What independence means to our people
Disappointment for PNG in Gillard ministry

The report the PNG govt didn’t want revealed


I HAVE BOTH the final and draft copies of the Scottish Association for Marine Science report for the PNG government of expected impacts of the Ramu Deep Sea Tailings Disposal (DSTP) plan for Basamuk Bay.

In part, it also looks at the impacts of other DSTP sites, like Lihir and Misima.

In short, Lihir mine disposes of approximately 3.5-4.5 million tonnes of tailings to the marine environment each year.

The material being discharged (at a depth of 128 metres) is a mixture of tailing solids (about 5% clay, 93% silt and 2% fine sand), heavy metals, zinc, copper, cadmium, lead and mercury, together with arsenic, all at a temperature of 34 degrees C.

The report states that the tailings contain “a significant amount of heavy metals with the finer particulate material having higher specific concentrations of metals.”

Subsurface plumes of this crap vary in thickness from 10 to 200 metres and occur to depths of 700 metres with deposition of tailings found up to 4.4 km north of the discharge point.

It states “the presence and dispersion of subsurface plumes will increase the tailings deposition area from that initially predicted.”

The report concludes the tailings are contributing a significant amount of material to the immediate marine environment and as far afield as Masahet Island. “The results show clearly that mine tailings deposition east of Lihir has a significant impact on macrofaunal communities at all three sampled depths.”

In addition, approximately 0.5-3 km offshore are two sediment mounds 35 and 55 metres high from barge-dumped waste.

That DSTP is allowed anywhere is shocking. That the majority of DSTP operations occur in PNG is nothing short of a travesty.

Here is a primordial environment - the closest to creation there is.

It is blessed (due to late colonisation) with still pristine, ancient rainforests with a multitude of unique flora and fauna, with the vast bulk yet to be discovered.

PNG is already reputed to have the highest and most valuable biodiversity of marine life in the world, and yet so little research has been done.

The value of this to the PNG people is inestimable in terms of biological and pharmaceutical research, wildlife research, diving and eco-tourism, health and lifestyle.

It is in ecological terms, perhaps the richest nation in the world. Yet it continues to squander this wealth for… for what exactly?

The PNG government can bluster on all it likes about the economic value of these mining projects to PNG, but after decades of such projects operating in the country, PNG remains one of the poorest countries in the world, with the poorest health record in the Pacific, and can boast increasingly and irrevocably damaged environments from end-to-end.

If the Ramu project is allowed to proceed, it will be followed by the Yandera copper mine which will dump it appears, five times the volume of toxic waste into the same bay.

With the environmental disasters of Lihir, Misima, Ok Tedi, Porgera, and Panguna already on record, I sincerely despair for the people of PNG.


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Alex Harris

Spot on Kevin. But sadly we Australians are not standing idly by.

Australian publicly listed company Highlands Pacific is the joint venture partner of MCC. It owned the project long before the Chinese came along, and had plans in place a number of years before signing over the majority of the project to MCC to finance the works.

The argument that these DSTP proponents use is that the country has these convenient deep undersea trenches so close to shore, that the island is seismic and there is too much rainfall, and so, oh dear, the land-based tailings dams collapse.

They claim they have no choice but to use DSTP.

There are so many examples of hydro dams, of other mining projects (including nickel laterite) in exactly these kinds of areas that do not use DSTP.

These other companies prove there is a choice. It is not rocket science. It is engineering. And nothing can substitute for good engineering.

When BHP built the shoddy tailings dam it did, and it collapsed as they suspected it would, and emptied its toxic guts into the Ok Tedi River, they didn’t build another one.

Not because it couldn’t be done, not because they couldn’t do it, but because it would cost too much.

And how much did the lawsuits, loss of customers, loss of profit for the years since they walked away, and loss of reputation all cost BHP in the end? 1000 times what a safe tailings treatment and impoundment facility would have.

And, had they such a tailings dam in place, they would still be working at Ok Tedi - one of the richest mines in the world - today.

And which company now states emphatically that it will not use riverine or submarine tailings disposal at any of its projects anywhere? BHP.

It learned the hard way why sometimes spending that little extra upfront to make a mine safe and sustainable pays off big time in the long term. It seems BHP’s esteemed colleagues don’t read.

Kevin Machen

I have been to PNG few times with my work and love the country. You can see the potential of the biodiversity and tourism with the different tribes, and yet the government is determined take the quick road with forestry and mining.

