The Island of Misima lies 200 kilometers off the far eastern coastline of mainland Papua New Guinea. Over two hundred thousand people inhabit the Island and live together in small villages along the coastlines.
Isolated and remote a one-way plane ticket to the Island from Port Moresby or the provincial capital, Alotau, costs nearly one thousand kina… and most of the people can’t afford that. They prefer the sea route as it cost less although it takes longer. It takes about a day by boat to travel to Alotau. But during bad weather, it may take more than two days. Because of the distance between Alotau and Misima, freight cost is the main expense for storeowners. Store goods are sold at twice the normal price of goods sold in shops in Alotau or Port Moresby. All this represents the isolation and remoteness of the Island.
Subsistence farming and fishing is highly valued on the Island as an income source for the people. In the late 1980’s, little did the Misima people know, that their lives would be changed completely after a proposed gold mining operation was to be carried out on the tiny Island. In 1989, Placer Dome Pacific, a Canadian mining company landed with their heavy machines on the shore of Misima. And between 1989 and 1990, the mine began its operations… and the first ore were extracted.
Stanley Negru, a local village leader recalls the start of the mine: When the mine came…benefits also came with it. Living standard improved, and the once subsistence gardening and fishing life of the people were replaced by a consumer economy. The people then rely on the royalties and other benefits that the mine brought about.
The people have access to relatively good health care facilities, education for their children and other basic services. Employment opportunities increased and almost every household has a steady flow of income. As any other landowner group in Papua New Guinea would want, the benefits of the mine has been the center of the agreement,between landowners and the mining companies and the government. And the coming of the mine appears to solve most of their problems, both socially and economically.
But after the mine was closed in 2004, most of the basic services saw a gradual decline. Basic infrastructures, provided by both, the mine and the PNG government have dropped significantly. And concerns over destruction and pollution to the natural environment eventually became evident.
Where used to be the main wharf used by the mine and big ships came to load several thousand tons of ore that were extracted from the mine. Today, what are left from it are pieces of rusted metals protruding from the sea. We were taken further up into the hinterlands of the Island to the goldmine site. The Misima people, to some extent are still depending on some of the infrastructures left behind by the mine… most of them have already deteriorated.
On the other end of the Island, the only big health facility is struggling to cater to the people’s health needs. The Misima District Hospital might seem OK on the outside… but in the inside, it has a backlog of problems to deal with. The infant mortality statistics provided by the hospital is just as bad as any other rural health centers in the country.
A combination of an inconsistent supply of medicines and frequent power outages on the island drives up a steady increase of infant deaths every month. The midwife at the hospital, Helen Taukuru says they get more than 5 pregnant women every week. She says, on numerous occasions, female nurses at the hospital had to deliver pregnant women under touch lights that were bought from trade stores.
Three babies die at hospital every month. That might not seemed as a big number of babies dying, but at the end of each year, the hospital records 36 infant deaths. That’s roughly the number of babies that were born alive every week at Angau Hospital in Lae or the Port Moresby General Hospital.
The hospital is also having problems with its staff. The acting District Health officer John Metuselo says, they have been having difficulty recruiting new nursing staff to the hospital. Because of the shortage of staffs in the hospital, and the frequent shortage of medical equipment, the hospital was reduced to a health center.
Enoch Kawakusi, the Louside local level government acting area manager admitted that, there are little, otherwise no provincial government input in this part of the province.
When the mining activities ended, the way of live on the island returned back to normal. A combination of the distance between Misima and Alotau, and the limited government funding, maintaining the standards of the infrastructures on the Island haven’t been successful.
After the closure of the Misima gold mine in 2004, the problem faced by the people began to grow. Socio-economic standards of the people have dropped significantly. And most of their lifestyles have returned to the way it used to be twenty years ago before the mine came. The economy on the island has been kept alive by local alluvial mining… and subsistence farming and fishing practices were revived. But the Misima people are resilient. They know the government wouldn’t come… not sooner.
They had to be self-reliant… We visited a section of more than two hectares of cocoa trees owned by the Boiyo villagers, along the northern coast of Misima Island.
The Boiyo people are now trying to put back together how their lives used to be 20 years ago. Before the mine came, the Boiyo people were one of the biggest producers of cocoa, in the Milne Bay province.
But when the mine came, the Boiyo people shifted to rely on the benefits that the mine was providing. And cocoa farming eventually came to a halt.
