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Miners report some infrastructure damage after Papua quake

Landslide and damage to a road near the Ok Tedi mine. Jerome Kay/Handout via REUTERS

Melanie Burton and Sonali Paul | Reuters | February 27, 2018

Miners in northwest Papua New Guinea reported some damage to infrastructure following a powerful magnitude 7.5 earthquake that hit on Monday, as projects in the resource-rich region assess the impact on their operations.

Barrick Gold Corp said a power station that supplies its Porgera gold mine had been damaged, while Ok Tedi Mining Ltd said a landslip had blocked a road and damaged pipelines to its copper and gold mine in the Star Mountains.

The PNG government said it had sent disaster assessment teams to the rugged Southern Highlands about 560 km (350 miles) northwest of the capital, Port Moresby, following the quake early on Monday and a series of aftershocks.

No casualties have been confirmed.

“It’s premature to comment on what the impact to Porgera may be as those assessments remain underway. ‎The mine does have limited back up power generation available on site,” Barrick Gold spokesman Andy Lloyd said in emailed comments.

Electricity from the power station is mainly used by the processing plant at Porgera. The mining fleet uses diesel. Porgera is co-owned by China’s Zijin Mining Group.

State-owned Ok Tedi said that a landslip blocking roads would likely take several days to clear, but did not comment on any direct impact to operations.

“Maintenance work on the damaged pipes will begin as soon as road access is restored and spare pipes are transported to the location,” it said in a statement.

Early estimates are that it will take at least several days to clear the road to allow for normal traffic flow, with work due to start on Tuesday morning, it said.

Earthquakes are common in Papua New Guinea, which sits on the Pacific’s “Ring of Fire”, a hotspot for seismic activity due to friction between tectonic plates. Part of PNG’s northern coast was devastated in 1998 by a tsunami, generated by a 7.0 quake, which killed about 2,200 people.

ExxonMobil said on Monday it had shut its Hides gas conditioning plant and that it believed administration buildings, living quarters and a mess hall had been damaged.

Gas is processed at Hides and transported along a 700 km (435 miles) line that feeds a liquefied natural gas plant near Port Moresby for shipping.

PNG oil and gas explorer Oil Search said in a statement on Monday it had also shut production in the quake-affected area. 

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ExxonMobil, Barrick Gold and OTML all report damage

Landslide and damage to a road near the Ok Tedi mine township of Tabubil after the earthquake. Jerome Kay/Handout via REUTERS

ExxonMobil shuts LNG plant in Papua New Guinea; reports of casualties

Reuters | 27 February 2018

ExxonMobil Corp has shut its liquefied natural gas (LNG) plant in the wake of a powerful earthquake in Papua New Guinea’s remote highlands region that cut off roads and damaged buildings, with unconfirmed reports of 20 or more deaths.

The global energy giant said communications with nearby communities remain down following the 7.5 magnitude earthquake early on Monday, hampering efforts to assess damage to facilities that feed the PNG LNG plant, the country’s biggest export earner.

“Communications continue to be one of the most significant challenges,” ExxonMobil said in an emailed statement, adding that damage has closed the Komo airfield that serves its gas production and processing operations.

Miners Barrick Gold Corp and Ok Tedi Mining also reported some damage to infrastructure, while the government said it had sent disaster assessment teams to the rugged region about 560 km (350 miles) northwest of the capital, Port Moresby.

Chris McKee, director of PNG’s Department of Mineral Policy and Geohazards Management, said a local official told him that four people had died in the city of Mendi, while local media reports said some 20 to 30 people may have been killed.

The disaster management office said it was verifying reports of deaths, but it could take days to confirm a death toll.

A landslide blocking road accesses from Tabubil to Ok Tedi’s Fubilan Mine pit. Photo: Baundo Mereh/Facebook

LNG SHUTDOWN

The $19 billion PNG LNG project is considered one of the world’s best performing LNG operations, having started exports in 2014 earlier than targeted, despite the challenges of drilling for gas and building a processing plant and pipeline in the remote jungle of PNG.

It has been producing at around 20 percent above its rated capacity of 6.9 million tonnes a year.

ExxonMobil said it had shut the two LNG processing units, or trains, at the plant on the coast near Port Moresby after earlier shutting its Hides gas conditioning plant and Hides production pads in Hela province in the highlands region.

Its partner, Oil Search, also shut oil and gas production in the quake-affected area on Monday.

Gas is processed at Hides and transported along a 700 km (435 miles) line that feeds the PNG LNG plant, whose main customers are in Japan, China and Taiwan.

Traders said the impact on the LNG market would depend on the length of the shutdown, but noted that spot prices have fallen recently as North Asia is coming out of the period of heavy winter gas demand.

“The global LNG market is likely to respond immediately as the buyers need to seek alternative sources, and the extent of the impact would depend on when the plant re-starts operations after the shutdown,” said Beseok Jin, a research analyst at IHS Markit.

