Papua New Guinea: Six reasons why Frieda River mine should not go ahead, report

Published by MAC on 2021-03-22
Source: Jubilee Australia, BBC (2021-03-21)

Chinese-owned Australian-registered company PanAust submitted an EIS to PNG authorities in 2019.

A proposed dam to hold billions of tonnes of mine waste near the head of Papua New Guinea’s longest river is a potential environmental disaster that could wipe out entire villages, government officials, environmental advocacy groups and villagers living along the river say. The Frieda River gold and copper mine – slated for development by Chinese state-owned, Australian-based miner PanAust for northern New Guinea island – would be the largest mine in PNG’s history, and one of the biggest in the world.

“This Project poses unacceptable risks to our ancestors, ourselves and the lives of our unborn children. It risks the spirit of all plants and animals of the river, the lakes, the tributaries and streams. The company does not have the consent of the Sepik people. I sat with company executives in Brisbane in 2019 and told them, on behalf of the tens of thousands of people who live along the river, that they do not have free, prior and informed consent for this mine”, said Emmanuel Peni, Coordinator of Project Sepik.

Authors state that the Sepik River has the second-highest biodiversity of all the rivers in New Guinea. The irony is that this is based on the assumption that the Fly River still has the highest biodiversity, although given the impact of the Ok Tedi mine, one has to ask whether that’s still true.

See also:2020-11-16 Frieda River tailings dam proposal is not an option2019-06-20 Papua New Guinea: fresh mining venture vociferously opposedNew Report Lists Six Reasons Why Frieda River Mine Should Not Go Ahead

Sydney and Wewak: 14 March 2021 

Project Sepik and Jubilee Australia Research Centre released a new report today on the dangers posed by the proposed Frieda River Mine to the Sepik River and urged its rejection by Papua New Guinean government authorities.  

The report is titled The Sukundimi Walks Before Me, in reference to the river spirit that Sepik people believe dwells in and protects the river. The Sepik River is one of the most important river systems in Papua New Guinea and the Asia-Pacific Region, and its catchment area is home to 400,000 people. 

The report outlines six key reasons why the Frieda River mine should not go ahead, including: 

  1. the irreplaceable environmental and cultural value of the region;  
  2. glaring inadequacies of the environmental impact statement (EIS);  
  3. the threat posed by a potential failure of the tailings dam;  
  4. the inappropriateness of the alternative to a tailings dam, Deep Sea Tailings Disposal;  
  5. the lack of consent of the Sepik communities;  
  6. the similarities between the Frieda River Mine and other environmental disasters in PNG, particularly the Ok Tedi mine and the Panguna mine.  

PanAust, the Chinese-owned, Australian-registered company, submitted its EIS for the project to PNG’s Conservation and Environmental Protection Authority (CEPA) in 2019. CEPA has to either reject or accept the EIS, which they have yet to do. If they were to accept the EIS, they would then grant the Environmental Permit needed for the project to go ahead. The company would use the permit to get the Mineral Development Authority (MRA) to approve a mining license. The report urges CEPA to reject the EIS outright and for the MRA to refrain from approving a mining license for the project 

Emmanuel Peni, Coordinator of Project Sepik, said: ‘This Project poses unacceptable risks to our ancestors, ourselves and the lives of our unborn children. It risks the spirit of all plants and animals of the river, the lakes, the tributaries and streams. The company does not have the consent of the Sepik people. I sat with company executives in Brisbane in 2019 and told them, on behalf of the tens of thousands of people who live along the river, that they do not have free, prior and informed consent for this mine.’ 

Dr Luke Fletcher, Executive Director of Jubilee Australia Research Centre, said:  ‘The Supreme Sukundimi Declaration last year showed that opposition to this mine is universal and widespread along the river: there is simply no way for this project ever to achieve free, prior and informed consent. Moreover, expert analysis detailed in our report has confirmed what the people already know: the mine will not be safe, cannot be safe. The enormous scale of the mine and tailings, in a mountainous area with high rainfall and high seismic activity, together mean that the mine poses unacceptable risks to the Sepik people and wildlife.’ 

Emmanuel Peni concluded: ‘This must be a world river. This must be a World Heritage Area. We need to bring this message out to the world: That, this is not only Papua New Guinea’s river and rainforests, but Papua New Guineans are custodians of something that must belong to the world.’  

Project Sepik  

Project Sepik is a not-for-profit organisation based in Papua New Guinea that has been working in the Sepik region since 2016. Project Sepik advocates for the vision of a local environment with a sustained balance of life via the promotion of environmentally sustainable practices and holding to account those that are exploiting the environment.   

Jubilee Australia Research Centre  

Jubilee Australia Research Centre engages in research and advocacy to promote economic justice for communities in the Asia-Pacific region and accountability for Australian corporations and government agencies operating there.  

