WEWAK - A civil society organisation, Project Sepik, has called for the rejection of the proposed Frieda River mine saying that the environmental impact statement is ‘unfit for purpose’.
The copper and gold mine proposed to be located in the remote Sepik region, would be the largest ever mine in Papua New Guinea and one of the largest in the world.
Project Sepik’s call came after it obtained 10 expert reports submitted to PNG’s Conservation and Environmental Protection Authority showing that, if the mine were to go ahead, the region could face catastrophic and permanent destruction.
The reports revealed that the environmental impact statement (EIS) did nothing to reassure the experts that there is any safe or secure way to store the massive amount of mine waste (tailings) without damaging the river.
The project is being developed in a seismically active area of PNG which is also subject to extreme rainfall. The likelihood of the tailings dam breaking at some point in time, and causing catastrophic damage, is inevitable.
Furthermore, the EIS shows no evidence of free, prior and informed consent by all impacted customary landowners, including communities on the mine site and along the Frieda and Sepik Rivers.
“This evidence is essential for the project to proceed,” Project Sepik says.
Crucial reports relating to the tailings dam and seismic reports have not been provided.
The EIS is also missing vital information about the operation and closure of the mine, an assessment of the proposed airport and a resettlement plan for the four villages requiring relocation.
It is also missing a cost-benefit analysis.
“We have long said that this mine could not be built safely, and now these 10 expert reports prove it,’ said Emmanuel Peni, of Project Sepik coordinator.
“We call upon the Conservation and Environmental Protection Authority to reject this incomplete and defective EIS and reject this project.
“The people living on the Sepik and across PNG need the organisation that is supposed to protect their land and waterways to step up and stop these foreign companies from destroying their rivers for profit,” Mr Peni said.
“The 100,000 people who live on the Sepik don’t want this mine.
“It will not bring the promised benefits to my people and it will endanger the beautiful Sepik river, which provides us not only with our home but our livelihood and also defines our identity.”
Project Sepik submitted its expert reports as it launched a new ‘Save the Sepik’ campaign in conjunction with Australian partners Jubilee Australia and AID/WATCH.
“We have seen this movie of Australian-based companies causing havoc to PNG’s rivers before,” said Dr Luke Fletcher, executive director of the Jubilee Australia Research Centre.
“We all remember BHP’s Ok Tedi disaster, and we are still tracking the ongoing tailings disaster in Bougainville.
“In both cases the tailings released into these rivers contaminated and killed fish, caused mass flooding and the spread of contaminated mud, decimated land previously used for growing food and led to the leaching of heavy metals in a chemical process called acid rock drainage.
“The Australian-sanctioned destruction of PNG’s natural environment must end now with the rejection of Pan Aust’s irresponsible plans for the Sepik.
“The Sepik region is a haven of biodiversity.”
The Frieda River mine has been proposed by an Australian registered company, PanAust, which is owned by Chinese state-owned enterprise Guandong Rising Asset Management.
In 2006, the Upper Sepik River Basin was transitionally listed for World Heritage Status by the PNG government.