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13 Jun 2022

John Cannon, Mongabay (USA)

Papua New Guinea: Sepik community remains resistant to proposed copper and gold mine

"Proposed copper and gold mine threatens the world’s ‘second Amazon’ in PNG" 13 June 2022

  • A proposed copper and gold mine threatens the biologically and culturally diverse Sepik River Basin in western Papua New Guinea, according to community leaders and conservationists.
  • They’ve raised concerns about the impact that potentially toxic waste from the mine would have on the region’s forests and waterways, which are critical to sustaining human, animal and plant life in this region.
  • Proponents of the mine say it would bring jobs, infrastructure and development to the region’s communities.
  • Today, a renewed campaign to list the Sepik River Basin as a UNESCO World Heritage Site is gaining momentum and would permanently keep projects like the mine at bay, say organizers of the movement.

[...] In 2007, new plans began to emerge for a massive mine near the headwaters of the Frieda River, a tributary of the Sepik. In 2014, Australia-based but Chinese-owned PanAust Limited acquired a majority stake in the project. As PanAust worked its way through the regulatory process in Papua New Guinea, opposition to the mine grew. Peni said opponents of the mine are worried about the destruction of forest, predicted “shifts” to the waterways, and the prospect of a toxic chemical legacy likely to outlive their children’s children. They’ve also voiced concerns that the environmental impact statement (EIS) released publicly nearly a year after it was completed had gaps as wide as the maw the mine would leave in the region’s expansive forests.

In 2020, a team of 10 United Nations special rapporteurs carried out their own analysis of the project and the EIS. They then sent copies of the letter to the Australian, Chinese and Papua New Guinean governments, along with PanAust’s local subsidiary that owns the mining project, Frieda River Limited.

The report’s authors cited evidence that the development of the mine thus far seems “to disregard the human rights of those affected.” [...]

Also in 2020, the global COVID-19 pandemic ground the approval process to a halt. But with business easing back to normal in Papua New Guinea and around the world, the country’s Conservation and Environment Protection Authority (CEPA) still hasn’t handed down a decision as to whether the company should be allowed to move forward. Peni and his team have continued to work to delay the mine’s construction, marshaling a near-universal published rejection of the mine from more than two dozen key leaders around the region. In the background, the campaign has sought a permanent solution that would block what Peni calls destructive extractive uses of the region. [...]

The most vociferous criticism the company faced once the EIS became public in late 2019 was that the tailings dam was ill-conceived and potentially insufficient for the task of retaining the hazardous byproducts from mining at scale, especially in a region that receives as much as 8,700 millimeters (343 inches) of rain per year. [...]