexity of the project, we are expecting that may take a while to get through to completion.

‘Once that process is finished, we then sit down and look at what the environment is like for making an investment decision and essentially there are a number of conditions that will have to be met in order for us to proceed to that investment decision.’

‘The embankment will take up about 40 per cent of the total capital cost of the project.’

Environmental issues

Hess described the project as a substantial open cut mining operation dominated by a very large storage facility.

‘That facility is designed to take the tailings from the processing plant and the waste from the mine and all of that sits behind a very large embankment,’ he said.

Hess said the embankment will take up about 40 per cent of the total capital cost of the project.

‘It doesn’t produce any copper but it is a necessary requirement in order to produce copper,’ he told delegates.

‘It is distinctive in the sense that PNG has traditionally taken cheaper forms of tailings and waste disposal routes.

‘But, because of the issues that we have with Frieda River being upstream from the Sepik River, this is the solution we have come up with which we think addresses all the environmental issues that are so important to a project like this succeeding.

Hydro power

‘The other special part of this project is that, because of the size of the embankment, because of the size of the catchment it sits in and the amount of water that falls as rain and gets collected in the catchment, and because of the height of the embankment, the opportunity to produce hydro-electric power also presents itself.

‘There are no free lunches. We must be mindful of the risks of developing large scale projects.’

‘That makes it a unique storage facility in our assessment in being able to store not only tailings, mining waste and water but it can generate a return in terms of hydro electricity.’

World scale deposit

Hess said the project is of national significance, describing it as a ‘world scale deposit’ that is in the top 10 undeveloped copper deposits in the world. He said it will create many jobs for locals, but he warned that there are challenges.

‘There are no free lunches. We must be mindful of the risks of developing large scale projects. Frieda River has substantial logistical challenges. It is inland; there are no roads.

‘It is ‘crucial not to jeopardise the livelihoods and environment for all those people downstream.’

‘For access to the site for the main logistics required you go up the Sepik River for 600 kilometres and then you need a road for another 100 kilometres, up to the actual mine site.

‘If you look at the terrain, it is relatively mountainous and it has a high level of rainfall all year round. That makes a challenging environment in terms of building stable structures and just undertaking the whole construction effort.’

Hess added that downstream of the project is ‘some 30,000 people who are very mindful and watchful of what is happening upstream’. He said it is ‘crucial not to jeopardise the livelihoods and environment for all those people downstream.’

Challenges

Hess said there are no port facilities capable of supporting the mine and no electricity grid. ‘There are no roads. We are significantly infrastructure-challenged in this location. That challenge represents an additional capital burden to the project.

‘When making an investment that is multi-billion dollar, you want to have confidence over those multiple political cycles that the policy environment will remain constant.’

‘Over the last four or five years there has been a significant decline in the price of copper and that represents a significant challenge to making an investment decision. Notwithstanding the recent jump, it still represents a long term challenge. What will the copper price be in order to support an investment decision?

‘The other major risk we face is the policy environment in which we invest. This project, to generate a return, will probably take at least two political cycles in PNG and to actually realise the benefits of those returns, many more political cycles.

‘When making an investment that is multi-billion dollar, you want to have confidence over those multiple political cycles that the policy environment will remain constant, support investment decisions and underpin confidence that we are doing the right thing by investing in PNG and not some other jurisdiction.’

Rewards

Hess added that the potential rewards are substantial, balancing the risk. He said the existing resource base of 2.5 billion tonnes of ore is ‘not closed off’ and that there are further opportunities.

‘We have a lot of confidence in developing the project. But I want to make it clear that we have to overcome a number of challenges.’

PanAust [owned by GRAM] controls 80% of the Freida River project, with Highlands Pacific the remaining 20%. As with all mining projects in PNG, the State has the option to buy in to up to 30% of the project prior to the granting 0f a special mining lease. PanAust applied for a Special Mining Lease in June 2016.

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Tibetans in anguish as Chinese mines pollute their sacred grasslands

Landscape along the road from Xining to Yushu in Qinghai province. (Giulia Marchi/For The Washington Post)

Landscape along the road from Xining to Yushu in Qinghai province. (Giulia Marchi/For The Washington Post)

With the Chinese expanding their mining interests in Papua New Guinea, is the pollution and desecration being suffered in Tibet a foretaste of the anguish to come in PNG? 

