Tag Archives: Hela Province

Exxon halts work on PNG gas pipeline amid civil strife in highlands

Construction equipment in flames in Angore. Image courtesy of ATALA.

Reuters | 6 July 2018

Exxon Mobil Corp stopped construction on its Angore gas pipeline in Papua New Guinea’s strife-hit highlands late last month after building sites were vandalized, the company said on Friday.

“All work at the Angore wellpads and pipeline construction has been suspended and all impacted personnel are in the process of being demobilized or reassigned,” an ExxonMobil PNG spokeswoman said by email, adding it was halted late in June.

The 11-km (7-mile) pipeline is being built to connect the Angore gas field with the Hides gas conditioning plant, and the stopwork does not affect production there, she added.

Papua New Guinea’s government declared a state of emergency in the region last month and sent in troops after rioters went on a rampage protesting a failed court challenge to a provincial governor’s election.

Pictures on PNG’s EMTV Online in June showed burnt out heavy machinery and a fire burning in a shipping container at the site in Angore, which suffered “significant vandalism,” Exxon’s statement said. It gave no timeframe for the resumption of work.

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Tensions mount at PNG gas project as landowners threaten to close plant for good

Armed civilians at the Angore blockade, courtesy of ATALA.

Lucy EJ Woods | Mongabay | 4 July 2018

  • On June 21, a dispute over royalties led heavily armed civilian groups to set fire to construction equipment at the ExxonMobil-led PNG LNG project in the Papua New Guinea highlands.
  • Negotiations with the government on June 26 failed to ease tensions. All wellheads have now been closed down and ExxonMobil personnel are being evacuated.
  • The landowner group has set a new deadline of July 18 for a resolution with the government, after which they threaten PNG LNG will be “closed permanently.”

Landowners in Papua New Guinea’s Hela province have threatened to expand and escalate their blockade of a natural gas project there, after an attempt at negotiation fell through.

Plant operator ExxonMobil PNG confirmed to Mongabay that all wellheads and the Angore pipeline have been shut down and personnel evacuated.

On June 21, to “show frustration” over a decade-long, unresolved landownership dispute, heavily armed civilian groups set fire to construction equipment and blockaded a wellhead site in Angore.

The $19 billion PNG LNG (Papua New Guinea Liquefied Natural Gas) project is the largest resource extraction project to ever be developed in the country.

As a result of the unrest, all three of the wellheads in Angore and the pipeline have now been suspended “and all impacted personnel are in the process of being demobilized or reassigned,” a spokesperson from ExxonMobil PNG told Mongabay. This is “due to unacceptable acts of vandalism.”

The safety of “staff and the community is our first priority,” the spokesperson added.

The spokesperson also confirmed that the neighboring Hides gas conditioning plant was operating as normal.

Armed protesters at the blockade of the Angore LNG pipeline. Image courtesy of ATALA.

Stalled negotiations

On June 26, representatives from landowner group Angore Tiddl Appa Landowners Association Inc. (ATALA), including Marlex Au from the Jangali clan and Eric Mondoro of the Telia clan, traveled to the national parliament in Port Moresby to negotiate with Prime Minister Peter O’Neill.

ATALA is demanding from the government an “infrastructure development grant” of 32 million kina ($9.7 million), equity shareholder certificates for traditional landowners, 2 percent royalties every month, and for the government to complete official clan vetting for the PNG LNG project.

Instead, ATALA were met by public servants, offered 20 million kina ($6.1 million) and told to halt the protesting and unrest in Angore and to lay down their weapons. This meeting was “to stall,” says Gary Juffa, governor of Oro province and a prominent opposition leader.

ATALA manager Benson Pajilah confirmed to Mongabay that ATALA had notified the government that it must resolve the dispute by July 18 or the PNG LNG project would be “closed permanently.”

“If the government don’t listen to ATALA Inc., we have capacity to shut down Hides Gas Conditioning Plant and Komo Airport. That will shut down all of PNG LNG’s operations,” Pajilah said.

“We will shut [PNG LNG] down forever, we will burn everything,” said David Hayabe, a founding member of ATALA. “We will blow [up] the gas conditioning plant at Hides.”

Both Palijah and Hayabe have said ATALA can “raise all of Hela” to shut down PNG LNG. Papua New Guinea anthropologist and Hela expert Michael Main said ATALA had “an incredible amount of support” and was recruiting people to join the group, including by offering money.

With the support of the population of Hela, it would be possible for ATALA to blockade and shut down the Hides conditioning plant, Main said, as PNG soldiers “are outnumbered and outgunned.” Juffa told Mongabay separately that ATALA was better equipped than the PNG military and police.

If a resolution is not found soon, the dispute “could be the end game [for PNG LNG],” Main said.

In response to rumors that ExxonMobil PNG could exit the country, a spokesperson told Mongabay that the company was “committed to Papua New Guinea for the long term.”

