Papua New Guinea: Report says PanAust's intended mining activity on Frieda River poses adverse environment & social impacts; lacks adequate free, prior & informed consent

A new report published by Jubilee Australia Research Centre in collaboration with Project Sepik raises concerns about the proposed Frieda River copper-gold mining project in Papua New Guinea’s West and East Sepik provinces by PanAust (a Chinese-owned, Australian-based company headquartered in Brisbane). The report alleges that the intended mining activity threatens to destroy the health of a major river system and poison fish stocks, and has the potential to cause violent unrest. Further, the report alleges that the Free, Prior and Informed Consent of locals was not adequately obtained, and that “legitimate concerns about the impact of the mine on their river were not being seriously considered”.

The River Is Not Ours

Business and Human Rights Centre invited PanAust to respond to the allegations, the response is provided below. We also spoke to Emmanuel Peni, coordinator of Project Sepik, whose story is profiled below.

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21 October 2019

Campaigners share struggles in fight between industry and conservation

Author: Caroline O'Doherty, Irish Independent

5 October 2019


Manu Peni, from...Papua New Guinea..."The worst thing is the threats about my family. I am a single father of a nine-year-old boy and the threats to harm him are very difficult to deal with."

Those, they say, are the hardest aspects of environmental activism in a world where commercial interests and nature collide and communities get caught in the middle.


Manu Peni knows that tactic. "The government pitched us as just a bunch of NGOs who couldn't find proper jobs and instead made it our job to sabotage development. They said the people I represent are illiterate and know nothing. It's true many of them don't have much education but they are literate in survival and they know this threatens their survival."

He allows himself a small smile: "And I'm a chemist, I have been a university lecturer in New Zealand. Many of the activists in our group are college graduates. When they discovered this, they started to treat us with more respect."


"When I saw the Front Line logo 'protect one, empower one thousand' I became emotional," says Manu. "Because I represent 400,000 people and sometimes I feel very alone."

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25 June 2019

Human Rights Defender Profile: Emmanuel Peni, Project Sepik

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Company response
23 June 2019

PanAust's response

PanAust is an Australian-headquartered copper and gold producer in Laos, with pre-development and exploration opportunities in Laos, Papua New Guinea (PNG), Myanmar and Chile.

In PNG – through its wholly owned subsidiary, Frieda River Limited – PanAust owns the world-class Frieda River Project.

In December 2018, PanAust announced a new pathway for the Project that focuses on the development of shared-use infrastructure that will support, and in turn be supported by, a hydroelectric power facility and mining operation. This inclusive development model represents a transformative nation-building opportunity for PNG – the Sepik Development Project...

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20 June 2019

Australian-based company’s PNG mine could pose big environmental risk

Author: Lisa Martin, The Guardian

15 June 2019

A gold and copper mine proposed for the Sepik region in Papua New Guinea by an Australian-based company threatens to destroy the health of a major river system, poison fish stocks and cause violent unrest, a report has found.

The Chinese-owned company, PanAust, says the Frieda river project could have a 45-year life span and generate A$12.45bn in tax, royalties and production levies for the PNG government and landholders.

But the report, from research centre Jubilee Australia and Project Sepik, raises serious environmental and social concerns about the mine.

"The lack of information released by the company about its environmental management plans are continuing to cause uncertainty about whether the company's environmental management plans will be fit for purpose," it says.

"The potential for this project to lead to damaging social conflict and unrest is real and must be taken seriously."

...The report notes that one of the PanAust project's biggest challenges will be building a safe storage facility for the mine's prevent acid rock drainage.

In response to to questions from Guardian Australia, the company said PanAust had not received a copy of the Jubilee report and "as such, the company is not in a position to comment on its contents".

It did however say that PanAust had submitted its plans and an environmental impact statement to PNG regulators and was working with them on its approval.

The report also accused PanAust of a flawed consultation process with indigenous communities downstream from the mine which has created an "atmosphere of animosity and lack of trust" and resulted in acts of sabotage.

...In a company announcement in December, PanAust characterised the mine project as a "nation building development".

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20 June 2019

The River Is Not Ours: The Frieda River Mine And The Threat To The Sepik

Author: Luke Fletcher & Emmanuel Peni, Jubilee Australia Research Centre & Project Sepik

June 2019

The Frieda River Mine is a project in development in PNG’s West and East Sepik Provinces, which seeks to exploit the copper and gold deposits there via an open cut mine and associated infrastructure including a hydro-electric plant and an integrated tailings storage facility.

...The Frieda River flows into the Sepik River, which is a 1126 km long watercourse that flows across the West and East Sepik Provinces on mainland Papua New Guinea (PNG).

...This report is about the desires of the people who live on the Sepik river to have their say about this project which, they believe, could have a huge impact on their lives and on their environment. It is a collaboration between the Australian-based Jubilee Australia Research Centre and the Papua New Guinea-based Project Sepik.

...One of the biggest challenges for the Frieda River project is how to build a safe and effective tailings storage facility, that can manage any acid rock drainage that might be generated.

Although the company reportedly submitted an environmental impact statement (EIS) to the Conservation and Environmental Protection Authority (CAPE), it has not been publicly released, nor has Jubilee been able to find one in its research.

...The report makes three conclusions:

(1) The lack of information released by the company about its environmental management plans are continuing to cause uncertainty about whether the company’s environmental management plans will be fit for purpose; 

(2) The potential for this project to lead to damaging social conflict and unrest is real and must be taken seriously;

(3) It does not appear that the Free, Prior and Informed Consent of the communities living downstream of the Frieda River mine has been secured.


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