Newcrest Mining and Harmony Gold, owners of the Hidden Valley mine, and the Papua New Guinea government’s Department of Environment and Conservation came under intense fire today over the environmental approval process and suspicions of waste disposal into the Watut River system.
Bulolo MP Sam Basil had both the company and DEC in his sights as he unleashed a scathing attack beginning with the delay in responding to the people’s petition , which took 22 months, the approval of a seemingly-flawed environmental management plan as well as questionable practice in monitoring and assessing key environmental indicators.
Drawing from the SMEC report commissioned by DEC after the September 2009 people’s petition to carry out an independent environmental performance audit of Hidden Valley Gold Mine, Basil said:
“It took the entire 2010 for DEC to work with MMJV to get their act together before this face-to-face meeting with the people.
“I believe DEC would not have responded to the issues or formed the expert committee if there was no petition from us.”
Basil pointed out that the SMEC Report between June 6, 2010 and November 19, 2010 went through a total of three revisions.
The main key objectives of the audit were:
- To assess mine performance with regard to permitting compliance and environmental management;
- To assess offsite impacts due to historic and current mine activities; and
- Therefore, enhance DEC’s capacity to effectively monitor and regulate the future operation of the mine as well as provide the basis for the formulation of an appropriate response to the Watut River community.
“The SMEC report confirmed that from the two permits (waste discharge and water extraction) issued in April 2006 to March 2010, there were a total of 10 non-compliances and 30 partial compliance conditions out of the total 73 conditions,” Basil said.
“This is 54.8% non or partial compliance to the permits issued by DEC.
“Not only that, the environmental management plan (EMP) which was granted with 11 conditions in April 2006 was not updated by March 2010 audit.
“The EMP did not significantly meet ISO 14000 – an international standard on environmental management.
“The report confirmed that the environmental management is not properly co-ordinated and there has been generally poor response in resolving permit non-compliances.
“What my people and I fail to understand is how despite the EMP for MMJV project not being compliant to ISO 14000, DEC saw fit to allow the project to go ahead.
“Permit No. WD-L3 (50) was also not followed.
“The EMP was said to have been updated since August 2009. Coincidently, that might have been triggered again by the petition we handed in September 2009.”
Referring to details in the report, the Bulolo MP added:
“The report confirmed that the soil and surface water and erosion management requirements were not fully implemented across the site.
“There were significant erosion issues associated with unstable slopes and waste dumps.
“There is no permit limit or adopted target for suspended solids concentration in water drainage off the site.
“DEC has again failed to establish clearly the target for suspended solid concentration in water drainage off the site.
“That alone should result in disallowing MMJV to discharge waste excessively off site.
“The report also pointed out that the waste management was not done in accordance with the waste management Plan.
“There was no waste register or evidence that waste minimisation and re-use programmes were fully implemented across the site.
“The landfill was poorly located and managed, and posed an ongoing environmental risk.
“This significantly throws away the principle of sustainable mining practice.
“So where have all the hazardous and toxic mine wastes generated over the years gone to?
“Where were they disposed of? It does not take a rocket scientist to work out they were disposed into the Watut River!
“There was no thorough ground water monitoring done to assess the bioavailability of hydrocarbons, VOC, PCB, and other environmental persistent chemicals.
“The SMEC report confirmed that these waste treatment systems appear to be overloaded and unable to treat wastewater to permit standards.
“There was potential for downstream pathogenic and nutrient contamination, which poses a health threat to downstream inhabitants.
“This indicates high potential of raw wastewater discharge downstream.
“ Riverine communities and alluvial miners can and may still be easily be affected.
“Highly raw pathogenic contamination of the river system which can easily affect/influence the river health balance.
“That in turn is highly unhygienic and harmful, especially when the river communities use the river for drinking, laundry and washing cooking utensils daily.
“This also has the potential of aggravating skin irritation and affects small sores or cuts on the epidermal layer of the skin especially on the foot or below the waist line.
“Issues raised by pregnant women bathing or crossing the river resulting in other health concerns can also be clearly linked to this.”
Adding to this quotes from other relevant reports including one commissioned by MMJV itself, Basil said:
“These are very serious – and dangerous flaws.
“Their impact and implications are long-lasting on the water source health and even lives of the people.
“They signal a lack of confidence in MMJV as a trustworthy development partner and investor.
“But worse of all, the attitude of the Department of Environment and Conservation together with the Minister involved, to these issues completely goes against the democratic idea of governance.
“Instead of democratic governance being for the people – this is completely against the people.
“This is the reason why there is growing pressure for the government to relinquish its option on equity in mining projects to landowners, LLGs and the districts and assume the role of being regulator and tax collector more.
“When the alternative government is in office, we will pursue this as a policy so there is clear demarcation between the government’s role as compliance regulator and tax collector, the private sector and investors’ role as developers, and the landowner’s role and interests
“I hope my presentation – based on the hard work of many experts and professionals – will cause all stakeholders to do the right thing for all our collective benefit and especially the people living along the riverine areas from near the mine site all the way to the coast of Huon Gulf.”