AT THE OUTSET let me be clear – I have no vested interest in the outcome of the dispute between the Rai Coast landowners versus the Metallurgical Corporation of China, the Mineral Resources Authority of PNG, the Director of Environment, and the Independent State of PNG.
But the Ramu landowners case brings to light a significant issue not just for PNG but for the extractive industries worldwide.
If mining, oil and gas companies are to be welcome in developing nations the most basic logic suggests lots of practices have to change.
It is not good enough to claim they have already changed; it is not enough to present sustainability reports with pretty pictures of smiling indigenous children and rainforests and talk of contributions to the environment and community, not while using riverine or marine mine waste disposal.
It is a matter of reputational risk to an entire industry, damaging even those companies who use more responsible and sustainable waste disposal methods.
Reputation is built on trust, relationship, values and on people’s expectations of corporate behaviour. The prettier the pictures, the more damage done.
The Scottish Association for Marine Science produced a report on Deep Sea Tailings Disposal (DSTP) for the PNG government. It was delivered in May, 2010.
The report was funded by the European Union with the clear intent of supporting DSTP as a means of mine waste disposal. Its survey was to assess impacts only at Misima and Lihir.
The baseline study at Basamuk Bay (pertaining to the Ramu nickel mine) was added to the brief later.
Do not misunderstand this document.
It was commissioned to help establish guidelines for managing DSTP, to create legitimacy for the mining industry’s use of DSTP, and to attract more mining companies to invest in PNG.
Given this report was intended to support DSTP projects in PNG (and it does indeed attempt to do so at various points) there are perhaps some very good reasons why the government has seen fit not to make it widely available.
I wonder, is the SAMS report included as defence evidence in the Ramu case?
There is a very simple and quick resolution to this case. The mining company could commit to a sustainable land-based tailings disposal method.
One would think MCC’s Australian joint venture partner in this project, Highlands Pacific, would have the sense to insist it do so and move on, given the reported delays and cost over runs.
There is one company that states implicitly it does not and will not use riverine or submarine tailings disposal at any of its projects anywhere.
That company is BHP Billiton. It is rather foolish of an entire industry to ignore the history of why that is, don’t you think?
You can read the full version of the article here.
Alex Harris is an author, consultant, speaker, freelance writer and editor of ‘Reputation Report’. Alex was born in PNG and lived there until she was a late teenager. She has long experience, continuing to the present, with the resources and extractive industry.