Tag Archives: Landholders

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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Bougainville Copper remains confident of Panguna backing

An abandoned building at Panguna mine site in Bougainville

Radio New Zealand | 13 June 2018

Bougainville Copper is rejecting claims it lacks backing among landowners for a re-launch of the Panguna mine.

Two companies have been pushing to reopen the Papua New Guinea mine which was shut down when the Bougainville civil war broke out nearly 30 years ago.

The Osikaiang Landowners Association, from the site of the mine, is with a rival mining company and it has written to the Australian Stock Exchange claiming BCL doesn’t have the backing among local landowners which it claims.

But BCL secretary Mark Hitchcock said they are confident they have strong support and that it is the leaders of the Osikaiang Association, Philip Miriori and Lawrence Daveona, who are misleading people.

“The two purported leaders of the Osikaiang Landowner Association don’t represent the actual land title holders.”

“Those landowners are quite frustrated that these two gentlemen purport to hold themselves out as their spokesperson when they don’t have the powers to do so, he said.”

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Group scotches Bougainville Copper claims of support

Radio New Zealand | 12 June 2018

Bougainville Copper (BCL) is making misleading claims about the support it has for re-starting mining at Panguna, a landowner group says.

The company ran the massive Panguna mine before it was shut down by the civil war on Bougainville more than 20 years ago.

The Osikaiang Landowners Association at the mine site has taken its concerns to the Australian Stock Exchange and the Australian Securities and Investment Commission.

Its chairman, Philip Miriori, said BCL claimed to have strong backing from Bougainville landowners, but he said a survey of them undertaken by Osikaiang, which has links with a rival mining company, proves otherwise.

“With that 400 number, the number I am telling you, we don’t want BCL coming back. That is straight forward you know. We don’t want BCL to come back. That number speaks for itself, 400, – they’re the ones with me saying ‘No BCL’. BCL never to come back.”

BCL had asserted that the 367 authorised customary heads of the 510 blocks of land within the special mining lease area of Panguna do not recognise Mr Miriori as the Osikaiang chair, and back BCL’s exploration licence.

But Mr Miriori said the Osikaiang survey covered this same group of landowners.

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Citigroup limits financing for mines that dump tailings at sea

Jim Tan | Mongabay | 12 June 2018

  • Following pressure from advocates, Citigroup said last month that it will not fund any future mining projects over $50 million that dispose of mine waste in the oceans.
  • Tailings, a fine-grained, often toxic slurry left over after the processing of mined ore, are still disposed of in oceans, lakes and rivers in several countries.
  • Mines in Papua New Guinea, Norway and Chile are proposing to dispose of tailings in the ocean.
  • Local communities are often most affected by pollution from mines and have vocally opposed tailings disposal in the ocean in Norway and Papua New Guinea.

Several mines around the world dispose of potentially toxic mine waste directly into the ocean. Environmentalists have criticized the practice, arguing that the waste smothers ocean habitat and leaches harmful chemicals and heavy metals that can poison marine life. Last month Citigroup, a major shareholder in four mining companies that either actively dispose of mine waste into the ocean or propose to do so, agreed not to finance any new operations that pipe mine waste into the sea.

Citigroup’s move comes after pressure from an international coalition of NGOs that launched a campaign this year to end the disposal of mine waste in natural water bodies. The coalition, led by the Washington, D.C.-based environmental NGO Earthworks, is calling for a global ban on the practice and pressuring financial institutions to stop funding mining operations that engage in it. Earthworks announced Citigroup’s move in a May 2 press release.

“Citi’s decision says loud and clear: ocean dumping is dirty, unnecessary and wrong,” Ellen Moore, who coordinates the Ditch Ocean Dumping campaign for Earthworks, told Mongabay.

There are few signs of life on the bottom of Jøssingfjord in southern Norway 35 years after dumping ceased at the Tellnes titanium mine. Scientists believe it may never recover. Image by Erling Svensen.

Toxic tailings

One of the key problems miners face is how to safely dispose of the huge quantities of waste rock and tailings produced in the mining process. The tailings, a fine-particle slurry left over after the target metal has been extracted from the mined ore, are particularly tricky to handle. Tailings often contain potentially harmful chemicals used to process the ore, like cyanide and petroleum, as well as by-products like sulphuric acid and heavy metals like lead.