Simon Denyer | Washington Post | December 26 2016

High in western China’s Sichuan province, in the shadow of holy mountains, the Liqi River flows through a lush, grassy valley dotted with grazing yaks, small Tibetan villages and a Buddhist temple. But there’s ­poison here.

A large lithium mine not only desecrates the sacred grasslands, villagers say, but spawns deadly pollution. The river used to be full of fish. Today, there are hardly any. Hundreds of yaks, the villagers say, have died in the past few years after drinking river water.

China’s thirst for mineral ­resources — and its desire to exploit the rich deposits under the Tibetan plateau — have spread ­environmental pollution and ­anguish for many of the herders whose ancestors lived here for thousands of years.

The land they worship is under assault, and their way of life is threatened without their consent, the herders say.

“Old people, we see the mines and we cry,” a 67-year-old yak herder said, requesting anonymity for fear of retribution. “What are the future generations going to do? How are they going to survive?”

A local environmentalist, who also declined to be named to avoid backlash from the authorities, said he had done an oral survey of local opinion and found that Tibetans would oppose mining projects even if companies promised to share profits with local communities, to fill in mines after they were exhausted, and to return sites to their natural state.

“God is in the mountains and the rivers, these are the places that spirits live,” he said. “When mining comes and the grassland is dug up, people believe worse disasters will come. It destroys the mountain god.”

Salt deposits at the Jiajika lithium mine in Tagong township in China’s western Sichuan province, seen in August. Local herders have protested at least twice against the mine, saying it has polluted the Liqi River and killed fish and yaks downstream. (Simon Denyer/The Washington Post)

Salt deposits at the Jiajika lithium mine in Tagong township in China’s western Sichuan province, seen in August. Local herders have protested at least twice against the mine, saying it has polluted the Liqi River and killed fish and yaks downstream. (Simon Denyer/The Washington Post)

‘We just knew they had lied’

It was in 2009 that toxic chemicals from the Ganzizhou Rongda Lithium mine first leaked into the river, locals say, killing their livestock and poisoning the fish.

“The whole river stank, and it was full of dead yaks and dead fish,” said one man downstream in the village of Balang, who declined to be named for fear of retribution. Another pollution outbreak and a protest by villagers in 2013 forced the government to order production temporarily stopped, locals said.

“Then ... officials came to the village to try to persuade people,” the man said. “They said we have to have the mine but promised they would take time to fix the pollution problem before reopening it.”

But in April, just after mining restarted, fish began dying again, ­locals said. “That’s when we just knew they had lied,” the man said.

In May, residents staged a second protest, scattering dead fish on a road in the nearby town of Tagong. The protesters were surrounded by dozens of baton-wielding riot police. Again the government stepped in, issuing a statement to “solemnly” promise that the plant would not reopen until the “environmental issues” were solved.

But the problem at the Jiajika mine is not an isolated one. Across Tibetan parts of China, protests regularly erupt against mineral extraction, according to a 2015 report by Tibet Watch.

tibet-image

China is focused on copper and gold extraction from Tibet but is also exploiting a whole range of minerals “with increasing intensity,” including chromium, iron, lithium, iron, mercury, uranium and zinc — as well as fossil fuels such as coal, oil and natural gas, the report said.

Although China boasts of its ­development work in western ­regions where Tibetans live — hauling millions out of poverty and nearly doubling life expectancy over the past five decades — the report argued that much of the transport and other infrastructure in the region is aimed at extracting minerals rather than benefiting residents. Projects usually import workers from other parts of China, seldom employing Tibetans in significant numbers.

When protests break out, ­China’s response “has generally been heavy-handed,” with authorities seeking to politicize the protests, Tibet Watch wrote.

Understanding those risks, ­Tibetan communities sometimes use creative ways to get their message across.

