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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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Highlands Pacific to increase its stake in Ramu mine

Poor workmanship and construction has hampered the Ramu nickel mine

Highlands’ ownership of Ramu will increase to 11.3 percent from 8.56 percent”

Cobalt 27 agrees to streaming finance deal with Australian miner

Nicole Mordant | Reuters | 23 May 2018

Canada’s Cobalt 27 Capital Corp said on Tuesday it has agreed to the world’s first cobalt-nickel streaming finance deal on a producing mine with an Australian miner as the industry looks to bolster supplies of the key battery metal.

Streaming is a type of alternative finance that allows an investor to make an upfront payment in exchange for future production at a discounted price. The transaction is the world’s first cobalt-nickel streaming deal on a producing mine, Cobalt 27 said in a statement.

The transaction comes as Brazilian miner Vale SA was seeking to sell cobalt from its Voisey’s Bay mine in eastern Canada in a streaming deal worth around $500 million, Reuters reported in January.

Prices of cobalt, a critical component in rechargeable lithium-ion batteries for electric vehicles, have soared fourfold over the past two years to close to $100,000 a tonne on concerns of a shortfall as demand is forecast to spike.

Cobalt 27 said it had reached a C$145 million ($113.33 million) deal with Highlands Pacific Ltd to buy cobalt and nickel from a Papua New Guinea mine that the Australian miner has a stake in.

Cobalt 27, a small buyer of physical cobalt, is also in advanced talks with other owners of the Ramu mine on Papua New Guinea’s north coast for a further $87 million stream, it said. Both transactions can be funded from cash or a new debt facility.

Under the transaction with Highlands, Cobalt 27 will purchase 55 percent of Highlands’ share of cobalt production and 27.5 percent of its share of nickel output from the mine.

That will result in Cobalt 27 receiving an estimated 450,000 pounds of cobalt and 2.25 million pounds of nickel in concentrate a year from Ramu.

As a result of the deal, Highlands’ ownership of Ramu will increase to 11.3 percent from 8.56 percent. The mine is majority-owned and operated by Metallurgical Corporation of China Ltd. Other shareholders include the Papua New Guinea government, landowners and other Chinese investors.

Cobalt 27 has also agreed to buy a 13 percent stake in Highlands, a Papua New Guinea-focused mining explorer, developer and producer.

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Ramu NiCo landowners assured royalty payment ‘soon’

The National aka The Loggers Times | May 4, 2018

The Government has assured landowners of the Ramu NiCo project in Madang that they will receive their outstanding royalties soon.

Mining Minister Johnson Tuke reassured the four landowner association chairmen of the Ramu NiCo project, and Madang acting provincial administrator John Bivi, that as soon as procedural matters were executed by relevant authorities, the amount owed to them would be paid.

Tuke, while sympathising with the landowners, said this matter had been dragged on for too long as a result of officers not doing their jobs as expected.

He added that as soon as the appointment of the acting managing-director of Mineral Resources Authority was approved by Cabinet, royalty payment matters would be the first thing he would address.

Ramu Nico Management said it had the money to pay landowners.

Chairmen present during the meeting included Toby Bare (Kurumbukari Landowners’ Association), Sama Mellombo (Basamuk Landowners’ Association), Peter Tai (Maigari Landowners’ Association) and Jeffrey Kinang (Coastal Pipeline Landowners’ Association).

Meanwhile, the landowner chairmen were concerned that opportunists from the recent crime upheavals in Madang would use the current situation with the mine landowner against the State to instigate trouble and damage mine properties and assets in the province. Tuke, however, assured them that as minister responsible for mining he would not allow that to happen.

He told the leaders that he would be visiting landowners and the people of Madang next Friday with the new acting managing director of MRA to attend to their needs.

Ramu NiCo Mining Ltd community affairs manager Albert Tobe said the company was ready to pay royalties to the landowners as soon as the State gave them clearance.

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Aggrieved landowners say they are missing out on Ramu mine benefits

Post Courier | April 6, 2018

The RAMU Nickel Project has life span of over 35 years, according to project developer Ramu NiCo Limited.
And with exploration continuing, the project life’s span could even increase, vice president of Ramu NiCo Management (MCC) Limited, Wang Baowen said on Wednesday when addressing aggrieved landowners at Mindre village.
Mr Wang was accompanied Mineral Resources Authority cheif executive officer Philip Samar, MRA senior officers and a legal officer from the Investment Promotion Authority.
Mr Wang was addressing aggrieved landowners who petitioned the Government and the developer over what they claimed were missed business opportunities, compensation payments, royalties and environmental issues.
Certain community leaders alleged at the gathering that minerals were being shipped out of the country in ship loads after ship loads and they were suspicious that the mine life of the project was coming to its end soon.
However, Ramu NiCo Community affairs manager Albert Tobe said such stories that are being speculated were not true.
Mr Wang said that initially the mine’s life-span was about 25 years, however, with recent exploration and discoveries of ore up at the Kurumbukari plateau, the mine life may extend to over 30 years.
He told landowners of Basamuk that the developer is also a local company with interests of landowners, State and the province at heart.
“Am very clear regarding your concerns on business opportunities,” Mr Wang said.
Mr Wang said the company had to face many difficult challenges initially from the start until it went into production.
He said it is also a big challenge for Chinese employees working in PNG particularly with the language, cultural here, and the challenge of leaving behind their families to come to PNG just to operate the project.
However, that was a big commitment they have made for the development of the economy and its people.
Mr Wang said it was only last year that the company achieved full production capacity.
He also told the landowners at Mindre that all compensation claims which they were seeking must come within an agreement.
“With regards to business opportunities, we want to give business to landowners and we provide what we can, but there are other businesses that require strict management requirement” Mr Wang said.
He said the company is willing to discuss further with the landowners through Ramu NiCo community affairs department business development section to deliver their requirements in business opportunities.

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Landowners have no rights over old Basamuk camp says MRA

Landowners claim Highlands Pacific promised them a school and sports ground on land where MCC is now building an accommodation block and refuelling station… 

Post Courier | April 6, 2018

Mineral Resources Authority managing director, Philip Samar clarified that Ramu NiCo Management (MCC) Limited still holds the lease for mining purpose to portion four which was the old camp at Basamuk in Rai Coast distict, Madang Province.
Mr Samar was responding to a petition by a group who claimed to be Lands Title Commission (LTC) declared landowners of Basamuk who petitioned the State and the developer over business opportunities, compensation, environment damages and other issues.
The vice president of Ramu NiCo (MCC), Wang Baowen also attended the meeting.
In one of their petitions, the group claimed that a portion of land which was previously used as the accommodation camp during the construction phase is currently being developed without their consent.
This was after Ramu NiCo had moved its workers accommodation to a new location adjacent to Yaganon river.
However, MCC community affairs general manager, Martin Paining clarified to the people that, that particular portion concerned is still within lease for mining purpose (LMP), and there was no specific agreement signed previously that after the construction, the land would return to the traditional landowners.
One of the landowners argued that initially the then previous developer, Highlands Pacific Limited (HPL) had planned to build a school and a sporting field on that portion of land.
However, locals have witnessed new accommodation quarters being built and also a fuel refueling station being erected within that portion of land.
Mr Samar in supporting Mr Paining pointed out that Ramu NiCo had the license to operate and so long as they have the lease they can do anything on the land.
He said under the LMP which had been transferred from HPL to MCC, the current developer the license is still valid and the developer can do any development of that portion of land.
“There was no agreement which states that after the construction phase, the land goes back to the traditional landowners.”

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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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