But they are facing a much bigger problem than before…. The arrival of the cocoa pod borer slowly crept through this part of Misima,and destroyed almost all the cocoa trees. Michael Sakiasi is a DPI officer. He is leading the village group to rebuild the cocoa industry in this part of MIsima. These youths knew if they don’t work together with their community to replant healthy cocoa trees, then neither them nor their children will have nothing to sustain their lives in the years to come.
Like the Boiyo people, it gives a tiny snapshot of the challenges the Misima people are facing after the closure of the mine. The people say, benefits promised by the national government and the mining company was never given. Over the last two decades, Misima Island was featured prominently in government discussions, as one of the major drivers of PNG’s economy.
The mine came into operation to supplement Papua New Guinea’s economy as it faced a threat of collapsing, following the then Bougainville crisis. But the Misima people say, the government and the mining company had exploited them, and landowners are left with big challenges. They have been struggling to convince the national government to honor their commitment they made 20 years ago. The landowners have also been fighting a 20-year-old court battle that is still far from over.
They say, they will continue to fight the case until they get what is rightfully theirs. But along these coastlines… there are many more people whoa suffering. Their stories, still untold. The people say,the remnants from the mine will remind the upcoming generations of Misima… that there was once a mine on their Island… a mine that left them little, otherwise, nothing to benefit from.
The Mineral Policy Institute (MPI) and the Tasmanian Public and Environmental Health Network (TPEHN) are touring Tasmanian mine sites in February to inspect the impacts that mining has had on the environment and especially waterways in Tasmania.
Dr Gavin Mudd from Environmental Engineering at Monash University and Chair of the Board of MPI, and Isla MacGregor from TPEHN, will be accompanied by university students and other members of the public on this tour.
On the tour we will inspect operating and legacy mine sites and the numerous waterways that have been contaminated with Acid Mine Drainage and metals such as arsenic, lead, cadmium, zinc and copper.
With new mining proposals being planned for various parts of the state including the West coast and the Midlands for metals, shale oil gas and coal, it is important for the Tasmanian community to get a better idea about what the ongoing impacts of mining in Tasmania are before the community decides to give their social licence to any future mining proposals in the state.
The tour will be an audit on mining impacts and we will be discussing the history of regulation of the mining industry and the EPA’s capacity to effectively regulate it in Tasmania.
The trip will be highly educational as well as getting to see some unique and valuable ecosystems and biodiverse areas in Tasmania.
Members of the public can join the tour and will need to be properly equipped and responsible for their own costs and especially safety as the tour will be inspecting some hazardous sites.
For further information Contact: Gavin.Mudd@Monash.edu.au
Isla MacGregor, Tasmanian Public and Environmental Health Network, via Tasmanian Times
Fourteen Ounces | 2013
A photographic series by Jessie Boylan focusing on the Central Victorian Goldfields, supported by the Mineral Policy Institute.
The discovery of gold in the Victorian Goldfields in the mid 19th century attracted an unprecedented population and caused an enormous housing and economic boom in the region, but since the end of the Australian gold rush, the Central Victorian Goldfields have been virtually silent for half a century. What’s left are thousands of disused mine sites, diggings, ghost towns and multiple scars on the landscape that tell a story of settler Australia and its destiny.
Fourteen Ounces, an ongoing photographic series, traces the contours of the Central Victorian Goldfields and records the social, economic and environmental legacies of the minerals boom in Victoria.
Starting with the discovery of the first saleable quantity of gold, fourteen ounces, by James Esmond in Clunes in 1851, this work looks not only at major sites relevant to the gold rush days, but smaller sites, now overgrown in forests, acting as if they have always been there, and larger sites that are now sheep and cattle grazing fields, melding with the contemporary landscape that remains.
Whilst the environmental legacies of the Victorian gold rush are more subtle than some of the sites we’ve documented in QLD and the NT, it is an important story for the Mining Legacies project as the landscape and population was changed forever in Victoria (as it was in NSW and QLD), during this period.
The diggings and disused mine sites that are scattered across this region have been embedded in the social and cultural history of this landscape; and as this project grows, it will explore not only the physical marks left on the environment but also the social and cultural marks that mining has left on people in this area.