Nowadays, the vast majority of the world’s 2,500 industrial-scale mines dispose of their waste on land. But several mines still dump into water bodies, including at least seven into the ocean, in Papua New Guinea (PNG), Indonesia, Turkey and Norway; at least three into rivers, in PNG and Indonesia; and at least five into lakes in the U.S. and Canada, according to a non-exhaustive list from Earthworks. The group calculated that mines dispose of more than 220 million metric tons of waste in water bodies every year — enough, the group says, to fill 55 sports stadiums.

“Although mine waste dumping in water has been phased out in many parts of the world, mining companies still use it, governments still allow it, and the world’s largest banks and investment firms still profit from it,” Moore told Mongabay.

This is partly the result of geography. In Norway, suitable and stable terrestrial locations to store mine tailings are hard to find because of the mountainous terrain. In PNG, mines face a similar problem and must also contend with frequent earthquakes and flooding during the rainy season that can destabilize tailings dams.

Tailings pipes from the Marcopper mine in Marinduque, the Philippines, enter the sea at Calancan Bay. Image by Catherine Coumans/MiningWatch Canada

It is now widely accepted that tailings disposal can have a catastrophic impact on rivers and the creatures that live there. But the effect of tailings disposal in the ocean is somewhat more contentious.

Companies including Oslo-based Nordic Mining, which proposes to pump tailings from a rutile mine into Førdefjord, a fjord in southwestern Norway, suggest that deep-sea tailings disposal can be safe. They argue that, due to the layered nature of the ocean, so long as tailings are piped deep enough, ocean currents will not spread them, and their impact on marine life will be minimal and localized.

Charles Roche, executive director of the Mineral Policy Institute, an Australian NGO that assists communities affected by mining and is a signatory to the campaign, is less convinced. He points to the very limited peer-reviewed literature as evidence of the impact of submarine tailings. Two studies conducted around the Lihir gold mine in PNG found fewer deep-water fish and reduced marine life on the sea floor compared to the surrounding areas.

Part of the problem is that there is very little independent research into the effect of submarine tailings disposal, Roche told Mongabay.

“Research into submarine tailings is generally done by or for proponents [of submarine tailings disposal],” he said.

Many of the studies are environmental impact assessments conducted on behalf of mining corporations applying for a licence to operate and are rarely publicly available, according to a 2015 article in Oceanography magazine.

The lack of peer-reviewed research on the topic is a problem for Lisa Levin, an oceanographer with the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in California. A 2015 review she co-authored in Marine Pollution Bulletin suggests that a major reason is the high cost of conducting research in the deep sea.

Despite the limited research, Levin is also convinced tailings disposal has a negative impact on the ocean. “It will never be good for marine ecosystems,” she told Mongabay.

Citigroup acts

Citigroup, a multinational investment bank and financial services corporation based in New York, is among the top 20 largest financial institutions in the world, with total assets of $1.84 trillion in 2017.

Citigroup’s business is split into two divisions: consumer banking under the Citibank brand, and investment banking. It was Citigroup’s investments that attracted Earthworks’ attention. Citigroup is the third-largest shareholder in the Australian mining companies Highlands Pacific and St. Barbara Limited, which Earthworks says have together disposed of 54 million tons of toxic tailings in the ocean around PNG. Citigroup also holds shares in Norway-based Nussir ASA and Nordic Mining, which have both proposed disposing of tailings at sea in Norway.

Fishing boat on Repparfjord, Norway, where Norwegian mining company Nussir ASA proposes to dispose of tailings from a copper mine. Image by Kjerstin Uhre.

The campaign wrote an open letter to Michael Corbat, Citigroup’s CEO, in January 2018 asking the bank to sever ties with companies that dispose of waste at sea.

“Citi was immediately responsive after we launched the public campaign,” Moore told Mongabay. “It was clear that the bank did not want to be associated with the harmful and outdated practice.”

Following negotiations, Citigroup revised its Environmental and Social Policy Framework to state:

“Citi will not directly finance new mining projects … that utilize submarine waste disposal.”

The policy will only apply to future projects requiring corporate loans over $50 million, and does not apply to the bank’s brokerage business, which holds shares on behalf of clients.