But the answer to Ramu Nico and its tailings is simple. Would we put it Moreton Bay, Botany Bay, Port Phillip? Could they do it in Japan, America?

The answer is a loud clear and resounding no. So how can it even be considered?

I was in Madang for the first time recently, and a more beautiful place you cannot find, so any decision to allow this to happen is complete insanity.

And how can Australia and New Zealand stand idly by and allow it to happen. China is again displaying its arrogance and complete disregard for the environment

Alex Harris

Way to go Arthur. :) And not forgetting Ramu has a 10-year tax holiday.

Arthur Williams

Way to go or not to go, that is the question. I read the remarks of resource extraction being an important catalyst in the emergence of Chile, Peru and Brazil from backward nations to prosperous ones. Thought I’d have a look at them.

Certainly they have made leaps forward compared to PNG, which began its commercialisation of gold way back in 1930s. Worth noting some stats:

Brazil - 26% below poverty line; #75 human development index; $10,000 GDP; 22 per 1000 infant mortality; 72 life expectancy

Chile - 27% below poverty level; #44 HDI; $14,000 GDP ; 8 per 1000 infant mortality; 77 life expectancy

Peru - 34% below poverty line; #78 HDI; $9,000 GDP; 28 per 1000 infant mortality; 70 life expectancy

PNG - 37% below poverty line; #148 HDI; $2,300 GDP; 46 per 1000 Infant mortality; 65 life expectancy

Oz - n/a below poverty line; #2 HDI; $40,000 GDP; 5 per 1000 infant mortality; 81 life expectancy

[CIA Source Books and Wikipedia]

Look at the poverty figures for the South American nations; a not impressive spread from a quarter to a third their citizens are living below the poverty line.

This suggest the truth that there must be a large gap between the richest elites and the poorest to give us the median $14,000 GDP of Chile etc.

Brazil and Peru infant mortality figures, while far far better than PNG, are very worrying. None of course is anywhere near those of Australia.

The sad PNG statistics show us how, after 80 years of commercial resource extraction, there has been little beneficial impact on the lives of the majority of its citizens. Of course there is no corruption index figure shown above.

It is worth noting that by the 1950s Chile had found that its large mines were, in practice, ‘states withing a state’ as they were mainly self-contained and self-sustaining settlements with their own cities to house their workers, their own water and electrical plants, their own schools, stores, railways, and even in certain cases their own police forces.

It was because of this that as early as 1955 the nationalisation policy for the foreign owned mines began.

But it would take 16 years to implement fully, during which time the miners continued to make excessive profits that cleverly Chile would eventually claw back as they were above the normal world level when finally in 1971, on a day now revered as Day of National Dignity, socialist President Allende got parliament’s unanimous approval for complete nationalisation.

Even after the alleged CIA coup that killed him in 1973, his successor Pinochet, the hated puppet of the USA, didn’t try to reverse the process.

In praising Chile I wonder if Dexter is advising PNG to nationalise its miners too? Such a move would certainly give the state a proper equity and control in the huge projects now being developed in the country.

Remember how Lihir failed to declare a dividend for 12 years; or Misima failed to have a proper plan for post-mining or the terrible problems that sprung from Panguna.

In another post Reg Renagi said, “The fact is that our politicians and bureaucrats have miserably failed us. As each month goes by, we are losing control of our country.

"It is only a matter of time before we lose total control in the way PNG is governed, and lose control of its rich resources."

Fortunately, there is a way forward. It is time for change with PNGeans taking back full control.

Have a happy 36th Year, PNG.

Alex Harris

Almost all valid comments Dexter, especially this one: "I would like to see PNG people embrace mining and universally benefit from it (as we do here), rather than feel exploited and threatened by it."

But for this to happen, the mining companies need to first stop exploiting PNG and its people.

As an industry, mining needs to stop lining the pockets of a few and start providing universal benefit; it has to stop destroying the natural environment through the dumping of toxic waste in riverine and marine environments that directly threatens the lives of PNG people.

Your last point is sadly the one pushed by environmental consultants. They too "believe the arguments against DSTP aren't based on science, that DSTP is actually an improvement, and the entire issue is a distraction from dealing with other far more serious challenges."

But it is not about what we want to believe Dexter. It is about real science, not consultants' reports provided to paying clients within the parameters of the brief supplied (I know how this works).

Science will prove these consultants to be in error. And what then? The damage will be done, the ecosystem lost.

