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14 Mar 2021

The Guardian (UK)

Papua New Guinea: West Sepik administrator blocks dam proposal and tells PanAust to look for alternatives

Sepik River

"Entire villages would be wiped out if natural disaster hit dam on PNG mine, critics say", 14 March 2021

A proposed dam to hold billions of tonnes of mine waste near the head of Papua New Guinea’s longest river is a potential environmental disaster that could wipe out entire villages if there was a natural disaster, government officials, environmental advocacy groups and villagers living along the river say. [...]

West Sepik provincial administrator Conrad Tilau told the Guardian the government’s position was clear: “There should not be any dam built at the Frieda.

“The formation of the rocks under where the dam will be built is not safe, and also because … the water contained in the dam will be huge. If there is a fault in the structure, the dam will give way.

“The company must look for other alternatives to dispose of the waste like the option of deep sea tailings placement … but not the dam.” [...]

In its environmental impact statement, PanAust said the “nation-building project … presents broad commercial and socioeconomic development opportunities for Papua New Guinea”. The mine plan also includes a hydroelectric plant, power grid, and road, airport and seaport upgrades. [...]

PanAust declined to respond to a series of questions from the Guardian. The company has not proposed deep-sea tailings disposal.

PNG’s centre for environmental law and community rights and landowner advocacy group Project Sepik argued there was significant risk of a dam break, citing 10 reports provided to the Conservation Environment and Protection Authority in 2020.

“The Frieda River tailings dam has a medium risk of dam breakage as a result of: the extremely large amount of mine waste and tailings that will be produced; the rugged terrain; extremely high average annual rainfall … around 8 metres per year … and the mine to be located in a seismically active area which between 2010 and 2017 saw five earthquakes with magnitudes greater than 6.” [...]