INFRASTRUCTURE DAMAGE

Barrick said a power station that supplies its Porgera gold mine had been damaged, while Ok Tedi said a landslip had blocked a road and damaged pipelines to its copper and gold mine in the Star Mountains.

“It’s premature to comment on what the impact to Porgera may be as those assessments remain underway. ‎The mine does have limited back up power generation available on site,” Barrick Gold spokesman Andy Lloyd said in emailed comments.

Electricity from the power station is mainly used by the processing plant at Porgera, which is co-owned by China’s Zijin Mining Group.

State-owned Ok Tedi said on Tuesday it had restarted mining with a small workforce flown in by helicopter, but a restart of its processing mill would be delayed until several pipelines are repaired.

A landslip blocking roads would likely take up to two days to be cleared, at which point mine operations would return to normal, Ok Tedi said by email.

Earthquakes are common in Papua New Guinea, which sits on the Pacific’s “Ring of Fire”, a hotspot for seismic activity due to friction between tectonic plates. Part of PNG’s northern coast was devastated in 1998 by a tsunami, generated by a 7.0 quake, which killed about 2,200 people.

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Landslip Blocks Ok Tedi Access Road

Post Courier | February 27, 2018

A landslip has blocked off the Ok Tedi mine access road following an earthquake that occurred in the early hours of yesterday morning.

Ok Tedi Mining Limited confirmed that the landslip occurred on a section of the Tabubil-Mine Road in Western Province.

The landslip damaged the water and concentrate pipelines at the slip location. Maintenance work on the damaged pipes will begin as soon as road access is restored and spare pipes are transported to the location.

Managing director and chief executive officer Peter Graham said no damages had been reported at the mill and mine or in Tabubil township, however, the nearby Bultem village had lost power and options for restoring power to the village were being evaluated.

Early estimates were that it would take at least several days to clear the road to allow for normal traffic flow. Clearance would start this morning under strict safety provisions. In the meantime a skeleton crew will maintain inspections at the mill and mine, Mr Graham said.

He said the highway between Tabubil and Kiunga had also suffered from a number of smaller landslips and cracks, limiting access to light vehicles only.

Meanwhile, employees who worked the night shift at the mine and mill had been relocated safely back to Tabubil by helicopter, with all employees accounted for.

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Minister will not intervene in Ok Tedi mine sacking

Charmaine Poriambep | LOOP PNG | February 26, 2018

Despite calls from the North Fly MP to investigate the sacking of more than 100 Ok Tedi Mining Limited employees, Mining Minister Johnson Tuke says he will not intervene with administrative issues.

He said the sacking of these workers is a management issue.

“I understand that it is grievances displayed by employees. They have a channel to go through,” stated Tuke.

Minister Tuke says Ok Tedi Mining Limited has set guidelines and regulations on how to deal with issues that arise and both parties have to be guided by those processes.

Meanwhile, OTML says it will not make any comments or statements on the matter.

North Fly MP, James Donald, recently called on Tuke to immediately intervene and direct investigations into the sacking of a group of Ok Tedi Mine employees in Western Province.

His call comes after the company management terminated more than 100 of its employees last Tuesday for staging a protest against the company.

OTML said their industrial action was illegal as it did not follow the grievance process and was not supported by the union.

They were served with termination letters on the evening of that same day (Tuesday) to leave.

Donald said sacking of employees in that manner and in such big numbers was concerning as it was signalling something worse to come.

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Mining and petroleum operations shut down in Papua New Guinea

A landslide blocking road accesses from Tabubil to Ok Tedi’s Fubilan Mine pit. Photo: Baundo Mereh/Facebook

Radio New Zealand | 27 February 2018

Images of the giant Ok Tedi copper mine in Western Provence indicated serious damage to roads and copper pipelines, the national coordinator for the PNG Resource Governance Coalition Martyn Namorong said.

Pipelines carrying copper concentrate and mining waste had also been damaged, raising serious concerns about toxic spills, Mr Namorong said.

There were also concerns about the integrity of the gas pipeline that runs from the highlands to Port Moresby.

Mr Namorong said the images he had seen from the area showed enormous land slips and twisted pipes.

“Well in terms of the photos they’re showing major landslides. These are not small landslides they’re massive landslides. The damage is very, very significant.

“The quake would have been really, really massive in terms of … in fact what people are saying is it’s probably the worst earthquake they’ve ever felt in their entire lives.”

The company Oil Search released a statement to the Australian Stock Exchange confirming the shutdown of its production facilities in the highlands due to the quake, Mr Namorong said.

The company said it was trying to confirm that all its staff had been accounted for.

It said it was monitoring the impact of the quake on the local communities and would assist the authorities where possible.

The area is the hub of PNG’s LNG Project, in which Oil Search has a 29 percent stake.

The epicentre of the quake was located in a rugged region near Mt Sisa, which is close to key infrastructure for PNG’s ExxonMobil-led LNG gas project.

A spokesperson from Exxon told RNZ Pacific that all of its employees and contractors at its Hides gas facilities had been accounted for and were safe.

