Come on, Conic

Canadian company goes silent on problems at its Ramu mine

Since 2010, landowners in the path of the Ramu nickel-cobalt mine, and the accompanying refinery on Basamuk Bay, have opposed the use of ocean tailings dumping. They sued, and the mine operators at the time, Metallurgical Corporation of China (MCC) and Highlands Pacific, were ordered to carry out and publish quarterly reports on the impacts of ocean dumping. To this day, communities have not seen a single report. What they have seen is a steady uptick in environmental and social problems from the Ramu operation. 

“What is happening at the Ramu mine is an environmental and community health disaster. Communities need information,” commented Christina Tony, an organizer with Bismarck Ramu Group in Papua New Guinea.

Enter Canadian company, Conic Metals Corp. in 2018. Conic, an electric vehicle battery metals investment company, acquired Highland Pacific’s ownership share in the project. The company promised a responsible alternative to source critical metals necessary to meet the growing demand for electric vehicle batteries and touted Ramu as its principal asset. 

So of course, when tailings from the Ramu mine overflowed in August 2019 Conic stepped up to address community and provincial government complaints of poisoned sea life and disseminated fishing grounds. 

Wrong.

It wasn’t until November 2019 that Conic reported on the disaster, saying that its partner Metallurgical Corporation of China (MCC) “continues to meet or exceed the obligations of its environmental and social licenses”. The company went on to state that MCC is carrying out regular studies on biological effects of tailings dumping on marine life, in addition to the court-mandated quarterly reports. 

So where are they?

Conic did not respond to letters sent by Earthworks and MiningWatch in February and March requesting the reports and an update on what steps the company was taking to ensure it had independent, verifiable information about the environmental impacts of the Ramu operation. 

Conic can’t just say it is a responsible company, it needs to act like it. A good start would be producing the court-ordered quarterly reports to communities who have been requesting the information for a decade. 

In the meantime, the Ramu project continues to earn its reputation as a cautionary tale for communities in Papua New Guinea, Norway, and Indonesia who are bombarded by companies and government officials’ claims that ocean tailings disposal is safe. Storebrand, a major Norwegian asset management company, divested from MCC this year over the environmental impacts of ocean dumping, joining CitiGroup and Standard Chartered in taking a stand against the practice. 

For more on the threat to Indonesia from new nickel processing plants that would dump millions of toxic waste into the sea, check out this article from Mongabay

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