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New Ireland Forum to Focus on Experimental Seabed Mining and Logging

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March 26, 2019 · 8:21 am

Deep sea mining threatens indigenous culture in Papua New Guinea

Seabed Mining (Graphic: Greenpeace)

John Childs | The Conversation | February 19, 2019

When they start mining the seabed, they’ll start mining part of me.

These are the words of a clan chief of the Duke of York Islands – a small archipelago in the Bismarck Sea of Papua New Guinea which lies 30km from the world’s first commercial deep sea mine site, known as “Solwara 1”. The project, which has been delayed due to funding difficulties, is operated by Canadian company Nautilus Minerals and is poised to extract copper from the seabed, 1600m below the surface.

Valuable minerals are created as rapidly cooling gases emerge from volcanic vents on the seafloor. Mining the seabed for these minerals could supply the metals and rare earth elements essential to building electric vehicles, solar panels and other green energy infrastructure. But deep sea mining could also damage and contaminate these unique environments, where researchers have only begun to explore.

The industry’s environmental impact isn’t the only concern. It’s been assumed by the corporate sector that there is limited human impact from mining in the deep sea. It is a notion that is persuasive especially when compared with the socio-ecological impacts of land-based mining.

But such thinking is a fallacy – insights from my research with communities in Papua New Guinea over the past three years highlight that the deep sea and its seabed should be thought of as intimately connected to humanity, despite the geographical distances involved. For the people of the Duke of York Islands, deep sea mining disturbs a sense of who they are, including the spirits that inhabit their culture and beliefs.

Young people on Duke of York Islands. Paul Hearne, Author provided

Out of sight, out of mined

In Western thought, the sea has not only been considered to be marginal to politics, but also as entirely distinct from the land. Separating nature from humanity has proved useful in enabling exploitation of the natural world for human means. Deep sea mining, with all its material connections between a dynamic seabed and sites of consumption on land, provokes new questions.

If humanity can’t physically encounter the deep seabed, then how are we to treat it ethically?. By conceptually “distancing” the deep ocean, who is being marginalised?

For the people who live close to Solwara 1, the answer is pointed. These communities have long understood the world as a connection between “nature”, “spirits” and “beings”. Central within this cosmology are the spirits – masalai – some of which are understood as guardians of the seabed and its resources.

The people of Duke of York Islands are tied spiritually to events in the deep sea. John Childs, Author provided

Masalai are a fundamental part of the islanders’ world. Thus, the prospect of deep sea mining means not just social and economic disruption, but spiritual turmoil. The digging up of the seabed and the extraction of its resources cuts through the very fabric of their spiritual world and its sacred links to the sea and land.

As the historian Neil Macgregor put it in the Radio 4 series “Living with the Gods”, masalai are not

out there… [like] tourists in the human realm, from somewhere else … but in a world in which we co-inhabit.

The political implication for island communities here is clear. The copper which might be mined from the seabed is effectively constituted by these spirits. Thus, as copper “resurfaces” in the objects and technologies of the future – in batteries and wiring – it also carries a spirituality from the region where it originated.

Spirits infuse the traditions and everyday practises of the people on the Duke of York Islands. “Shark calling” is one such example which is practised along parts of the west coast of New Ireland Province – the closest point on land to Solwara 1.

Every few weeks, when the sea conditions allow, “shark callers” attempt to attract sharks to their hand-carved wooden canoes by rattling a mesh of coconut shells in the water, before capturing them by hand. Shark meat is a key part of local diets that generally lack protein.

Shark callers communicate with spirits which are “resident” in stones found on local beaches prior to their expeditions. It’s no surprise then, that these communities fear noise pollution generated by deep sea mining and the physical disturbance of the seabed which could sever the cultural connections they have with the ocean.

Deep sea mining companies should consider the spirituality of the people their work affects and other kinds of environmental knowledge as important in their own right. As this new industry collides with cultural belief systems in different parts of the world, it will be essential to understand the complex ways in which deep sea mining does have “human” impacts after all. Culture is a key part of any understanding of environmental politics, no matter how extreme the environment in question.

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New Ireland elders urged to clarify stance on experimental seabed mining

The Chief of Kono village is one of the few who are protesting against seabed mining – Picture: Alliance of Solwara Warriors

Loop PNG | 3 July 2018

A challenge has been issued to the New Ireland Council of Elders to clarify their stance on seabed mining.

During World Ocean Day last month, the Alliance of Solwara Warriors reiterated that the development of new ocean industries, such as deep seabed mining, is a shared concern and responsibility.

“It will be very interesting to see which side they support. Are they going to be concerned about our culture, customs and traditions?