Project Sepik and Jubilee Australia spearhead the Save the Sepik campaign. Find out more at www.savethesepik.org


Entire villages would be wiped out if natural disaster hit dam on PNG mine, critics say

‘Rocks under where the dam will be built is not safe … If there is a fault in the structure, the dam will give way,’ says West Sepik official .

Lyanne Togiba in Port Moresby and Ben Doherty Pacific Editor

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/mar/14/entire-villages-would-be-wiped-out-if-natural-disaster-hit-dam-on-png-mine-critics-say

14 Mar 2021

A proposed dam to hold billions of tonnes of mine waste near the head of Papua New Guinea’s longest river is a potential environmental disaster that could wipe out entire villages if there was a natural disaster, government officials, environmental advocacy groups and villagers living along the river say.

The Frieda River gold and copper mine – slated for development by Chinese state-owned, Australian-based miner PanAust for northern New Guinea island – would be the largest mine in PNG’s history, and one of the biggest in the world.

Part of the mine’s proposal would be a 12,000ha reservoir built to hold more than 4.6bn tonnes of waste rock and mine tailings. The reservoir would hold 9.6bn cubic metres of water – twice the size of Sydney harbour – and the embankment built to hold it would be 187 metres high.

The Frieda River is a tributary to the Sepik River which, at 1,100km is PNG’s longest river and a key source of water, food and livelihood for tens of thousands who live along it.

West Sepik provincial administrator Conrad Tilau told the Guardian the government’s position was clear: “There should not be any dam built at the Frieda.

“The formation of the rocks under where the dam will be built is not safe, and also because … the water contained in the dam will be huge. If there is a fault in the structure, the dam will give way.

“The company must look for other alternatives to dispose of the waste like the option of deep sea tailings placement … but not the dam.”

new report by environmental advocacy organisation Jubilee Australia details environmental and social issues presented by the proposed mine, arguing PNG risks repeating the environmental catastrophes of Ok Tedi and Panguna which devastated rivers, poisoned water sources and destroyed croplands in western province and Bougainville.

“The immense size of the mine, the low ore grade, the very large amount of waste rock, the seismic conditions, the high rainfall, mountainous terrain, all of these things are red flags in terms of the risks,” Jubilee executive director Luke Fletcher said, citing the 2015 Brazilian mine dam failure that killed 19 people, and spread toxic waste hundreds of kilometres.

“If there is a dam failure – and the dam break analysis has not been publicly released – it has the potential to be another Samarco-type collapse.”

Jubilee argued a potential alternative to the tailings dam, deep-sea tailings disposal – where mine waste is piped directly to the ocean to settle, ultimately, on the sea floor – presented significant environmental risks as well, including causing the buildup of toxic metals in the ocean ecosystem.

“These metals can build up in the food chain and cause harm to larger organisms such as fish and, eventually, people,” it said. “This risk is largely unknown as there is little research that quantifies what toxicity deep sea organisms can safely endure.”

In its environmental impact statement, PanAust said the “nation-building project … presents broad commercial and socioeconomic development opportunities for Papua New Guinea”. The mine plan also includes a hydroelectric plant, power grid, and road, airport and seaport upgrades.

The EIS estimates 2.9bn tonnes of mine waste would be produced over the 33-year life of the mine – half as tailings and half as waste rock.

A “dam break analysis” had ensured “appropriate factors of safety have been incorporated into the design” of the dam, which would sit 40km upstream of the head of the Sepik River.

“The probability of a failure is very unlikely,” the EIS said. “However, the extreme consequences of complete failure leading to the uncontrolled release of large quantities of water and solids (from waste rock and tailings placement) would likely result in extreme downstream environmental and social impacts.”

PanAust declined to respond to a series of questions from the Guardian. The company has not proposed deep-sea tailings disposal.

PNG’s centre for environmental law and community rights and landowner advocacy group Project Sepik argued there was significant risk of a dam break, citing 10 reports provided to the Conservation Environment and Protection Authority in 2020.

“The Frieda River tailings dam has a medium risk of dam breakage as a result of: the extremely large amount of mine waste and tailings that will be produced; the rugged terrain; extremely high average annual rainfall … around 8 metres per year … and the mine to be located in a seismically active area which between 2010 and 2017 saw five earthquakes with magnitudes greater than 6.”

Emmanuel Peni, coordinator of campaign group Save the Sepik, said the dam risked wiping out villages downstream and poisoning the rivers that thousands depend on.

“The scientific reports all point out conclusively [that] it’s not a safe place or right place to build a dam or any large construction.”

Chiefs from 28 haus tambarans – “spirit houses” – representing nearly 80,000 people along the Sepik River have issued the collective Supreme Sukundimi Declaration calling for “a total ban on the Frieda River mine”.

SOURCE:

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