Mining Threatens Papua New Guinea’s Mighty Sepik River With Utter Ruin

By Rainforest Portal


Chinese government’s massive open-pit mine in the rainy Papua New Guinea highlands, with its tons of toxic tailings full of sulphides and heavy metals, is to be poised above the Sepik River and its primary rainforests, intact local cultures, and the South Pacific Ocean. Apparently Papua New Guinea’s urban elites have learned little from decades of foreign industrial mining (and logging) causing conflict and despair, environmental damage, and social and economic decline.

“From a biological perspective I can hardly think of a worse place for a copper mine,” Professor Tim Flannery

“Dispela kain giaman divelopmen long ples mas pinis o bihaintaim bai had long ol papa graun karim kaiki long ples (This false development must end or it will be hard for local peoples to feed themselves in the future)” – Dr. Glen Barry, Mangi Madang

Additional Background

A proposed large-scale copper and gold mine in PNG will irreparably harm the relatively pristine Sepik and Frieda Rivers, and devastate the region’s primary rainforests and indigenous cultures. The Sepik is one of the largest wild river systems left in the Asia Pacific. The Frieda River runs for 100 kilometres from the mine site in the steep, forested highlands before it joins the Sepik which flows another 600 kilometres through a wetland-dotted plain before reaching PNG’s northern coast. Mammal faunas in that area are the richest in all of Australasia, with large tracts of contiguous primary rainforests, and the region is culturally rich as well. PNG has a troubled history of extreme environmental and social damage from mining, with few economic benefits to locals who bear tremendous environmental and economic burdens thereafter. Both the Bougainville and Ok Tedi mines tremendously damaged whole river systems, as did the Freeport mine in Irian Jaya. The Bougainville mine led to a civil war that killed tens of thousands, and the mine developers Rio Tinto have now abandoned the mine without any restitution for environmental and war crimes. The Sepik region has been heavily logged for decades, with over $USD one billion in timber extracted, leaving local peoples in abject poverty no longer able to subsist. Industrial mining and logging by foreigners have totally failed to provide local benefits, with proceeds flowing to the urban elite, leaving ravaged industrial wastelands where primary rainforests and indigenous forest gardens including staple sago trees once stood.

Civil War in Bougainville caused by mining devastated PNG’s indigenous peoples and environment. Now the miners have ran away with the profits, paying no compensation.

The scope of the mine continues to expand, threatening to be one of the largest copper and gold mines in the world. There are expected to be several billions of tonnes of waste rock generated in a seismically-active region with very high rainfall. Exposed mineral sulphides become unstable when exposed to air and water forming sulphuric acid, dissolving heavy metals which in high concentrations kill fish and devastate riparian and marine ecosystems. China-owned PanAust has recently applied for a special mining lease for the large-scale, openpit mine. Frieda River Copper and Gold Project is controlled by an 80:20 joint venture between Chinese-owned company PanAust and Australian Stock Exchange-listed junior Highlands Pacific. PanAust is in turn owned by the Chinese State through Guandong Rising Asset Management – just like MCC and its faltering Ramu nickel mine in Madang, which is leaking profusely. The company claims the mine will be of “world standard” when they haven’t yet revealed how they will manage the toxic tailings and have not submitted any environmental plan. Once the mine is operating, 4,000 tonne barges will travel up the Sepik River daily. Chinese development in PNG is continually sub-par and shoddy, virtually ensuring major toxic spills in an earthquake proine area containing large intact natural rainforests and a complex hydrology. The proposed Frieda/Sepik rivers mine will leave the special Sepik ecosystem an industrial wasteland. The mine poised above the Sepik must be stopped and never be built.

Fred Sarufa, Charge d’ Affaires, Permanent Mission of Papua New Guinea to the United Nations

Dear Fred Sarufa,

I am writing to express grave concern with plans for a massive open-pit mine to be poised above the Sepik River and its rainforests and peoples. The Frieda mine would lie in an earthquake prone region of heavy precipitation; and thus will assuredly spew toxic sulphides and heavy metals into the world class rainforest, riparian, and marine ecosystems below.

In solidarity with the local indigenous peoples of the Sepik region resisting the project, I demand that the special mining lease be immediately rejected. Instead pursue community based, sustainable development options that depend upon standing, intact rainforest, river, and marine ecosystems. Once primary rainforests, fertile gardens, and sago trees are gone, there is no going back; and the Sepik people and your nation will never be able to sustainably develop, and will be left in utter ruin for all time.

Has the Papua New Guinea government learned nothing from the Bougainville, Ok Tedi, and all the other failed industrial mining operations that have made much of your great nation an industrial wasteland? Previous large-scale mines in PNG have not delivered better lives for ordinary people and have instead left terrible environmental and social problems (as has the reign of terror waged by foreign loggers). A small group of urban elites and foreigners are waging ecocide, enriching themselves at the expense of entire communities being sold-out to destitution, suffering, and pain. This exploitation is evil and must end.

Chinese development in PNG is continually sub-par and shoddy – witness the leaking MCC Ramu pipeline in neighboring Madang Provice which you were warned would break. Major toxic spills are virtually assured in an earthquake prone area such as the Frieda River watershed containing large intact natural rainforests and a complex hydrology. The proposed Frieda/Sepik river mine poised above the Sepik ecosystem will leave the area a toxic wasteland, full of hungry and impoverished people.

Plis, harim bel karai biling mipela, dispela em giaman development (please hear our cry, this is not real development). The haphazard foreign mine to be poised above the Sepik must be stopped and never be built. The world is watching and expecting the Peter O’Neill government to reject the special mining lease immediately. And we expect the PNG UN mission to reject such blatant exploitation of the Sepik people by the Chinese government. Please work to ensure Papua New Guinea remains the special place with unlimited development potential; based upon standing, intact natural ecosystems.

With grave concern, lukim yu,

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