One of the first sites that I came across was the Amelia Reef in Newbury, near Trentham; almost completely covered with overgrowth, one could barely make out that it was once a site for gold mining. I came across an old article from The Argus, from February 1865 about the area:
This district, so long considered the Siberia, if not the Sahara, of the Victorian gold-fields, has latterly displayed such signs of a golden vitality, and of substantial metal as well as golden hopes, that the miners in the favourite localities, and the mining speculators of Daylesford, Castlemaine, and Ballarat, have gone into the heart of the under-ground mysteries with an earnest energy that augurs well for a speedy success. Newbury was at first the great centre of mining operations, but that place, always the most squalid, muddy, uncouth, and miserable locality conceivable, has been utterly deserted for months. Some of your contemporaries have fallen into error in confounding the whole of the Blue Mountain with that squalid Newbury. The main diggings now flourishing, and on the eve, as the best judges consider, of very great things, are at Garlick’s and Kirk’s, at the Alma and the Amelia Reefs, at the Coliban River and Trentham Creek, and at the little township of Trentham. All these are “alive and digging.” Newbury is dead and deserted.
(The Argus, Melbourne, VIC : Friday 17 February 1865, Page 7, BLUE MOUNTAIN PROSPECTS. NATIONAL LIBRARY OF AUSTRALIA)
Some of the other sites I’ve photographed are within the Wombat State Forest, one site that is planned for development in the coming months, and others that are old shafts hidden under green foliage, that one could easily fall into if you weren’t looking. Other sites were around Clunes, Smeaton and Hepburn, and now I have moved on to looking around Castlemaine, as they are just a short walk from houses throughout the town.
The exhibition was shown alongside Katrin Koenning’s photographs of outback Australia at the Colour Factory in Fitzroy, Victoria, in July this year. Dr Daniel Palmer, Senior Lecturer in the Art History & Theory Program at Monash University opened the show and said of my work:
“…In her photographs there are no people, only some sheep perched on strange embankments. But signs of human presence are everywhere, from a gum tree tied with a ribbon to a lone European pine and palm tree, from remnant brick structures at Clunes to piles of rocks and mounds of rubble in Smeaton, and, most obviously, protestors’ signs saying ‘No Mines’ in an image of an otherwise unspoiled scene in Wombat Forest. Without reading the captions, these emphatic two words become the major clue as to what these landscapes signify, as to what has taken place there before or indeed might take place in the future (and also to Boylan’s intentions). In short, it becomes clear that these photographs reveal an overgrown history of the Central Victorian Goldfields region, and its resulting environmental impact, as well as sites of possible future activity (with increasing gold prices, interest in gold mining in the region has returned over the past two decades).
Although realist, with their matter of fact depictions of sites, Boylan’s photographs arguably belong to a critical history of anti-naturalism. By only pointing towards the possible histories or futures the images evoke, they remind us that there are always other way to see what we see. In this way, they destroy the illusion of naturalness and encourage critical reflection.” “…When we look at the Australian landscape – indeed whenever we view land as a landscape – we are always bringing preconceived ideas to bear. Seeing and knowing are utterly intertwined.”
This work will keep me exploring this area for some time, as every time I go for a walk or run in the bush near my house in Castlemaine I come across another site. I am slowly uncovering a history that has been here since the mid 19th Century, something that I have almost completely ignored until now.
- Jessie Boylan
*If you would like to support this ongoing project please contact me.
The Philippines has been considered the 5th most resource rich country in the world and communities are not being adequately given a voice over whether or not mining-related developments should take place. Government and company lack of transparency often results in communities being uninformed or misinformed about the potential negative impacts related to mining, nor is there any law in place that allows them adequate, or any, compensation once damage has been done to their livelihoods.
This week on Earth Matters we focus on the impacts of mining in the Philippines by talking to environmental lawyer Rhia Muhi and Japps Hatta, Research Associate at Legal Rights and Natural Resources Center in the Philippines, who were both attending a conference in Maranduque related to the 1996 Marcopper mining accident which completely destroyed the Boac river and displaced over 400 families.
3CR Earthmatters by Jessie Boylan
Note: Jessie also works for MPI and is the director and videographer of our recent Hidden Valley documentary.
The campaign to stop experimental seabed mining in Solwara 1, by Nautilus Minerals Limited, a Canadian developer has been boosted by the establishment of a group, ‘Papua New Guinea Group against Seabed Experimental Mining (PNGGaSEM)’.
This civil society group was established on Sunday 1 December, 2013 at the Ela Beach Hotel during its second general meeting. PNGGaSEM comprise of a coalition of resource owners, Centre for Environmental Law and Community Rights (CELCOR), Partners with Melanesia (PwM), Mas Kagin Tapani (MAKATA), Four Maisin (4M),
Madang Indigenous Peoples Forum (MIPF), Madang Deputy Governor Rama Marisan, Oro Governor Gary Juffa , the PNG Council of Churches, private Lawyers Moses Murray and Thomas Elisah and some university Lecturers and students from both the University of PNG and University of Technology in Lae.
