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Newcrest Mining, majority-owner of the Wafi Golpu copper and gold mine in Papua New Guinea, faced tough questions at its shareholder meeting this week over community opposition to its plans to dump an estimated 360 million tonnes of mine waste into the ocean. Newcrest and its project partner Harmony Gold plan to pipe the toxic waste 130 km along active fault lines through floodplains, farmland, and the country’s second most populous city before dumping it into the Huon Gulf. 

Mine waste dumping into the ocean is a bad idea anywhere in the world, but especially in the Huon Gulf where residents depend on clean water for their livelihoods. Communities are concerned that ocean dumping at Wafi Golpu will kill fish stocks and permanently damage the marine ecosystem. And Newcrest’s own independent researcher believes that there hasn’t been sufficient assessment of the potential for an earthquake-induced pipeline failure in the highly seismic country. 

Serious questions remain about the risks to the health and safety of communities. And time is running out. The government has stated that it will issue the final mining permit by December 2nd, despite failing to obtain the free, prior and informed consent of communities.

At the annual meeting, Jotham Keleino, Indigenous advocate from the Huon Gulf, called on Newcrest to respect community rights. He asked, “Will you halt all approvals and development of the project, until we can come up with a process of negotiation for the project that respects the science and our right to give or withhold free, prior and informed consent?” In response, Newcrest did not commit to respect communities’ right to consent nor halt its plans for ocean dumping.

The 10 additional questions submitted by advocates ahead of the meeting on Wednesday are still unanswered, even this late in the game. Questions included a request for the mineral composition of the mine waste, essential to understand potential impacts on ecosystems and human health. Advocates asked the company to confirm the composition, quantity and impact on plants, animals and people of the chemicals that will be used at the processing facility. 

Why didn’t the company further assess its tailings plans? An independent review concluded that the outfall site is inappropriate and that tailings will spread 30 km in every direction due to ocean currents. The review also determined that less than 10% of total tailings will settle on the ocean floor, a far cry from Newcrest’s assessment of 60%. Advocates also pressed the company on the lack of robust assessment of the seismic risk associated with a pipeline failure and of rising sea levels due to climate change. 

Underpinning all of the unanswered questions is the fact that communities have not given their consent for the project, nor have they been provided sufficient information about the impacts from the waste dumping, mine construction, operation or infrastructure, including the pipeline. 

Given the limited options for redress at home, allied organizations filed a human rights complaint against Newcrest Mining and Harmony Gold on behalf of 2,596 community members with the Australian National Contact Point for Responsible Business Conduct. Read their press release here

For more information and updates on the fight to stop ocean dumping in PNG visit the No Wafi Golpu DSTP campaign website