The Angore Tiddl Appa Landowners Association Inc. (ATALA) says it represents 150 clans in Hela, numbering some 100,000 people. Image courtesy of ATALA.

Sending a delegation

In an attempt to quell the continued civil unrest and prevent the suggested closure of PNG LNG, a government delegation will head to Angore.

Although a date has not yet been confirmed, Hayabe said it was likely the meeting would be held in Angore on July 13, before the July 18 deadline imposed by ATALA on the government to respond.

If the government fails to meet the deadline, “There will be no PNG LNG gas project,” Hayabe said.

Juffa said the government was sending “a heap of people, public servants, to meet with [ATALA], but as of yet there are no firm commitments.”

For the use of its land to develop PNG LNG, the government owes ATALA “millions,” according to Juffa. To resolve the dispute, the government “will have to find that money somewhere,” he said. He also suggested the government delegation’s response appeared to be the result of pressure from ExxonMobil PNG in a bid to prevent further damage to its infrastructure.

Construction equipment in flames in Angore. Image courtesy of ATALA.

Demands center on the government, not ExxonMobil

ATALA says it wants to work together with ExxonMobil.

“We have no issue with Exxon employees, they can go home to their families. This is not their fight,” Palijah said.

Hayabe said he did not trust the government, and that it should have responded quicker.

“We gave the government two more weeks to respond,” he said, referring to the deadline extension to July 18.

An ExxonMobil PNG spokesperson previously told Mongabay it was encouraging “all parties to work together to ensure issues are being worked through in a peaceful and constructive manner.”

That may not be the case if the dispute remains unresolved by July 18, according to Hayabe. “Let the government come and kill all of us,” he said. “Still we will fight and die on our land, we are ready and fully armed.”

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Landowners attack gas project site in PNG again

Landowners blockaded a main road in Hela province, 19 June 2018. Image: Michael Passingan/PNG News

Radio New Zealand | 25 June 2018

Police in Papua New Guinea’s Hela province say landowners have again attacked a LNG gas project site. 

The project’s camp near its wellheads at Angore was reportedly badly damaged by fire at the weekend, as a main access road remained blockaded.

It comes days after landowners vandalised earth-moving equipment at the Angore site.

The landowners are frustrated that they haven’t been paid promised project royalties, four years after the project began exports.

Confirming the latest attack, the police station commander in Hela’s provincial capital Tari, Thomas Levongo, said the landowners are demanding around $US10 million in outstanding payments.

“They set fire to the camp. And all the houses and rigs were all burnt. There’s no houses left around the Angore area. Also the road, from Angore to Hides area, the main road is blocked.”

Thomas Levongo, who said there were no reported injuries from the latest attack, indicated that the landowners are waiting on a government response before they lift their blockade.

The project’s lead developer, ExxonMobil has not responded for comment on the latest attack at Angore.

Six days ago, it said it was investigating reports of vandalism relating to the Angore pipeline construction project.

It said host government security forces are in the area and also investigating.

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Angore landowners set LNG machinery on fire in more PNG unrest

Charred machinery at the PD8 LPG development site in Hela province, PNG Highlands. Image: Michael Passingan/PNG News

Pacific Media Centre | 20 June 2018

In a show of frustration over the nonpayment of a business development grant, Angore landowners in Hela province have set fire to the massive Hides development LNG machinery on PDL 8 site as unrest continues in Papua New Guinea’s rugged Highlands region.

The destruction includes an excavator and a drilling machine while sections of a highway leading to PDL 8 have been dug up, reports the PNG Post-Courier.

In other developments:

  • Prime Minister Peter O’Neill and Members of Parliament, including ministers, will travel to Mendi tomorrow to reinforce the work of the state of emergency team.
  • Local community leaders involved in the failed election petition which triggered the unrest travelled to Mendi today.
  • Police have 15 names to kickstart their investigations into last week’s Mendi rioting, says
    Assistant Commissioner of Police (ACP) Operations David Manning.
  • O’Neill condemned calls for his resignation, saying the country needed strong leadership.

According to the Post-Courier’s Kevin Teme, local sources revealed that the Angore landowners – particularly from the PDL 8 site – are angry over their outstanding business development grant (BDG) which is kept in the trust and is not being released.

While the government has recently released K35 million as project security fees to Hides landowners of PDL 1 and PDL 4, the Angore landowners are frustrated over how Exxon Mobil and the state has dealt with this issue.

‘Rubbish’ claims
Spokesman Max Ekeya said various claims on social media about asking the Prime Minister to step down and others were rubbish as this was not the true information that caused the riot and burning down of the machinery at the PDL 8 site.

“The Angore landowners are showing their frustration because they have not got their BDG while other landowners from Hides PDL 1 and 4 just got K35 million as project security fees in which K20 million went to PDL 1 and K15million to PDL 4,” Ekeya said.

