BHP lawsuit (re Papua New Guinea)
Snapshot: In 1994, Papua-New Guinean landowners sued BHP in Australia, alleging BHP's operations at a copper mine caused the destruction of the surrounding environment and of their traditional lifestyle. In 2013, the Australian Parliament removed BHP's immunity from suit and in 2014 the Court ordered BHP to stop dumping mine waste into nearby rivers.
In 1994, Papua-New Guinean (PNG) landowners sued BHP in the Supreme Court of Victoria in Melbourne, Australia alleging that BHP’s operations at the Ok Tedi copper mine caused destruction of the surrounding environment and of their traditional lifestyle. The plaintiffs alleged that BHP dumped mine tailings waste into the Ok Tedi and Fly Rivers. In 1996, BHP and the plaintiffs reached an out-of-court settlement which included payment of approximately AUS$40 million in financial compensation as well as the dredging of tailings from the rivers in an attempt to limit further damage. In 2000, the plaintiffs sued BHP in Australia again, for breaching the terms of the 1996 settlement related to environmental mitigation at the mine. In February 2002, BHP Billiton (BHP merged with Billiton in 2001) withdrew from the Ok Tedi mine, transferring its 52% equity stake to the Papua New Guinea Sustainable Development Program Limited. At the same time, BHP Billiton signed Mine Continuation Agreements with most local clans or landowning groups. These agreements signified that the local groups consented to the continuation of mining activity at Ok Tedi, and they agreed to discharge and release BHP Billiton from any liability related to the Ok Tedi mine.
In January 2007, landowner groups from the Ningerum indigenous people filed suit in PNG National Court against BHP Billiton and the operators of the Ok Tedi copper mine for civil damages exceeding US$4 billion. The plaintiff groups in this case had not signed Mine Continuation Agreements. BHP Billiton and the other defendants have applied to the court to have the proceedings struck. In September 2013 the Parliament passed a law removing BHP Billiton’s immunity with regards to environmental claims. In January 2014 a court ordered Oki Tedi Mining to stop dumping mine waste and tailings into rivers.
- “Litigating Ok Tedi (Again)”, Stuart Kirsch, Cultural Survival Quarterly, 31 Aug 2002
- “Legal action starts over Ok Tedi mine”, Asia Pulse, 12 Apr 2000
- “In a Fouled Jungle, Tribes Win One”, Kevin Murphy, International Herald Tribune, 12 Jun 1996
- [PDF]“Acting globally: Eco-politics in Papua New Guinea”, Stuart Kirsch, Journal of the International Institute [USA], vol. 3, no. 3, Summer 1996
- BHP Billiton: Environmental Incidents And Fines, 2007 [scroll down to “Former Operations – Ok Tedi Mining Limited”]
- BHP Billiton: Court Dismisses Ok Tedi Proceedings, 16 Jan 2004
- BHP Billiton: Legal Action on Ok Tedi Misconceived: BHP, 11 Apr 2000
- Ok Tedi Mining: Community Mine Continuation Agreements
- Mineral Policy Institute: Cracks in the Facade of BHP's exit from Ok Tedi Mining Disaster Appear, 22 Jan 2007
-[PDF] Court order [asking Oki Tedi Mining to restrain from dumping mine waste & tailings into rivers], National Court of Justice at Waigani (Papua New Guinea), 24 Jan 2014
Judgments of Supreme Court of Victoria, Australia:
- 21 December 2001, granting injunction to enforce June 1996 settlement
- [PDF] 20 September 1995
- [PDF] 8 November 1994