When asked about the company’s new policy, Citigroup spokesperson Laura London responded:

“Citi has a comprehensive Environmental and Social Risk Management Policy that covers our business with a range of sectors, including the mining sector, and we carefully review any sensitive environmental and social impacts of activities we finance, in line with our global standards and good industry practice.”

London declined to respond to detailed questions, and the bank has not publicly announced the move itself.

Roche welcomed Citigroup’s policy change, but he recommended the bank “extend the policy and prohibit any involvement, including company or nominee shareholdings, of riverine and [marine tailing disposal projects].”

Nevertheless, Moore believes this quick win for her campaign is the first step in the right direction. She said Citigroup also agreed to add companies that dispose of mine waste in lakes, rivers or the ocean to the bank’s internal watchlist and subject them to tighter scrutiny.

Levin agrees that Citigroup’s move is significant.

”[Citigroup’s] policy certainly helps to raise awareness of the negative effects of submarine tailings disposal,” she said. “Because the economic sector drives so much of human behavior I believe it is an important first step to engender change.”

The campaign is also targeting the multinational financial institutions Bank of America, Credit Suisse and J.P. Morgan, contending that they also “have ties” to mines that dispose of waste into water bodies.

Local communities pay the price

View of the Ramu Nickel mine refinery where mine waste is disposed of into the ocean in Papua New Guinea. Image by Christopher McLeod/Sacred Land Film Project.

When mine tailings cause environmental damage, it is often local communities and indigenous groups that pay the highest price. Moore is critical of brokerage businesses, such as Citigroup’s, that hold so-called nominee shares for clients, which can be used to shield the clients’ identities. She said that if affected community groups could identify shareholders and then communicate their concerns directly to them, it would make a difference.

In PNG, tailings from the Tolukuma gold mine resulted in elevated levels of arsenic, lead and mercury in the drinking water and flooded croplands for communities downstream, according to a 2013 report prepared for the International Maritime Organization and the United Nations Environment Programme. The report also notes anecdotal reports from local communities of increased illness and deaths after drinking and bathing in the river where the mine disposed of its tailings.

In both PNG and Norway, local community groups have been vocal in their opposition to the disposal of tailings at sea. Landowners in PNG attempted to prevent the Ramu Nickel mine, majority owned by the Metallurgical Corporation of China, from dumping its tailings in the sea through a class action lawsuit, but were unsuccessful. In Norway, Saami indigenous people have frequently voiced their opposition to proposals by Nordic Mining and Nussir ASA to dispose of tailings in Førdefjord and in Repparfjord, in the northern part of the country.

“It is illogical and immoral to sacrifice our traditional, sustainable and profitable fisheries for an uncertain mine project that relies on outdated practices to turn a profit,” said Silje Karine Muotka, a member of the Saami parliament, in Earthworks’ press release.

Nevertheless, both projects appear to be moving forward.

Citations

Brewer, D.T., Milton, D.A., Fry, G.C., Dennis, D.M., Heales, D.S., & Venables, W.N. (2007). Impacts of gold mine waste disposal on deepwater fish in a pristine tropical marine systemMarine Pollution Bulletin 54(3): 309-321.

Hughes, D.J., Shimmield, T.M., Black, K.D., & Howe, J.A. (2015). Ecological impacts of large-scale disposal of mining waste in the deep seaScientific Reports 5:9985.

Ramirez-Llodra, E., et al. (2015). Submarine and deep-sea mine tailing placements: a review of current practices, environmental issues, natural analogs and knowledge gaps in Norway and internationallyMarine Pollution Bulletin 97(1-2):13-35.

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Alluvial miners want govt to reduce licensing fees

The National aka The Loggers Times | June 6, 2018

TWO alluvial miners at Wau and Bulolo, in Morobe, have called on the Government to reduce the fees needed for mining licences to help keep local people in business.

Many miners have gone out of business because they cannot afford the fees, said one of the miners, George Waure, on Friday.

Waure, who has been engaged in alluvial mining for the past 14 years, said that originally no fees were charged and miners worked freely.

The miners were also concerned with the presence of foreigners in the industry, with Prime Minister Peter O’Neill forced to come out in Parliament last month to clarify that alluvial mining was reserved for locals and not big businesses.

Westy Awiong, of Morobe Gold Field Small Scale Miners’ Association, said they were happy with the prime minister’s assurance.

Awiong said foreigners should not be involved in the sector.

