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Quake signals danger for Wafi-Golpu project

As deadly earthquakes pose catastrophic risks to communities, all levels of government have been asked to pause the Wafi-Golpu deep sea tailings pipeline proposal until consent has been given by affected communities

A large crack in a highway near Kainantu following the 7.6 magnitude Morobe earthquake that killed at least seven people
A large crack in a highway near Kainantu following the 7.6 magnitude Morobe earthquake that killed at least seven people

NOOSA - Following the deadly Morobe earthquake 10 days ago, a coalition of Papua New Guinean and Australian civil society organisations have called for a pause to the Wafi-Golpu gold mine project.

The quake had a magnitude of 7.6 and the organisations want the geology to be fully understood and for Morobe communities to be consulted, especially on the risks of deep sea tailings placement (DSTP) to their livelihoods and health.

“This earthquake ranks among the highest of magnitudes ever recorded for an earthquake in Morobe,” said Peter Bosip, executive director of the Centre for Environmental Law and Community Rights.

“We are deeply concerned there will be many more quakes as Morobe Province is on the active Ramu-Markham faultline.

“If the 130-kilometre DSTP pipeline proposed for Wafi Golpu had been operating on the weekend, landowners would have seen their land and gardens covered in toxic mining waste and streams and rivers would have been polluted.

“The power of the earthquake is shown in the destruction it has caused to buildings and infrastructure and the many lives tragically lost,” Mr Bosip said.

The proposed Wafi Golpu pipeline will go through many Morobe communities and the city of Lae, crossing watercourses and important agricultural land and forests before dumping millions of tonnes of waste into the ocean.

The pipeline will carry toxic mining waste including arsenic, lead and mercury.

“Alarm bells are well and truly ringing,” said Mr Bosip.

“Morobe has the highest population of any province in PNG and is prone to high magnitude earthquakes.

“There is a significant risk of the pipeline breaking, spilling mining waste and devastating the province.”

Reverend Yasam Awara, head of Jabem District of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of PNG, said the proposed pipeline would carry 360 million tonnes of waste across the province over the project’s 28 year life.

“That is a risk that the people of Morobe would have to bear every day – and that price is far too high for us,” Rev Awara said.

“Our parishioners depend on the Huon Gulf entirely for their lives.

“Planning to dump millions of tonnes of mining waste into the ocean – which includes arsenic and lead – and to not adequately consult with them about it, is completely irresponsible.

“Anything that harms the livelihood of the people of the Church, we as a national Church say no,” he said.

The organisations also called for the release of an independent review conducted of the Wafi Golpu environmental impact statement, which has never been made public by the national Conservation and Environment Protection Authority.

“The people of Morobe, and the government of Morobe, deserves to have all of the available information before them, before committing to a decision of this scale,” Mr Bosip said.

“The impacts of Wafi Golpu upon future generations will be immense. We must get this right now so that they do not pay the price.”

Deep-sea tailings placement is used by less than a handful of countries in the world, and its impacts are still not fully understood by scientists.

“The message to our government is simple: don’t let the Huon Gulf become an environmental experiment for the mining industry,” said Rev Yasam.

“The legacy we want to leave for our children, and for our grandchildren, is a simple one.

“We want them to be able to live in an environment that is clean, healthy and safe.

“We do not want them to suffer the consequences of choices we make today: to be left with an ocean full of toxic waste, sick from being exposed to heavy metals and unable to support their families.

“The ocean is our life, it is not a dumping ground, and neither are we.”

Civic orgs


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Arthur Williams

There is a PNG mine that decided against needing a pipeline of filthy tailings. It quietly goes about it work with little fuss and almost minimum publicity with apparently no dissent from the communities.

“Since 2018 in Kainantu, EHP the successful K92 Mining Inc has a policy of 'No Surface Waste Rock' achieved by keeping waste rock underground as backfill or repurposing the waste rock as fill for building the tailings storage facility impoundment.

"It has a 4 million tonne tailings pond that is being expanded. Happily the mine does not use cyanide in processing the gold and silver.

"It also claims to environmentally favourable by clearing small areas at a time and using hand-held implements instead of heavy, earth-moving equipment, coupled with operating an underground mine, contribute to the smallest environmental footprint of mining companies in PNG."

K92 has one of the lowest carbon footprints in the world in the mining sector with carbon intensities per gold equivalent ounce produced at 0.3684 tCO₂e per ounce, approximatively 50% less than the global average."

[Details extracted from company's 2021 Sustainability Report]

If only Wafi-Golpu could plan for tailings to be buried underground too that would be great news for all the communities from the mine area to the Huon Gulf.

The problem for PM Marape and his government is that he would love to catch up with improving the lives of PNG blighted for too many years by poor and corrupt governance especially in dealings with the extractive industries.

Hopefully he doesn't sacrifice more citizens' lives to try and speed up the international benchmarks of proper consultation with Indigenous communities right from the start of any project that will or could impact their lives.

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