PNG Post-Courier

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (Nov. 10, 2008) – Deep Sea tailings disposal: Or, dumping the wastes from mining into the sea.

That is the topic that various groups have been trying to come to grips with in Madang in the past few days.

A conference was called to gather ideas and expertise on the topic. It’s potentially a major interest to Papua New Guinea and to many of our people.

Two projects near at hand sharpen the interest of Papua New Guineans. These are the multi-billion-kina Ramu nickel project and the proposed undersea mining in the Manus and New Ireland basins by the Nautilus company. Both projects are getting to the serious stage, with Ramu nickel due to start mining after the current construction phase ends and with Nautilus doing scientific surveys in our waters to try to pin down the extent of the mineral riches on the seabed. The disposal of tailings or the waste rubbish from mines has been a hot topic off and on through Papua New Guinea’s modern history.

The Bulolo goldfields of the 1930s, famed for the pioneering use of aircraft to open up the area, left a terrible legacy of landscape destruction.

In more recent times, the disposal of wastes from the Ok Tedi gold and copper mine has raised the hackles of local villagers and non-government organisations and led to a fight through the law courts.

By many accounts, the rivers downstream of Tabubil are nothing like they were pre-mining.

Misima is another place where extensive gold mining took place and where elaborate precautions were taken to preserve the island landscape.

In recent years, the long-term, rich prospect on Lihir Island in the New Ireland Province has been saddled with a system of disposing of the mine wastes out at sea, in a deep trench. There has been little publicity about the effectiveness of this method at Lihir. New, smaller mines are cropping up in Morobe, East New Britain and New Ireland. We know parties at the conference have expressed worries or reservations about deepsea disposal. Madang Governor Sir Arnold Amet wants to know more before signing off on the Ramu project. Fisheries Minister Ben Semri is also not absolutely persuaded about the wisdom of deepsea dumping.

We believe that the National Government and the resource developers must pause, look at all the information available and make long-term decisions that will take account of the welfare of the local people.

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