“We have the experience as some of us have been mining for many years,” he said.

“If we are given financial assistance to purchase the right machines we can upgrade to commercial mining.”

Last month, Morobe Governor Ginson Saonu pointed out in Parliament that big companies were now getting into alluvial mining.

In response, O’Neill said those companies must stay out of it.

Landowners in Morobe have rejected an application by Wabu Alluvial Limited and Harmony Gold Exploration Limited for exploration licences for Bulolo Valley.

O’Neill said:

“I’m not privy to the letter that the governor is referring to, but I will instruct the mining department to look into the matter and respond in writing so that his concerns and our people’s concerns are being addressed properly.

“Generally, I support the call by the governor and the people (that) alluvial mining should be reserved for our people and not necessarily large international companies.

“I understand Harmony and the other companies have applied for exploration licences which are different from alluvial mining.”

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‘Bougainville won’t fall for more false claims from BCL’

Photo: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Philip Miriori (Chairman) and Lawrence Daveona (Ex Chairman) SMLOLA | 4 June 2018

HOW CAN BOUGAINVILLE COPPER LIMITED BELIEVE WE AND OUR AUTONOMOUS BOUGAINVILLE GOVERNMENT WILL FALL FOR MORE OF THEIR FALSE CLAIMS OF RESPECT FOR BOUGAINVILLE AND ITS PEOPLE?

Bougainville Copper Limited (“BCL”) continues to insult and disrespect Bougainville: the Panguna Customary Landowners by the recent statements made by BCL’s Chairman, Mr Mel Togolo and the ABG by their treatment at their Annual General Meeting blocking their vote.

Why did BCL not work with the ABG in advance to ensure they could have their say at the meeting if they are genuinely trying to mend fences with Bougainville and lose their mantle of being a PNG controlled company?” asked Mr Philip Miriori, the Chairman of the Special Mining Lease Osikaiyang Landowners Association (“SMLOLA”).

Mr Miriori said “we know the new BCL Chairman has his trainer wheels on, but this is unbelievable! How many world class mines has he developed? Wasn’t he the guy who sat on the Rio controlled BCL Board in the bad old days – for 6 or 7 years? Isn’t he the PNG country manager for the environmentally controversial deep sea mining start up, Nautilus Minerals? Why would we want any of that?”

Then there is the false attempt to blame third parties for the opposition by the Panguna Customary Landowners: this reflects the continuing failure on the part of BCL to even acknowledge the historic environmental havoc wreaked on the Panguna Land by BCL and the role of BCL in the devastating conflict in Bougainville. “Do they think we have forgotten or forgiven – no never” says Mr Miriori.

Mr Miriori, says “The failure of BCL’s Chairman, Mr Togolo, to acknowledge the historic wrongs committed against the people of Bougainville is totally unacceptable. The wilful blindness of BCL, its failure to admit its role in causing the environmental devastation to our land and its failure to rehabilitate or provide compensation for the damage, condemns BCL from ever obtaining SMLOLA’s approval or support. Trying to blame third parties for this is both naïve and arrogant – it is a flimsy and dishonest attempt to divert attention from their failure to win any aspect of social licence to return to Bougainville. That is and will always be the problem.”

Mr Miriori said “it is simple, BCL has one of the worst environmental and social impact records in the world and has not been welcome to return to Panguna in 30 years – yet they claim strong Landowner support. Just more lies!”

Prominent SMLOLA member Mr Lawrence Daveona supported Mr Miriori’s comments saying “BCL’s operations at the Panguna Mine were the cause of the devastating conflict on Bougainville. That is why they have been unwelcome in Bougainville for the last 30 years. It was the height of arrogance to think they could win community support without any reconciliation. They have ignored us and tried to go around “the impediments” – the owners of the minerals and have tried to simply pull political strings. The recent BCL attempt to curry favour and scramble to regain tenure to their old mine has been a disaster, just like their treatment of our lands and people – after 30 years of neglect and arrogance, how surprising!”

Mr Daveona said “our President Momis summed it up perfectly when he said BCL did not deserve the renewal because their attitudes to Landowners had not changed from the past.”

