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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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MCC Involves Fishermen In Marine Survey

Post Courier | June 8, 2018

RAMU NiCo Management (MCC) Limited undertook a marine environmental monitoring survey along the coastline of Rai Coast district in Madang province recently.

And MCC used local fishermen to provide the reef fish for Ramu NiCo’s corporate health, safety and environment team and an independent consultant Ninkama Yoba and Associates to dissect for tissue samples for laboratory analysis overseas.

The local fishermen from the far-flung coastline of Rai Coast were very happy to be paid a sum of K300 for their catches which were stored in eski coolers provided by the Ramu NiCo team.

Group leader of the Saidor fishermen, David Lopez, thanked the Ramu NiCo HSE corporate team for their trust in allowing them to fish to supply catches for the survey.

“We usually catch fish to enjoy with our families during meals, but to catch fish to supply for the survey is good and also it provided us some money to help us in our remote place,” Lopez said.

From the catches, the fish muscles and liver plus mollusks and crustaceans were frozen, packed with ice and sent to the Australian Laboratory Services (ALS) in Sydney for analysis.

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Citigroup Commits to Ditch Ocean Mine Waste Dumping

Bank is the first to establish prohibition on financing all submarine waste disposal

Earthworks | 2 May 2018

This week Citigroup announced it will no longer finance mining projects that dump mine waste into the ocean. The move comes in response to pressure from the Ditch Ocean Dumping campaign, which is calling on financial institutions to divest from any project or company that employs the practice.

“Citi’s decision says loud and clear: ocean dumping is dirty, unnecessary and wrong,” said Ellen Moore of Earthworks, who is coordinating the campaign. “It’s high time we ditched ocean dumping once and for all. Banks and financial institutions must actively take steps to ensure that they are not bankrolling the destruction of our oceans.”

After negotiations with the campaign, Citigroup agreed to add specific language to its environmental and social policy framework: “…Citi will not directly finance new mining projects… that utilize submarine waste disposal.” The policy framework covers corporate loans over $50 million, general corporate transactions and project finance.

Companies that employ aqueous mine waste dumping will land on the bank’s watchlist, an internal policy and process document used to identify high risk practices. Inclusion on the watch list means companies are identified as having elevated environmental, social or reputational risks and are automatically subjected to additional environmental and social review. The policy change does not, however, address Citi’s brokerage business that holds nominee or custody shares on behalf of clients, which makes is possible for such investors to remain anonymous.

“We are encouraged by Citi’s decision but remain concerned about transparency in financing of these types of harmful practices,” said Eiliv Erdal, local chair of the Association of Norwegian Salmon River Owners. “My livelihood depends on a healthy Førdefjord and I should be able to communicate directly with shareholders about how their investment will affect my business and my community.”

Mining companies dump 220 million tonnes of mine waste directly into our oceans, rivers and lakes every year:  more waste than the United States puts into its landfills. While the outdated practice has been phased out in many parts of the world, new mining proposals in Papua New Guinea and Norway signal ocean mine waste dumping is being ramped up, not phased out.

Following Citi’s commitment, the campaign will shift focus to other financial institutions that facilitate mine waste dumping. In Norway, two proposed mines escaped a recent moratorium on submarine dumping permits, jeopardizing the fish-rich Førdefjord and Repparfjord, as well as the traditional lifestyle of the indigenous Saami people.

“The Saami Parliament has twice voted against dumping mine waste in the Repparfjord,” said Silje Karine Muotka, member of the Governing Council of the Saami Parliament of Norway. “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.”

Traditional reindeer herding and fishing are an important source of sustenance and livelihoods for the Saami. According to the Institute for Marine Research, the area of the Repparfjord designated for mine waste dumping is a critical cod spawning ground.

Mine waste can contain up to three dozen dangerous chemicals, including arsenic, lead, mercury, and cyanide. These metals accumulate in fish and, ultimately, the wildlife and people that eat them. The pollution contaminates drinking water, decimates ecosystems, and destroys fisheries.

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Wafi-Golpu to cost $US2.8b and will dump toxic tailings in the ocean

Newcrest managing director Sandeep Biswas believes Wafi-Golpu is the company’s best growth asset. Philip Gostelow

See also: New Campaign Seeks End to Ocean Mine Waste Dumping

Newcrest to spend more on $US2.8b Wafi-Golpu mine, chooses ocean tailings

Peter Ker | Australian Financial Review | 19 March 2018

Newcrest Mining’s top growth project Wafi-Golpu will cost $US200 million ($259 million) more to build under updated plans that envisage a larger mine being built and mine wastes being piped into the ocean.