“Their leadership as custodians of our natural resources is very important,” said the Alliance in a statement.

“Can they see beyond their noses and expose their true colour of leadership or are they politically bestowed the titles of chief?

“The people of New Ireland are watching.”

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Call for clarity on PNG seabed mining project

Seabed mining machinery Photo: Mike Smith

Radio New Zealand | 16 March 2018

The MP for Namatanai in Papua New Guinea says more information is needed about the impacts and benefits of seabed mining.

The Solwara 1 Project, in which Canadian company Nautilus Minerals plans to extract gold and copper from under the Bismarck Sea, is facing a growing chorus of opposition from local community groups over environmental concerns.

Nautilus has yet to complete equipment requirements for beginning mining, and has seen investors recently withdraw from the project.

The MP, Walter Schnaubelt, said too much remained unknown about the environmental impacts of seabed mining.

“I’m of the view that of course it’s going to be something new, yes, maybe some unknowns are going to happen,” he said.

“But that doesn’t mean that we just shut the door. I would like to delve into it a bit more and know exactly what it is.”

Mr Schnaubelt said there was also a lack of clarity on what benefits the project could bring.

However he said he was keeping an open mind on potential seabed mining.

Mr Schnaubelt said his constituents voted him in to help pave the way for economic development and he was not ruling out that the project could have benefits.

“Provided that those economic benefits do have tangible developments attached to them in the long run, then it’s not so bad,” he said.

“What I’m a little unclear about is what the exact benefits are. I’ve heard some figures, some percentages, but nothing concrete at this point in time.”

Walter Schnaubelt said he could understand the fear local communities had, given that it was the first seabed mining project in the world, and the extent of environmental impacts remain unknown.

However he said he would maintain a neutral stand until more adequate information about the project and clarity on its benefits were made available to him.

The MP conceded “a group opposing the project seems to be gaining momentum”.

But he said some landowners on Namatanai’s west coast were supportive of the project if it brought economic benefits.

“The economic benefits are not really that clear cut,” he explained. “We don’t know exactly what it is and what our (new Ireland’s) shares are, with the East New Britain government.”

He said if the project went ahead, he would want to see a better monitoring system in place to monitor the environment closely and carefully.

Additional measure had to be taken, he suggested, to ensure that an environmental disaster was not left for future generations to struggle with.

However the MP said the company appeared to be struggling for finance, with investors pulling out, and that the project may not proceed.

Mr Schnaubelt said it was another aspect of the project over which he and his constituency had not been given up to date, clear information about.

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Aussie taxpayers chipping in for mining giant

Millions of dollars from Australian taxpayers are being spent to seal the Boluminski Highway in New Ireland, in the shadow of the giant Lihir gold mine run by Newcreat Mining.

In total the Australian government is spending $400 million on Phase 2 of its Transport Sector Support Program in PNG.

Australian taxpayers are footing the bill for infrastructure PNG’s huge foreign-owned mines were supposed to pay for.

Boluminski Highway sealing underway

PNG Loop | April 27, 2018

Works are well underway in New Ireland on a major project to reconstruct 32.4 kilometres of the Boluminski Highway between Pinatgin and Loloba.

The K39.4 million project is being delivered through the Papua New Guinea – Australia Partnership, with the support of the New Ireland Provincial Government.

Australia is committed to supporting a prosperous Papua New Guinea. Works along the Boluminski Highway will help business and local communities access markets and services and boost the tourism industry in New Ireland Province.

Department of Works Secretary, David Wereh, is pleased to see the project progressing well.

“This is an important project on an essential economic corridor for Papua New Guinea. The project will nally link the centres of Namatanai and Kavieng with 265km of sealed maintainable road.

“This will be a signi cant achievement made possible through a long term commitment by the Papua New Guinean and Australian governments,” he said.

More than 140 local residents are employed on the project and works are expected to be completed by the end of December 2018.

The project is being delivered through the Papua New Guinea – Australia Transport Sector Support Program.

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K5M Projects For Nimamar As Sir Julius Fires Broadside At Lihir Gold Mine

Chan: “We will light up the islands and shame the mining giant with the glow of our solar street lights” 

Post Courier | April 26, 2018

Traditional dance groups added colour to the launching of nearly K.5 million worth of projects for five wards in the Nimamar LLG on Malie Island in the Lihir group last Saturday.

The projects include 60 solar street lights to light up village communities in the four island wards from Malie, Masahet and Mahur.

