Resource curse as ExxonMobil’s LNG project foments unrest
Lumai - the design label celebrating Papua New Guinean women

Shakes and superstition: Exxon faces highlands backlash

Destroyed highway
The main earthquakes & aftershocks have been disastrous for human life, infrastructure and industry in the highlands


You can read the full Reuters report here

SYDNEY/SINGAPORE - A deadly earthquake that struck ExxonMobil's $19 billion gas project in the mountains of Papua New Guinea is sparking a backlash against the US energy giant that could prove harder to fix than buried roads and broken pipes.

Some spooked locals blame Exxon and its project partners of causing, or at least magnifying, the 7.5 magnitude quake on 26 February and a series of intense aftershocks that continue to pound the impoverished and isolated region.

While firmly denied by Exxon and debunked by geologists, the accusations suggest that the project known as PNG LNG, one of the most successful liquefied natural gas (LNG) developments in the world, is sorely lacking goodwill from at least parts of the local population.

The concerns about the project – the country’s biggest revenue earner - are even being expressed at senior levels in the Papua New Guinea government.

PNG's vice minister for petroleum and energy, Manasseh Makiba, told Reuters in a phone interview there should be an inquiry to respond to local concerns that mother nature had reacted after the ground was disturbed by drilling.

"It could be man-made but that cannot be confirmed until a proper scientific inquiry can be done," said Makiba, who represents parts of the quake-hit area. "We need to resolve that."

PNG’s minister for finance James Marape has also demanded answers from the company.

"In a world of science and knowledge, I now demand answer(s) from Exxon and my own government as to the cause of this unusual trend in my Hela," wrote Marape on his private feed on Facebook, referring to the quake-struck province.

He is among many who have lit up social media in PNG, with blogs and Facebook posts pointing the finger at the oil and gas sector's alleged contribution to the disaster.

Around Exxon's operation, communities remain fearful as the death toll climbs, with 18 more killed by a 6.7 magnitude aftershock on Wednesday.

Papua New Guinea straddles the geologically active Pacific Ring of Fire.

Chris McKee, acting director of the Geohazards Management Division in Port Moresby, said there was no link between the project and seismic activity, which has included more than 120 quakes of magnitude 4.5 and greater in the week after the initial hit.


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Philip Fitzpatrick

Marx referred to the peasants as lumpen proletariat and discounted them entirely as irrelevant to anything. They are, in fact, the cannon fodder that revolutionary movements use. And, as you say, his big mistake was not recognising the power of the middle class. 80% of PNG is made up of lumpen proletariat. Most of the middle class in PNG unfortunately don't give a shit about what's going on.

Bernard Corden

Here is a link to an interesting article entitled 'Colonising the Western Mind' by Jason Hirthler at Counterpunch:

Garry Roche

The United States Geological Survey (USGS) website has interesting information on “induced earthquakes”.

It is acknowledged that mining activity in the state of Oklahoma (USA) has led to an increase in minor earthquakes.

While hydraulic fracturing (fracking) has often been blamed for the increase, the Survey states that is the wastewater disposal subsequent to the fracking that causes most of the earthquakes.

Wastewater disposal is a process whereby large quantities of wastewater are injected into wells deep below the earth’s surface. For detailed information see:

Philip Fitzpatrick

Robert Mugabe is quoted as saying that people who are starving and impoverished are the easiest to govern - advice Peter O'Neill and his mates seem to have taken to heart judging by their policies.

Benn's observation might also explain the education policies of the Nasty Party in Oz.

One of Karl Marx's big errors. It's the middle class that governments have to be afraid of, not the proletariat. The ones who challenge governments are likely to be the thinkers, the planners, the professionals and the writers who see right through elite trickery. The poor bloody peasants, ill educated and exploited, are too busy putting bread on the table - KJ

William Dunlop

Exxon Mobil quite recently rejoined to recreate what was disbanded by American legislation at the turn of the 20th century - J D Rockefeller's Standard Oil Company of New Jersey. Read Ida M Tarbell's 'The History of Standard Oil Company'.

Bernard Corden

An educated, healthy and confident nation is harder to govern - Tony Benn

Paul Oates

Here we go again. If it's not the masalai or the sanguma man it's the outsider or one you have a grudge against that quickly becomes the cause of your discomfort.

Given the amazing situation where the PNG PM tours the area and sympathises with the victims and the reported lack of any real returns from the natural gas extraction actually arriving at the kunai roots, it's a typical PNG credibility gap that doesn't seem to put two and two together yet again.

Clearly the reported lack of preparedness for these common natural disasters and the apparent inability of the PNG government to respond has nothing to do with the promised resources and riches that are reportedly being syphoned off at the top end of the PNG government.

One can can but wonder if in fact it's a good defence by those who actually are receiving the resource riches to blame the disaster on anything that cannot be easily proven. Exxon needs to start a PR campaign before this misinformation starts to snowball.

Clearly the real issues here are a lack of general education in these rural areas and the proper use of much needed resources.

Where is the PNG media aren't voicing the real situation?

Obviously it's far easier to keep the rural people in a state of ignorance as they can then be easily led astray and manipulated until the next general election.

The credibility gap is the real issue. Why is it those in the know and understand these issues aren't actually getting any traction or support?

Answer? Because it suits those in charge.

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