PNGGaSEM membership continues to increase as the campaign grows.
The group will be formally registered to pursue the matter further even in court to ultimately stop seabed mining in PNG.
Chairman of the group Lawyer Moses Murray, pointed out that PNGGaSEM had an important role to play for Papua New Guinea.
“Seafloor mining has not taken place anywhere else in the world. The costs of any possible environmental damage caused as a result of seafloor mining can be catastrophic and immeasurable,” he warned.
He stressed further that in such a case, the State and Nautilus Minerals Ltd may not be in any position to contain the damage which can harm the marine environment, and the lives of people who live off it. He warned that those who may be affected by such damage include not just the people of New Ireland and East New Britain but everyone who consumes anything in the Bismarck Solomon seas.
“Mining on the land is much easier to track and monitor destructions made. Unlike the ocean, current flows in completely different directions,” he cautioned.
He added that the mining laws must also cover the ocean and its surroundings, above and below. He said PNGGaSEM has no funds to fight this hard battle but he called on the young members to set the pace and get the fundraising going as soon as possible.
The group is in close consultation with scientists and a lawyer abroad for support and guidance in its endeavour to achieve its goal.
Deputy Governor for Madang, Rama Marisan said on behalf of the Madang Provincial Government and the 400, 000 people of Madang Province, he extended full support on behalf of the Governor and the Madang Provincial Government to say “NO” to Deep Sea Mining in PNG.
He said a lot of mining activities can be seen on land and their aftermaths can be visually seen. He gave examples of Panguna, Lihir, Ok Tedi, Ramu Nickel mines just to name a few which are causing great concern to PNG’s fresh water, forests and sea and their biodiversity.
Lawyer Elisah a private Lawyer based in Madang in addition said, there are no laws to police, and monitor the sea bed mining. “From the Governors’ Conference level held in Madang, the support is greatly needed for this group to fight this on the floor of Parliament,” he stressed.
He raised concerns that anything within the three mile zone belongs to the customary owners, but anything outside the three mile zone is up to the State to do anything. “Since this is the case, it needed all the political will to fight this in Parliament,” he reiterated. He urged the PNGGaSEM to lobby hard for resolutions to be passed through government at the National Executive Council level to stop seabed mining.
Thomas Imal Lawyer with CELCOR said, “The PNG Government has put the cart before the horse by issuing Nautilus Minerals Solwara 1 mining licence without adequate and independent scientific studies, or comprehensive national policy, laws and regulations for Deep Sea Mining (DSM).”
“To date the PNG Government has ignored the concerns of communities and other stakeholders. This has been the cause of a strong backlash from PNG’s society culminating in the threat of a legal challenge.”
“Whilst DSM may be a viable option for other Pacific States it is not the same for Papua New Guinea. We need to apply the Precautionary Principle. The uncertainties far out weight the benefits and it is not beneficial for the country at this time.”
Meanwhile, reports obtained from Nautilus Minerals Ltd stated that it had conducted a workshop to discuss the social and environmental impacts of subsea mineral extraction on 12-13 March 2007. According to this report, the workshop was to identify and discuss issues related to the environmental and social aspects of Solwara 1 project.
The PNG Government has issued license to Nautilus Minerals Ltd, to mine for high grade copper, gold, zinc and other minerals in high concentrations in seafloor massive sulphide deposits over 59km2 selections of Bismarck Sea. The Solwara 1 project site, is located at 1,600m water depth and is about 30km from the New Ireland and 50km from East New Britain provinces.
The government has granted a 20-year mine lease for the project to Nautilus Minerals Ltd as well as take a 30% stake in the venture.
On the 14th of April 1988, Sir Paul Lapun – the legendary MP for Bougainville (1964-77) who passed away in 2003 – sat down with Rio Tinto’s historian to talk about the great fraud forced upon his people, and the long struggle they have waged for justice and dignity.
In this interview, tucked away in the CRA** archives, Sir Paul talks of a once proud people made dependent on a rapacious mine owned by Rio Tinto, which they were told would be nothing more than ‘a big hole in the ground’ (p.23). He talks of rich soils poisoned by toxic tailings that had been pumped onto his people’s sacred lands and waterways. And he talks of a people not born poor, but made poor by the mine and its effects.
As a result of the Panguna mine, Sir Paul claims, there is now, ‘no fish – nothing! The Jaba River is all eroded, and still now the sea shore is becoming silted’ (p.15-6). He continues, ‘we used to get a lot of cocoa seeds … but now they don’t get those seeds’ owing to acid rain (p.17).