What do we do then, Dexter? After we have destroyed their fresh water supplies, their fisheries, their land-based food sources, their health and their other revenue streams?

Oh wait - we have a precedent in Ok Tedi. And another, called Panguna. They both told everyone riverine tailings disposal was just wonderful and would have no negative impact.

In 1999, after having dumped heavy metals and leaching chemicals with sediment and waste rock into the Fly and Ok Tedi rivers for 15 years, BHP was forced to admit it had destroyed one of the world’s largest and ecologically significant rainforest to reef ecosystems through its riverine tailings disposal method.

It knew it would from the start; it took international pressure and a landowners lawsuit to get BHP to admit to it.

There is good a reason why BHP does not use either riverine tailings disposal or deep sea tailings disposal methods at any of its operations today.

Can you hazard a guess Dexter as to why that might be?

Dexter Bland

Alex - The best examples of developing nations benefiting from resource extraction are South American nations, particularly Brazil, Chile and Peru.

The countries have seen themselves transformed economically in the last few years. It is easy to forget not so long ago they were synonymous with economic backwardness, poverty and corrupt and often brutal regimes.

They have successfully managed to diversify their economies beyond resource extraction and acted to reduce their dependency on commodity price cycles.

It is not so easy to identify the ingredients of this success, obviously resource wealth is not sufficient in itself as numerous counter examples attest (especially in east Africa).

Perhaps it is the sense of nationhood, and the common good that needs to be developed. I do believe that the mining industry has changed over the years.

Environmental considerations are taken seriously and are factored into decisions on feasibility. They are also factored into commodity prices, and the compensation received by those disturbed or displaced is much fairer.

Resource extraction represents a huge opportunity to PNG to rapidly escalate its development. There are many challenges to see that it is done with the minimum environmental impact, that proceeds are fairly distributed and that income can be received beyond the life of a mine.

But these considerations might apply to any industry, and they aren't insurmountable, as the examples I have given show.

Keith, I can assure you I represent no special interest and have no affiliation with any group. I am independent investor with an interest in the resource sector, originally from PNG, now living in Australia.

I would like to see PNG people embrace mining and universally benefit from it (as we do here), rather than feel exploited and threatened by it.

I believe the arguments against DSTP aren't based on science, that DSTP is actually an improvement, and the entire issue is a distraction from dealing with other far more serious challenges.

To borrow from the SAMS report - it is an environmental "red herring".

Alex Harris

Dexter - From all the research I have done, I cannot find a single example of a developing nation prospering from mining.

Some have political leaders who themselves do very well out of mining, but none can thank mining for elevating a population above poverty. If you have evidence to the contrary, please share it here.

Don’t point the finger at Australia. We rode the sheep’s back to economic prosperity, and a variety of industries have kept us there since, including mining, now under strict environmental controls.

Dexter Bland

"The value of this to the PNG people is inestimable in terms of biological and pharmaceutical research, wildlife research, diving and eco-tourism, health and lifestyle.

"It is in ecological terms, perhaps the richest nation in the world. Yet it continues to squander this wealth for… for what exactly?"

Why is the value of this inestimable? Pretty close to zero is the answer. Few tourists want to visit PNG because of crime, disease and lack of infrastructure.

Intrepid "eco-tourists" do visit, but the "eco" only applies while their numbers are small. The benefits of pharmaceutical research (if there are any) will go to big pharmaceutical companies, wildlife research - well how do you sustain a national economy on the occasional visiting zoologist? Forestry and fisheries are viable industries but hardly more sustainable.

Mining is the backbone of PNG's economy and government revenue, and will be for decades to come. Mining is yet to have solved PNG's big economic problems, but without it things would be a lot worse.

I say "yet to" because the overall economy is growing strongly and, even if funds are not efficiently and fairly distributed, eventually benefits will be enjoyed by all.

Mining is never without some environmental impact but it can be minimised and DSTP is one attempt to do so.

If you read the report you will find that it actually recommends DSTP under the right conditions and where other alternatives are found to be more harmful.

Note: We believe Dexter Bland is a pseudonym. 'PNG Attitude' does publish views that are not submitted over a person's real name, but warns readers that such views may be those of special interests who are deliberately do not want to disclose their affiliation.

We much prefer people to use their real names, but understand that, in some cases, this may cause problems to people in sensitive positions or who may otherwise fear repercussion.