“The landowners are not asking the Prime Minister to step down, but are asking the government to release their business development grants,” Ekeya said.

Part of the excavated road in the Angore area. Image: Michael Passingan/PNG News

In a telephone interview with Tom Homake, a civil engineer with Hides Gas Development Company, he confirmed that all machines, including an excavator at the PDL 8 site, were burnt early yesterday.

“Information on setting alight the Eneria pipeline is not true and that’s just hear say. But I cannot confirm that,” Homake said when asked if the pipelines had also been set on fire.

“Other Hides areas, including the PDL 1 and PDL 4 up to PDL 7 area, are okay as I speak. We are on site doing a road projects from Takali to Komo and I can confirm that on ground,” Homake said.

Homake said this could change.

He said the Angore PDL 8 landowners were now asking the national government and Exxon Mobile to come and make their payment.

Plea for intervention
Meanwhile, spokesman Ekeya has called on the government to quickly intervene as he believes opportunists might take the law into their own hands and this may cause another destruction altogether.

Prime Minister O’Neill and MP plan to leave for Mendi tomorrow.

The Prime Minister expressed disappointment that the Southern Highlands provincial police commander had made statements outside his responsibility.

He urged police to carry out their duty in maintaining the rule of law and investigating offences without interference from politics.

“I am surprised that the PPC appears out of touch as reports are that he was not present in Mendi when the burning of state assets took place,” the Prime Minister said.

Assistant Commissioner of Police (ACP) Operations David Manning told the Post-Courier that at least 15 suspects in the rioting had already been identified to police and would be the subject of further investigation.

Manning said all suspects would be investigated indiscriminately and prosecuted to the full extent of the law.

“In the course of our investigation, we will be looking at all angles, because we need to ensure that anyone who had even the remotest involvement in the incident is investigated,” he said.

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Exxon Mobil ‘has shut down its operations’ – police

EMTV | June 19 2018

Hela Provincial Police Commander, Martin Lakari says Exxon Mobil has shut down its operations today (June 19), after landowners burnt heavy machinery in the early hours of this morning.

Lakari told EMTV News that this is a “landowner related issue.” 

The action is understood to be related to frustrations in a payment delay of a K35 million security fund by Exxon Mobil to landowners. The landowners are from Angore PDL 8 and Hides PDL 1 to 7 

Mr. Lakari said sections of road leading to the Hides Gas are blocked limiting police access. 

ExxonMobil has responded in a statement saying they are continuing to monitor ongoing tension in the Highlands. 

“We are investigating reports of vandalism relating to the Angore pipeline construction project. Host government security forces are in the area and also investigating. Our staff are all safe. 

“Production at the Hides Gas Conditioning Plant is continuing normally. ExxonMobil PNG is committed to maintaining a positive relationship with landowners, the government and the wider community.”

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Angore Landowners Burn Down LNG Machinery At Pdl 8

There have been complaints of a lack of benefits coming from the LNG project Photo: RNZI/Johnny Blades

Kevin Tema | Post Courier | June 19, 2018

In a show of frustration over the nonpayment of the Business Development Grant, the Angore landowners in Hela Province have burnt down all LNG machineries on PDL 8 site.

This includes an excavator as well as the drilling machine while cutting sections of the highway leading to PDL 8.

Sources from ground revealed that the Angore Landowners particularly from PDL 8 are angry over their outstanding business development grant (BDG) which is kept in the trust and is not being released.

While the government of the day see fit to release recently a K35 million as project security fees to Hides landowners of PDL 1 and PDL 4, the Angore landowners particularly in Hides PDL 8 area are frustrated in the way Exxon Mobil and the government of day has dealt with this issue.

Spokesman Max Ekeya said various claims on the social media about asking the Prime Minister to step down and others were rubbish as it was not the true information that caused the riot and burning down of the machineries at the PDL 8 site.

“The Angore landowners are showing their frustration because they have not got their BDG while other landowners from Hides PDL 1 and 4 just got K35 million as project security fees in which K20million went to PDL 1 and K15million to PDL 4,” Ekeya said.

“The landowners are not asking the Prime Minister to step down but are asking the government to release their Business Development grants,” Ekeya said.

In an exclusive phone interview with Tom Homake, a civil engineer with Hides Gas Development Company confirmed on ground that the all machines including an excavator at the PDL 8 site were all burnt down in the early hours of today.

“Information on setting alight the Eneria pipeline is not true and those are just hear say but I cannot confirm that,” the HGDC civil engineer Homake said when asked if the pipelines were also set on fire.

“Other Hides areas including the PDL 1 and PDL 4 up to PDL 7 area are okay as I speak. WE are on site doing a road projects from Takali to Komo and I can confirm on ground,” Homake said.