But three boats and one sawmill marked the biggest village impact projects rollout that came under two project initiatives of the New Ireland Government – the Ward Level Project Policy and the Lighting Up New Ireland Policy’

Governor Sir Julius Chan, deputy governor and president of the Nimamar LLG, Ambrose Silul, PEC and provincial assembly members, shipping operator Michael Chan from Vanmak Shipping and staff from the governor’s office and Nimamar LLG gathered with the people to witness the occasion.

Sir Julius had the chance to meet with his people in the electorate. He was at Lambom to launch seven sawmill projects for the Konoagil wards last Thursday with the president James Pandi and then joined president Silul on Saturday to wind up the week.

He told the Lihir people that the Lihir gold mine is the third largest in the world and yet after 20 years in operation Lihir still was without a sealed ring road up until only three years ago, and no power to the inhabitants, even to the islands.

“We recognise that a lot of money for the province comes from Lihir so today I am happy to join with Ambrose so we can put something back to the place of origin. So we will light up the islands and shame the mining giant with the glow of our solar street lights and show that even though the the mine is not forthcoming, this government cares and does what we can to better the lives of our people”

Sir Julius said he’s optimistic of a better deal for the people in the negotiations under the MOA revision that will increase the mining royalty from the current 2% to 10%.

“We fight to put wealth in the hands of the people. Development won’t come if people have no money. If the people are rich the country is rich.”

He encouraged the people to rally behind their president who has been part of the major policies that have impact the province and elect good leader in the coming LLG elections.

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K660m in royalties from Lihir

“Sounds a lot, huh? But average it out – over 20 years that averages to K33m per year. And what about total revenues from the mine? Over 20 years total revenues have been K33 BILLION, or an average of K1.65 billion per year.

“Countries around the world get 8%, 12%, even ( in Canadian provinces) 18% royalties. What do we get? 2%!

“Lot of money coming out of the ground. And it is all going overseas. All we will be left with is a big hole (just look at Misima).” Bruce Harris

Loop PNG | March 20, 2018

The people of New Ireland have received K660 million in total royalties from the Lihir Gold Limited (LGL) since 1997.

Of the total royalty payments made between 1997 and December 2017 (K660m);

  • New Ireland Provincial Government (+ districts) had received K330,057,253
  • Nimamar Local Level Government had received K198,034,351
  • Special Mining Lease Block Owners had received K132,022,902

From January to December 2017, Lihir Gold Limited royalty payments to the people of New Ireland have added to a total of K75,065,077 as highlighted (in yellow) in the table below.

What are royalties?

The PNG Mining Act defines royalties as payments by a mining company to the State based on 2 percent of the value of all gold sold.

The Mining Act further states that it is up to the State to decide how it wants to redistribute the royalties.

For the Lihir operation, the State, in a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) – signed with NIPG, NLLG and the Lihir Mining Area Landowner Association (LMALA) – agreed that the National Government shall ensure that all royalties be distributed in the following way;

  • 50 percent be paid to NIPG
  • 30 percent be paid to NLLG
  • 20 percent be paid directly to the SML block owners.

The MOA further states that the 50 percent portion for the NIPG be divided as:

  • 20 percent to the Namatanai District for infrastructure projects and programs pursuant to its district and provincial development plans. (Lihir comes under the jurisdiction of the Nimamar Local Level Government in the Namatanai district.)
  • 20 percent to the Kavieng District for infrastructure projects and programs pursuant to its districts and provincial development plans.
  • 10 percent for general administration as well as for the administration of the MOA obligations.

The MOA allocation of royalties for infrastructure projects and programs in both Namatanai and Kavieng fulfils Recital C of the MDC’s Social Impact Monitoring Plan for the Lihir operation. It therefore makes Lihir a business that is benefitting the whole of New Ireland Province.

For the 30 percent NLLG portion of total royalties, the MOA states that it be split further in the following way:

  • 20 percent to be spent on community development and programs
  • 10 percent to be spent on long term growth-driven investments

For the 20 percent royalty portion for SML block owners, an arrangement was made between the SML block executives and LMALA for Newcrest Lihir to deduct 20 percent and pay it directly to LMALA to put in a financial savings scheme for the landowners. The remaining 80 percent is paid to the SML block executive to distribute to the SML block owners.

In a statement, the mining rm said: “LGL as a corporate citizen and development partner for New Ireland and PNG honours the MOA and other agreements and complies with all laws of PNG.

“LGL pays royalties every month and reports to the Mineral Resource Authority (MRA), the Internal Revenue Commission and other stakeholder government agencies.”

Newcrest Mining Limited, owner of LGL, is a publically [sic] listed company on the PNG and Australian stock exchanges. As such it is required to regularly report its financial performance through various communications channels, including its website http://www.newcrest.com.au.

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