We are also aware that some contributors provide multiple comments under different names. 'PNG Attitude' disapproves of this but, because such practices can be difficult to identify, we operate on the basis of 'benefit of the doubt'.

We ask all contributors to be honest, ethical and transparent in identifying themselves, as they would expect of others - KJ

Arthur Williams

In the mid-90s, before Lihir came into production, as secretary of LEF, a local NGO, I prepared a detailed 30-page submission for the larger international NGOs to provide funding to monitor the expected mine.

I wanted them to use local people in the New Ireland Province to set up saltwater monitoring points along the northern coasts of New Ireland, New Hanover and the adjacent islands of Tabar, Tanga and Anir.

I submitted that it was vital to have a database of water quality before any production began, which would provide a baseline for comparisons with future tests at the same places once the ‘deep’ sea tailings system began.

Not one NGO bothered to reply and with no financial resource LEF had to sit by and witness what eventually happened.

The saddest sight in the development of the mine was the company’s large warning notice board that they erected on the beach in front of what would become the open pit.

It advised us that the beach was the site for turtles to come ashore and lay their eggs: people must stay away from it.

Today that pristine beach is no long at the water’s edge as the miner dumped unprocessed rocks in about a hundred yards or more of shallow coastal water. I believe it is used for stockpiling the thousands of tonnes of secondary grade ore only to be used after the A-Grade has been depleted.

There must be run off from these stored rocks of heavy metals into the same bay as the DSTP.

The plan for dumping tailings into the ocean stated it would only occur at a prescribed distance from the beach. Obviously that agreed distance has now been reduced by this man-made land.

The pre-independence Administration allowed Panguna mine, then came Ok Tedi to spoil PNG’s largest river, followed by Porgera, and so they became the mining companies’ precedent for Misima, Lihir and on to Simberi and now Ramu and soon Yandera that has already asked for a second tailings pipe into the ocean not far from Ramu’s.

The terrible list will grow as more mines are dug in the Tabar group, perhaps even Anir Island despite the public there refusing mining at the moment.

Others said it better than I ever can 35 years ago:
“We caution therefore that large scale industries should be pursued only after very careful and thorough consideration of the likely consequences upon the social and spiritual fabric of our people…

"There is overwhelming evidence to suggest that a significant number of people who live by the fruits of multi-million dollar multi-national corporations live in misery, loneliness and spiritual poverty.

"We believe that since we are a rural people, our strength should be essentially in the land and the use of our innate artistic talents.” [Papua New Guinea Constitutional Planning Committee, 1975]

Robin Lillicrapp

Well Done, Alex! The rumbling sounds of late must have been the burrowing you were doing to ferret out the clandestine clauses.

Dare I suggest the pitter-patter I now hear is not the sound of falling rain drops but the hurried feet of “kone-clansmen” running for cover?

In respect of protecting the health of peoples local to the Lihir and other mining operations, may I revisit the suggestion of prompting the miners to be proactive in taking measures to benchmark current and ongoing toxicity in the affected residents.

Blood tests are practically ineffective. They don’t dig deep enough to reveal the resident levels of toxic elements. Heavy metals etc tend to be stored in the subcutaneous fatty tissues, not the blood stream.

Frank Parsons of Geelong in Victoria is one of a growing, tho’ pitifully few, number of practitioners now earning the respect of conventional medicos in dealing with health issues arising out of heavy metals and other types of systemic poisoning.

Here is a brief excerpt from a submission he made several years ago to a Senate inquiry:

“Alternative Health Sciences has now conducted computer processed and interpreted hair mineral analysis results for more than 700 [now thousands] persons scattered throughout Australia and correlated medical symptoms with the analytical markers found.

"The revelation has been startling, as the elemental levels of particular elements and element groups suggest that cancer predisposing patterns and markers can be isolated.

"It has now been demonstrated by Alternative Health Sciences that the cancer predisposing patterns can be specifically altered by changing a person’s nutritional status via specific nutritional supplement protocols.

"This suggests that a cancer may well be able to be dealt with before it becomes a clinical disease. Further, in a practical way, it is revealing what is probably causing the marked increase in cancer in the population.”

Frank's address and contact details are listed below. I have emailed him the Attitude thread and invite interested parties to engage with him if they feel there is merit in establishing a simple, easily administered, protocol to establish objective insights into the ongoing health and welfare of people who have become tailings dump targets.

Alternative Health Sciences
(03) 5229 7200
PO Box 271, North Geelong VIC 3215, Australia

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