Homake said this can change as time goes but what he can say from now is that the Angore PDL 8 landowners are now asking the National Government and Exxon Mobile to come down and make their payment.

“The Angore landowners are saying that the K35 million given to Hides PDL 1 and 4 must also be given to them and they will not stop until their claims are being met,” Homake said.

“Yes there were machines burnt down to show their frustration and this has got nothing to do with the SHP issue on hand. This is specifically their landowner issues showing their frustration,” Homake said.

Meanwhile Ekeya has called on the government to quickly intervene as he believes opportunists might take the law into their own hands and this may cause another destruction altogether.

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Resources curse PNG communities’ future

Michael Main | East Asia Forum | 15 June 2018

Two recent reports on the massive ExxonMobil-led PNG LNG project have brought renewed attention to the undesirable economic and social impacts of Papua New Guinea’s largest-ever resource extraction enterprise. This research shows that PNG LNG has hurt, rather than grown, PNG’s economy and that it has inflamed violence and tensions in the PNG highlands region. Papua New Guinea’s so-called ‘resource curse’ has hit local communities the hardest.

Violent conflict in the PNG highlands, certainly among the Huli landowners of Hela Province where PNG LNG is based, has been an almost constant feature since before first contact with colonial forces in the 1930s. Levels of violence have fluctuated markedly in response to historical conditions. The 1970s and 1980s were relatively peaceful, as PNG transitioned from Australian administration into the early independence years. But local political frustrations combined with the introduction of guns led to high rates of violence in the highlands around the 1992 elections.

Since that decade, Papua New Guinea’s government services have been in constant decline. A new generation of Huli has emerged that is less educated than the generation of its parents — Huli who were educated between the 1960s and 1980s are more literate and fluent in English than those who were of school age from the 1990s onwards. Health has deteriorated with a decline in health services and the introduction of store-bought processed food. By the late 2000s, when the PNG government was promoting the PNG LNG project as a looming economic miracle for the country, the Huli population was desperate for a project that they believed would raise them from the state of poverty and neglect that had gradually descended upon them since independence.

During the first few years of the PNG LNG project’s construction, it looked as if all its grand promises were being fulfilled. ExxonMobil and its partners invested US$19 billion — a staggering amount for a country whose GDP was a little over US$8 billion in 2009 (just before construction began). Cash was everywhere in the project’s area, and this cash was accompanied by plentiful jobs and shiny new land cruisers. Large machines and heavy equipment were flown into a purpose-built international airport in one of the remotest and most neglected parts of Huli territory.

During these construction years there were significantly lower levels of violent conflict in Huli society. People were living in conditions of hope, and they felt that the material conditions of their lives were undergoing much-desired change. Fighting men had things to do with their lives other than fight. Huli children now expected to grow up to experience a higher standard of living than their parents. In short, Huli society became oriented towards the future, and its history of warfare was part of a social logic that was no longer relevant.

In 2014 construction of the PNG LNG project finished and production of liquefied natural gas began. Jobs disappeared and money dried up, revealing a corrupt elite that had little concern for the impoverished landowners.

Crucially, the landowner beneficiaries of the project had not been identified prior to construction, despite urgings from the companies’ own consultants for them to do so. This has meant that no landowner royalties have been paid. Nothing has come to replace the money that was flowing in during the construction phase — a large portion of which had been invested in the expectation that the new airport would bring in tourist dollars. Guest houses and eco-tourism lodges were built, but the airport remained in the private and exclusive hands of ExxonMobil, guarded by ExxonMobil-funded PNG Defence Force personnel and police. The promises contained in the Landowner Benefit Sharing Agreements with the PNG government began to languish, and frustrations simmered.

By 2016 it was clear that ExxonMobil and the PNG government were systematically breaking these promises and there was a widespread view that the state had little interest in fulfilling its obligations to the Huli landowners. Since 2016 there has been a steady increase in levels of violent conflict across Huli society.

In February 2018, a magnitude 7.5 earthquake devastated communities in the PNG highlands, including those in the PNG LNG project area. This disaster has only compounded frustrations, especially as the PNG government has little capacity to distribute aid and the project’s operator is perceived as being more concerned with protecting its assets than assisting affected communities. Aggravating the situation is the fact that most locals are of the belief that the PNG LNG project itself was the cause of the earthquake.

Hopelessness, frustration and intense anger at the unfulfilled promises of the project’s owners and the government have combined with an ever-growing arsenal of military-style weapons in Hela Province. The viability of the PNG LNG project itself, and along with it the economic viability of Papua New Guinea as a whole, are at risk.

Michael Main is a PhD candidate at the School of Culture, History and Language, The Australian National University. He is co-author of the report On Shaky Ground: PNG LNG and the consequences of development failure, published by the Jubilee Australia Research Centre in May 2018.

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