When hundreds of people gathered in August 2013 in Zadoi county in Qinghai province to protest against mining on what they considered to be a holy mountain, they flew Chinese flags to demonstrate their loyalty to the state and erected posters and placards quoting President Xi Jinping’s words on the need to balance economic growth and environmental protection.

It didn’t help. Police and paramilitary forces arrived in large numbers and fired bullets above the crowd, according to campaigners at Free Tibet. The group said eight people were arrested and many more injured.

A camp at a lead and zinc mine in the high-altitude village of Xingniangda in the southern part of Qinghai province. Only Han Chinese work there. (Giulia Marchi/For The Washington Post)

A camp at a lead and zinc mine in the high-altitude village of Xingniangda in the southern part of Qinghai province. Only Han Chinese work there. (Giulia Marchi/For The Washington Post)

In the villages outside Xiaosumang township in Qinghai, residents blame a lead and zinc mine for the deterioration of the grasslands for miles around, and even for falling harvests of caterpillar fungus, a highly prized health cure that is the backbone of the local economy.

Contaminated water from the mine, residents said in a joint letter to the authorities in 2010, not only killed their livestock but also caused people who drank it to die of cancer, they said.

“Over the years, many herders would sigh and say: ‘Life can’t go on like this anymore. Even drinking has become a big issue for people living on the grasslands,’” the letter said.

A May 2009 protest in the village of Xizha prompted a severe crackdown, the letter said, with guns and tear gas used, seven women severely beaten, and 12 men blindfolded, detained and tortured.

Authorities threatened to cancel poverty-alleviation grants, including income and housing subsidies, if anyone in the region brought up the issue of environmental protection again, the letter said, adding that the crackdown “caused great fear to spread in our hearts.”

Whether the mine is truly the culprit for all the grasslands’ ills is another matter — climate change, for example, is probably an important factor. But that doesn’t soothe local anger.

“When I was young, there was more grass, more flowers, it was really beautiful here,” said a 27-year-old man in a valley downstream from the lead and zinc mine. “Now you see it’s less beautiful every year. People see all this and they are not really sure what happened, so they think it must be the mine.”

A woman washes clothes near the Jiajika lithium mine in Tagong township in China’s western Sichuan province. Local say the mine has polluted the Liqi River and killed fish and yaks. (Simon Denyer/The Washington Post)

A woman washes clothes near the Jiajika lithium mine in Tagong township in China’s western Sichuan province. Local say the mine has polluted the Liqi River and killed fish and yaks. (Simon Denyer/The Washington Post)

A conflict without end

In Jiajika, 300 miles to the southeast, the commercial pressure to reopen the lithium mine is mounting. The element is a vital component in rechargeable batteries used in cars, smartphones, laptops and other electronic and electrical items. Demand — and prices — are skyrocketing.

Last January, Youngy Co. Ltd., the parent company of Ganzizhou Rongda Lithium, promised investors that the local government would step up efforts to reopen the mine in March.

That same month, an article in the local Ganzi Daily newspaper outlined the authorities’ dream of making the area “China’s lithium capital,” calling Jiajika the biggest lithium mine in the world with proven reserves of 1.89 million metric tons and even greater ­potential. Three companies, including Rongda, will invest 3.4 billion yuan ($510 million) in the site by 2020, the article said.

He Chengkun, Youngy’s media officer, said an official investigation had established that the plant was not responsible for killing fish in 2013 or this year.

“The local government has made it clear it is nothing to do with our company,” he said. “They are looking into it and have already zoomed in on some suspects.”

He said the plant has been closed since late 2013 because of problems relating to land acquisition and denied that it had restarted operations in April, as locals claimed.

Nevertheless, across the Tibetan plateau, resource extraction, land grabs and environmental destruction remain flash points for conflict between Tibetans and the authorities, said Free Tibet Director Eleanor Byrne-Rosengren, reflecting both local grievances and the wider problem that Tibetans do not have the right to decide what happens to Tibet and its resources.

“Those resources feed the demands of Chinese industry instead of the needs of the Tibetan people,” she said. “That is why their environment is put at risk and their rights are trampled upon, and why we can expect to see this conflict played out repeatedly in the future.”

Xu Yanjingjing contributed to this report.

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