Drawing the Battle Lines Over Papua New Guinea’s Ocean Dumping Problem

The island nation of Papua New Guinea and its neighbor West Papua, Indonesia, are among the only places in the world where mining companies are permitted to dump toxic mine waste into natural water bodies. In these adjacent countries, there are currently three mines dumping into the ocean and three more that are releasing hundreds of thousands of tonnes of tailings into rivers on the island of New Guinea. Despite proven harms to biodiversity, water quality and communities, and a near-global de-facto ban on aqueous mine waste dumping, mining companies are continuing to peddle the outdated practice as safe. The Ditch Ocean Dumping campaign is combating the industry rhetoric, calling on financial institutions backing the companies to reject the unnecessary pollution of fragile marine environments and cut ties with ocean dumpers.

This time, it is Australia’s Newcrest Mining and South Africa’s Harmony Gold who are pushing ocean dumping of mine waste. The two companies have formed the Wafi Golpu Joint Venture, and are proposing to build the Wafi-Golpu copper-gold mine in the Morobe Province of Papua New Guinea. WGJV’s underground project would pipe the tailings roughly 40 miles from the mine site on the border between the Bulolo and Huon Gulf districts, through the lower Watut and Markham River Valleys before dumping the waste into the Western Huon Gulf in the Solomon Sea.

According to the companies, the region has been extensively explored by other companies for more than thirty years, and by the WGJV since 2008. But it wasn’t until March 2018 that Newcrest and Harmony unveiled definitive plans to pursue a permit to dump an estimated 13 million tonnes of mine waste into the ocean each year for 28 years. Mining authorities have announced that the project must be formalized by November 2018, leaving communities little time to address the threat. Read the press release from the Union of Watut River Communities which demands more time for impacted communities to access, understand and be consulted on the Environmental Impact Statement for the Wafi Golpu mine.

Why did WGJV wait so long to announce its plans to deal with its toxic tailings?

It could be because mine waste dumping into the ocean, and other irresponsible mine waste disposal techniques, have drawn widespread opposition in Papua New Guinea in recent years. Communities’ fight to stop toxic mine waste dumping at the Ramu nickel mine resulted in an 18-month suspension of the project.

Newcrest and Harmony Gold are not strangers to controversy having faced scrutiny from Watut River communities over impacts from their Hidden Valley mine, which has polluted water, flooded villages and destroyed crops, while leaving few if any tangible benefits for impacted communities. Landowners have raised alarm about a new project going forward before the impacts of Hidden Valley have been addressed. While Newcrest sold its rights to the Hidden Valley project in 2016, it still owns the Lihir mine, which dumps arsenic and lead laden mine waste into the Bismarck Sea. A 2015 study on the impacts of dumping at Lihir show that biodiversity loss was significant and severe down to at least 2,000 meters deep. And while the mining industry claims that mine waste dumping, or ‘deep sea tailings placement’ impacts a limited area, studies at Lihir confirm a toxic waste footprint extending 20 km wide from the discharge point and 2,000 meters deep.

Now, communities located along the proposed Wafi-Golpu tailings pipeline and the coast are raising concerns about impacts on traditional lands, environmental harms and community compensation. At the first stakeholder forum  held on July 11th, Chairman of the Wafi-Golpu Mine Area Landowners Association, Holmes Kissing, denounced a failure to consult with or invite key groups to participate. But Mining Minister John Tuke made it clear that regardless of community concerns, the Wafi project will continue on an accelerated timeline saying that he plans to present a formalized Wafi mine agreement at the APEC meeting set to take place in PNG in November 2018.   Newcrest and Harmony have a checkered track record that could get much worse if Wafi-Golpu moves ahead as planned. That is why the Ditch Ocean Dumping campaign is calling on financial institutions like JPMorgan Chase, to cut ties with irresponsible mining companies, including Newcrest and Harmony.

Take action: tell JPMorgan Chase to ditch the dumpers!