Australia can ensure the biggest mine in PNG’s history won’t leave a toxic legacy

By | July 11, 2022

Credit: Shutterstock

The COVID pandemic slowed mining operations across the Pacific. Merely as economic activity returns, an Australia-based visitor is poised to pursue what would exist the largest mine in Papua New Guinea’s history.

The vast gilt and copper projection, known as the Frieda River mine, would likewise include a hydroelectric plant and a dam with a storage capacity for around iv.6 billion tons of mine tailings and waste product stone.

The project is awaiting approval past the PNG government. Nonetheless, locals, conservationists and experts say it could cause catastrophic harm to one of the world’s nearly important river systems and should not proceed as proposed.

Commonwealth of australia is PNG’s largest development partner. As resource extraction expands across the Pacific, the new Labor government is well placed to aid our neighbors ensure mining action doesn’t harm people or the environs.

Remote, unstable terrain

The Frieda River mine is proposed past Brisbane-based, Chinese-owned company Pan Aust.

The projection centers on the Frieda River copper-aureate deposit located in the tropical mountain ranges of northwest PNG.

The river flows into the Sepik River Bowl, one of the world’s great river systems. It’s the largest unpolluted freshwater system in New Guinea and among the largest freshwater basins in the Asia-Pacific.

The Frieda River deposit was discovered in the 1960s. Information technology lies in extremely remote terrain, forth the Pacific Ring of Fire which is prone to seismic activity.

The mine would produce tailings (or waste materials) containing sulfide, which turns into sulfuric acid when exposed to oxygen. For this reason, the tailings must be permanently covered by water.

Australia can ensure the biggest mine in PNG's history won't leave a toxic legacy
The projection threatens catastrophic harm to one of the world’s most important river systems, and the people who depend on it. Credit: Shutterstock

The proposed mine’s location, high in the mountains, means a tailings accident could devastate the entire Sepik River Basin.

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About 430,000 people depend on the Sepik River and nearby forests for their livelihood. The proposal has galvanized massive opposition from both locals and others.

Downplaying the risks

In 2020, ten independent experts including myself, were commissioned by PNG’s Center for Ecology Law and Customs Rights to individually review the project’south “ecology impact statement”. The work was undertaken pro bono.

I’m an experienced golden exploration geologist and ecology scientist. In my review, I found the argument downplayed or obscured the proposal’s extraordinary level of adventure.

First, it omitted a study by design engineers that analyzed the extreme consequences of dam failure.

2d, the main report failed to mention the dam would demand an intensive inspection and maintenance regime “in perpetuity.” In other words, a potentially toxic dam in a remote function of a very poor country requires highly skilled and experienced professionals to maintain it —not but for the 33-year life of the mine, only forever.

Our reports prompted a group of UN Special Rapporteurs to write messages of business organisation to the governments of PNG, Commonwealth of australia, China and Canada, where companies involved in the joint venture have ties.

The letters said the mine’southward development appeared to “condone the man rights of those affected … given the nature of the project information technology could undermine the rights of Sepik children to life, wellness, culture, and a healthy environment, including the rights of unborn generations.”

The Conversation contacted Pan Aust for a response to these claims. In a statement, the company said it was “respectfully engaged in the Government of Papua New Guinea’s approvals process” and as such, information technology was inappropriate to provide a public comment.

Australia can ensure the biggest mine in PNG's history won't leave a toxic legacy
Villagers travelling along PNG’s Fly River which is choked past tailings from the Ok Tedi mine. Author provided

New safeguards are needed

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Inadequate consideration of a mine’due south social and environmental touch is rife cross the Pacific. And PNG provides many examples of the catastrophes that can result.

Tailings from BHP’s ill-fated Ok-Tedi mine, located in the aforementioned mount range as the proposed Frieda River mine, severely damaged nearby rivers.

And environmental damage from the Panguna copper mine was a key gene in community unrest and the Bougainville civil war.

Contempo research into governance of mining in PNG found regime agencies were nether-resourced, leaving “companies equally effectively cocky-regulating.”

Proponents of mining in PNG often cite its contribution to economic development. Simply for the benefits to exist realized, resource must be extracted in a way that is environmentally, socially and economically sustainable.

New laws are needed to ensure resource extraction projects in PNG don’t crusade long-lasting social and environmental damage. This should include mandatory, transparent and independent reviews of projects.

Australia has all-encompassing experience with environmental regulation of mining projects and can assist in this regard. Such help should exist delivered in a way that strengthens relations betwixt Australia and PNG, and empowers and equips the smaller nation.

Sustainable development for our Pacific neighbors is in Australia’s strategic interests. Australian companies often benefit significantly from resource extraction in PNG, creating an extra responsibility to ensure better outcomes.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.The Conversation

Citation: Commonwealth of australia can ensure the biggest mine in PNG’s history won’t go out a toxic legacy (2022, June 30) retrieved 11 July 2022 from of australia-biggest-png-history-wont.html

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