Mr Miriori spelt out what he said “were obvious facts:

  • BCL has achieved no reconciliation with the Customary Landowners for 30 years;
  • BCL has not attempted discussions with the current Court sanctioned SMLOLA Chairman and Executive even once; 
  • BCL has failed to acknowledge its role in Bougainville’s tragic history;
  • BCL has offered no compensation for the environmental and social impact of BCL’s massive profit taking operations at the Panguna Mine;
  • BCL has offered no assistance to rebuild Bougainville post resolution of the conflict; 
  • BCL has undertaken no remedial action to address the massive environmental damage from its past operations; and
  • BCL has made no attempt to identify the needs of the Customary Landowners and engage with the community.;

Mr Miriori said “it was outrageous that BCL untruthfully claimed it held unanimous Landowner consent when there was an existing petition with more than 2,000 SMLOLA members rejecting BCL’s return to Panguna. BCL has insulted the Customary Landowners by referring to them as ‘impediments to be removed’ and more recently, ‘disruptive influences’. This shows a contempt for the rights of Customary Landowners and the people.

Mr Miriori said “how could they have been surprised – they have never had majority Landowner support. Have they forgotten their 30 year history of devastation they never seem to mention now?”

Mr Daveona supported the ABG’s decision saying “BCL had an EL for two years from 2014 to 2016 and even had a further 15 months after the expiry of EL 1 and still they could not win Landowner support. The refusal of that application has been very positive for the Landowners and allowed us to bring an end to the social disharmony their false claims caused and to build an even stronger opposition to their return. The Landowners are now fully united against BCL. BCL should leave and respect the wishes of Landowners.”

President Dr John Momis of the ABG stated on 8 January 2018, in a public interview with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, that the BCL Application had been denied by the ABG because of the Panguna legacy Issues and consequently the inability of BCL to gain a social licence. He observed BCL’s attitude towards Customary Landowners had not changed and therefore that BCL did not deserve an extension. It was noted that at the Warden’s Hearing in December 2017 almost all those who spoke referred to these significant and continuing legacy issues and the need for BCL to pay compensation.

President Momis was entirely correct in his observation and the recent statements by BCL’s Chairman show a contempt not only for the Customary Landowners but also for the ABG itself.

Mr Miriori agreed saying “BCL was the tenement holder during the time which systemic damage to the environment and river systems occurred. The Panguna mine was at the centre of the conflict.” It is reported 20,000 Bougainvillean people died in this conflict. This is the incontrovertible factual truth of BCL’s legacy.

These events are of global significance and to this day are fundamental to the vast majority of the Panguna Customary Landowners and Bougainvilleans opposing BCL’s return.

BCL made a formal decision to not acknowledge responsibility, to not say ‘sorry’ and to not pay any fair compensation for these events and the massive damage. These deliberate commercial decisions (to save BCL money and to not acknowledge its past wrongdoings) are fatal to BCL’s attempt to return to Panguna.”

As the highly respected community leader, Mr Sam Kauona said at the Warden’s Hearing, BCL can never be allowed to return to Panguna. The petition opposing BCL’s return has more than 2,000 supporters. The majority of those attending and speaking at the independent Warden’s Hearing in December 2017 opposed BCL’s return.

The continued failure to have regard to the opinion of the Customary Landowners, Mr Miriori says, “shows an arrogance and on-going disrespect.” He powerfully criticises BCL’s attempt to divert the blame from its own conduct “This arrogance and ongoing disrespect of the Landowners’ clear wishes perpetuates the tragic legacy of BCL/Rio, and with every day that passes, further compounds and entrenches the opposition of the overwhelming majority of Panguna Landowners to BCL. Let us now look forward not backward to a new deal for Bougainville. BCL is finished. Its attempt to cause even further delays to the successful redevelopment and reopening of the mine blocks and delays employment opportunities, the funding of critically needed community programs and obtaining of financial benefits for all Bougainvilleans.”

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Machines roll in to assist alluvial miners

Machines roll in to give miners something to smile about

The National aka The Loggers Times | June 5, 2018

ALLUVIAL miners in Bulolo aim to improve their mining activities with heavy machinery to add economic value to their operations.

The Morobe Goldfield Small Scale Miner’s Association executive chairman Westy Awiong said the members had moved away from traditional alluvial mining methods.

The mechanised operations involve the use of excavators and screen plants to process gravels.

The excavators are either leased or hired to do the dredging along the sandbanks and mountain sides.

Awiong said there were five active mechanised miners among about 170 registered alluvial miners.

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