As a precaution, ExxonMobil PNG Limited had shut down its Hides Gas Conditioning Plant to assess any damages to its facilities, she said.

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Major quake cuts communications, halts oil and gas operations in Papua New Guinea

Landslide and damage to a road located near the Ok Tedi mine township of Tabubil after an earthquake that struck Papua New Guinea’s Southern Highlands, February 26, 2018. Jerome Kay/Handout via REUTERS

Charlotte GreenfieldSonali Paul | Reuters | 26 February 2018

At least one company began evacuating non-essential personnel after a powerful 7.5 magnitude earthquake hit Papua New Guinea’s energy-rich interior on Monday, causing landslides, damaging buildings and closing oil and gas operations.

The tremor hit in the rugged, heavily forested Southern Highlands about 560 km (350 miles) northwest of the capital, Port Moresby, at around 3.45 a.m. local time (1545 GMT Sunday), according to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS).

A spokesman at Papua New Guinea’s National Disaster Centre said by telephone the affected area was very remote and the agency could not properly assess damage until communication was re-established.

He said there were no confirmed casualties, although the International Red Cross (IRC) in Papua New Guinea said some reports indicated there were “fears of human casualties”.

“It’s very serious all across the Southern Highlands and also all over the western highlands. People are definitely very frightened,” Udaya Regmi, the head of the IRC in Papua New Guinea, said by telephone from Port Moresby.

The PNG government also said it had sent disaster assessment teams. At least 13 aftershocks with a magnitude of 5.0 or more rattled the area throughout the day, according to USGS data, but no tsunami warnings were issued.

Early on Tuesday, USGS reported that another quake with a magnitude of 6.4 had hit 142 km (88 miles) from the city of Mount Hagen at a depth of about 10 km.

“The Papua New Guinea Defense Force has also been mobilized to assist with the assessment and the delivery of assistance to affected people as well as the restoration of services and infrastructure,” Isaac Lupari, the chief secretary to the government, said in a statement after Monday’s tremor.

ExxonMobil said it had shut its Hides gas conditioning plant and that it believed administration buildings, living quarters and a mess hall had been damaged. It also said it had suspended flights into the nearby Komo airfield until the runway could be surveyed.

“Due to the damage to the Hides camp quarters and continuing aftershocks, ExxonMobil PNG is putting plans in place to evacuate non-essential staff,” the company said in an emailed statement.

Gas is processed at Hides and transported along a 700 km (435 miles) line that feeds a liquefied natural gas plant near Port Moresby for shipping.

PAPUA PANIC

PNG oil and gas explorer Oil Search said in a statement it had also shut production in the quake-affected area.

The giant Grasberg copper mine operated by the Indonesian unit of Freeport McMoRan in neighboring Papua province was not affected, a Jakarta-based spokesman said.

However, the quake and several aftershocks caused panic in Jayapura, the capital of Indonesian Papua, Indonesia’s disaster mitigation agency said in a statement, but there were no reports of casualties or damage there.

The IRC’s Regmi said communications were “completely down” in Tari, one of the larger settlements near the quake’s epicenter, and that landslides had cut roads.

Several other aid and missionary agencies said poor communications in the area made damage and injury assessment difficult.

“The bush structures that they build tend to handle earthquakes extremely well,” Christian missionary Brandon Buser told Reuters after contacting several remote villages by shortwave radio.

Earthquakes are common in Papua New Guinea, which sits on the Pacific’s “Ring of Fire”, a hotspot for seismic activity due to friction between tectonic plates.

“This is the Papuan fold-and-thrust belt, so it’s a typical movement of faults in that region, but it’s big,” said Chris McKee, acting director of the Geohazards Management Division in Port Moresby.

Part of PNG’s northern coast was devastated in 1998 by a tsunami, generated by a 7.0 quake, which killed about 2,200 people.

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MP calls for probe in OTML staff sacking

North Fly MP, James Donald wants the Minister to intervene in the sacking of a group of Ok Tedi Mine employees

Freddy Mou | Loop PNG | February 23, 2018

North Fly MP, James Donald has called on the Minister for Mining, Johnson Tuke, to immediately intervene and direct investigations into the sacking of a group of Ok Tedi Mine employees in Western Province.

Donald said the Mining Minister must ensure an investigation is conducted to determine whether the termination of 100-plus workers by OTML was proper and lawful.

His call comes after the company management terminated more than 100 of its employees on Tuesday for staging a protest against the company.

OTML said their industrial action was illegal as it did not follow the grievance process and was not supported by the union.

They were served with termination letters on the evening of that same day (Tuesday) to leave.

Donald said sacking of employees in that manner and in such big number was concerning as it was signaling something worst coming.

He said he was concern about the welfare of the sacked-Papua New Guinean workers and their families and he wanted the relevant authorities including the Mining minister to immediately look into this matter.

“As Member for the host district of the Ok Tedi Mine, I’m very concerned about the welfare of those who have been sacked including their families because their welfare is paramount,” Donald said.

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