Last estimated to cost $US2.6 billion, Newcrest said on Monday it would now cost $US2.8 billion to build a mine at the Wafi-Golpu site in Papua New Guinea, with the mine expected to last 28 years and offer an 18.2 per cent rate of return.

Capital spending over the life of the mine would rise to $US5.4 billion.

Wafi-Golpu will produce copper and gold, and is expected to be a cheaper producer of copper than 90 per cent of the world’s copper mines once gold credits are taken into account.

Monday’s updated study suggests each pound of copper produced at Wafi-Golpu will have a unit cost of US26¢, well below the $US3.11 per pound that copper was fetching on Monday morning.

One of the major decisions facing Newcrest and its joint venture partner Harmony Gold was how to manage the mine wastes or tailings from Wafi-Golpu, given the mine is located in hilly terrain, in an area known for its seismic activity and its heavy rainfall.

Newcrest confirmed on Monday that mine wastes would be piped into the ocean, under a method dubbed “deep sea tailings storage”.

Newcrest already pipes mine wastes into the ocean at its Lihir mine in Papua New Guinea, and said the method was chosen for Wafi-Golpu after a detailed study of 45 potential sites for the construction of tailings dam on land.

The company said an on-land tailings dam would disturb land that was valuable for biodiversity, heritage and economic reasons.

“The project area has high seismicity and complex geology including active faulting which could at some sites result in liquefiable soils. Complex design would be required to partly mitigate such factors and that would carry high risk and high cost,” the company said on Monday.

“Any (dam) structure would contain very large amounts of water with commensurate risks.”

On the contrary, Newcrest said the nearby Western Huon Gulf was a “highly suitable environment” for tailings storage.

“It hosts a deep canyon leading to a very deep oceanic basin with no evidence of upwelling,” the company said.

In February Newcrest boss Sandeep Biswas said deep sea tailing storage at Wafi-Golpu would probably cost more than building an on-land tailings dam initially, but would probably be a cheaper option over the life of the mine.

The decision to pipe wastes into the ocean comes barely a week after a tailings dam wall slipped at Newcrest’s flagship Cadia mine in New South Wales, leaving the operation suspended indefinitely.

Newcrest currently owns 50 per cent of Wafi-Golpu, but that stake could fall to 35 per cent if the PNG government takes up an option to buy 30 per cent of the mine.

Studies conducted in 2012 estimated a larger version of the mine would cost $US4.8 billion, with such a project producing 400,000 ounces of gold annually and 250,000 tonnes of copper.

But subsequent studies have considered smaller development options.

A 2016 study into the project envisaged a mine producing 202,000 ounces of gold and 130,000 tonnes of copper per year.

Monday’s updated study envisages a mine that produces 266,000 ounces of gold per year and 161,000 tonnes of copper per year.

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A Norwegian, a Papua New Guinean and an American walk into a Bar

Basamuk refinery, Papua New Guinea

Ellen Moore | EARTHblog | March 7, 2018

Do you like riddles? Then try this one on for size: what does your wallet have in common with Papua New Guinea?

Give up? OK, I’ll give you a hint: it’s got something to do with that little plastic rectangle with all the numbers on it.

That’s right, your debit card. You see, the world’s largest banks and investment firms are using the money they control — YOUR money — to finance mining projects that dump hazardous waste straight into oceans, rivers, and lakes. Papua New Guinea is ground zero for this problem.

Despite fierce local opposition and a legal battle that suspended operations for 19 months, the Ramu nickel and cobalt mine in Papua New Guinea is currently dumping around 14,000 tonnes of toxic mine waste into Basamuk Bay every day. Activities from the open-pit mine have polluted the water and destroyed fishing grounds. The indigenous Kurumbukari people were forcibly displaced from their ancestral homeland to make way for the mine, separating them from to their livelihoods, traditional way of life, and spiritual practice. The PNG National Fisheries Authority criticized the project, calling it “unsustainable socially, economically and environmentally.”

It’s Dirty. It’s Unnecessary. And it’s Wrong.

Ramu isn’t the only mine in PNG polluting critical water sources, and PNG isn’t the only country with this problem. Mining companies dump 220 million tonnes of hazardous waste directly into the world’s waters every year: more waste than the United States puts into its landfills.

That’s why today we are excited to announce the Ditch Ocean Dumping campaign. Earthworks, along with our coalition partners, are stepping up to stop this harmful practice — but we can’t do it without your help.

The banks couldn’t finance these projects without our money. Don’t let your money go to Waste! By propping up irresponsible mining companies, financial institutions like Citigroup, Credit Suisse, Bank of America, and JP Morgan are putting the health of our oceans and planet at risk.

Take Action now! Tell Citi it’s time to #DitchTheDumpers.

Help us stop this outdated practice from making a comeback: in addition to Papua New Guinea, new projects that would dump mine waste into the ocean are a being developed in Norway, and the industry has its sights set on Chile.

Everyone has their own connection to water. It’s personal. For many indigenous communities, water is the heart of their cultural heritage and spiritual practice. Healthy oceans and clean rivers and lakes are also critical to reducing the impacts of climate change. So go ahead: find your personal water connection. Then jump in and help us Ditch Ocean Dumping!

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Harmony and Newcrest prepare the ground for more marine waste dumping

An example of tailings spilling into rivers in Madang Province – Picture: Act Now!

Pangu hosts deep sea tailings workshop

Sophie Yaruso | PNG Loop | November 24, 2017

Members of Parliament have been challenged to seriously consider the sensitive issues surrounding deep sea tailings disposal and the impact it has on the submarine ecosystem and communities in the area.

Pangu Pati’s Leader Sam Basil and Morobe Governor Ginson Saonu have been commended for organising an interactive dialogue on deep sea tailings disposal: The Basamuk Experience & Implications for Huon Gulf.

Speakers at the session were from Wafi-Golpu Joint Venture led by the company’s head of external affairs, David Wissink, Dr Grant Batterham and David Gwyther, who presented preliminary research findings arguing the safety of submarine disposal of tailings.

In contrast, UPNG marine biologist Professor Ralph Mana was there to present ndings of marine life, including discovery of new species which could be endangered with deep sea disposal of tailings.

Basil, who is also Minister for Communications, Information Technology and Energy, said:

“We need extractive industries to bring in the revenue necessary to drive the infrastructure, utilities and social services for the people at the same time, a need to protect the people and the environment for generations to come.

“Education and knowledge is the focus here. The more MPs like me and my colleagues know, the better our decision can be for our country.

“This workshop is to create dialogue on the balancing act between our marine biodiversity and the need for economic development through extractive industries like mining,” he added.

Pangu has seven MPs from the Morobe Province where the Wa -Golpu Project is located.

Wafi-Golpu Joint Venture’s Wissink commended the Pangu Pati Leader’s initiative, saying it was good to see MPs engage with the people on important issues.

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Newcrest looking at marine waste dumping for Wafi-Golpu

Newcrest focusing on Wafi-Golpu

The National aka The Loggers Times | November 16, 2017

NEWCREST hopes to complete an update of Wafi-Golpu feasibility study by end of the March quarter next year, chairman Pater Hay says.
Hay said during the company’s annual general meeting on Tuesday that the company’s most advanced exploration project was the Wafi-Golpu project which he described as a “world-class copper-gold deposit in Papua New Guinea”.
Wafi-Golpu is an advanced exploration project located in Morobe and is owned by the Wafi-Golpu Joint Venture, one of three unincorporated joint ventures between Newcrest (50 per cent) and Harmony Gold (50 per cent), formed in 2008.
Hay said Newcrest continued to progress work at Wafi-Golpu, with focus on:

  • Assessing external and internal generated power options, in the company’s search for greater reliability and lower operating costs;
  • Comparing deep-sea tailing placements options to terrestrial tailings storage options; and,
  • Re-assessing block cave panels, size and processing capacity due to increased knowledge as a result of ongoing drilling.

“We are targeting completion of an update of the Wafi-Golpu feasibility study by the end of the March 2018 quarter. We will likely submit an amendment to the special mining lease application depending on the outcome of the study update,” he said.
“The timing of the first production is dependent on study outcomes and grating of the special mining lease.
“More broadly, brownfield exploration, brownfield expansions and de-bottlenecking offers some of the lowest-cost, lowest-risk and highest-return growth opportunities in our business.
“As has been stated in our annual report, we are currently pursuing initiatives and projects to add extra process capacity at Cadia and to increase mill throughput at Lihir.”

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