Sir Paul recalls having his grave concerns dismissed by national government representatives, get a scientist he was told. In a moment of defiance, Lapun testifies to local knowledge, ‘I’m myself a scientist … I said I know! I was born here!’ (p.19).
And what of the great riches the people were promised? ‘We’re really poor – nothing no toea in our hands’, Sir Paul opines (p,19).
Casting his mind back to the colonial days, Sir Paul recounts the shameful swindle hoisted upon Bougainville. He recalls legislation written in Canberra and then rubber stamped by PNG politicians to give this law of conquest a respectable veneer of local consent (p.3-4); and he recalls a consultation process where the people were told of all the benefits they would enjoy, without a hint of the irreversible damage which would be done to land, environment and custom.
‘Nobody knew anything’ Sir Paul claims (p.22). He continues, we only were told ‘one side of the picture … the bad side … was hidden from us’.
But matters did not rest there, woven into the bones of his people was a sense of independence and self-determination which they would not relinquish easily. Sir Paul talks of the important struggle launched by the women of Rorovana who heroically threw their bodies in front of CRA bulldozers – in the people’s tradition of direct action – and whose defiance was beamed around the world, much to the chagrin of CRA’s Chairman, whose neat little narrative of a great mine and a welcoming people had been corrupted (pp.8-10).
Echoing the past, Sir Paul warns Rio Tinto the women are organising again (p.28)!
Though this was April 1988, Sir Paul only had an inkling of the enormous sacrifice his people would need to make in order to restore their dignity and win self-determination, and the great imperial coalition that would form in opposition to this simple act, meeting it with grenades, helicopter gunships and white phosphorous mortar rounds.
What would he make of all the rumblings today? Of the Autonomous Bougainville Government (ABG), with its sleek consultation forums, where hand-picked speakers are invited to talk of the riches they will one day enjoy as a result of the Rio run mine. What would he make of the legislation, drafted to secure the interests of Rio Tinto, overseen by Australian advisors? What would he make of ordinary villagers, and their simple demand to live in peace with a quite dignity, being ignored? What would he make of ABG Ministers claiming the people of Panguna must make a great sacrifice to support independence, as if they hadn’t already sacrificed enough?
We can perhaps guess from this transcript; a transcript that is not held in Arawa or Buka, but Melbourne, where the secret history of this island is kept safe from the people.
Knowledge is power, so it must be denied. It must be denied because of the great disparity lying behind the mine; while it lined streets, homes and workplaces abroad in gold, on Bougainville, at the epicentre of this tragedy, the people were left with a land gutted of its richness, and graves full of young bodies taken from the world too soon. This truth must be denied, and the annals of history that testify to this truth forgotten, so that history can be repeated, first time as tragedy second time as farce.*The Bougainville Truth Initiative: Challenging the Democratic Deficit **Conzinc Rio Tinto of Australia
Thanks to PNG Exposed for this article
The latest accident at the Ranger uranium mine is a timely reminder of the environmental risks of operating a heavy industry facility: especially a uranium mine on Indigenous land, surrounded by the World…
The latest accident at the Ranger uranium mine is a timely reminder of the environmental risks of operating a heavy industry facility: especially a uranium mine on Indigenous land, surrounded by the World Heritage-listed Kakadu National Park.
But beyond the events of this week, Ranger is a symptom of a much bigger problem of extraordinarily weak environmental regulation.
Before you can take a prescription drug, get on a plane or drive a car, there have been rigorous, independent tests done to minimise the risks of harm to you. We don’t leave it largely up to pharmaceutical or car companies to tell us we’re safe.
So we don’t we apply those same precautionary standards to a mine in the heart of Kakadu?
Last Saturday, one of the 10 large acid leach tanks at Ranger completely collapsed – spilling some one million litres of acidic radioactive ore slurry into the adjacent mill area.
The slurry burst over bunds that are meant to contain such an accident and entered the mill stormwater drainage system which goes to a mine water retention pond.
This is the latest in more than 200 environmental incidents at Ranger since 1979, including:
While the extensive list of publicly known incidents contains many of somewhat minor significance, the repeated serious incidents point to a more systemic and underlying problem.
The uranium industry regularly boasts that Ranger is “one of the most heavily regulated and monitored mines in the world” – and yet predictable industrial accidents still seem to occur at a greater frequency than your average facility.
Perhaps we are aware of the accidents partly because of the greater public scrutiny they’re under.
But in a bizarre coincidence, it has emerged that the collapse of a leach tank at Ranger was the second such incident at a mine mainly owned by mining giant Rio Tinto in less than a week. Precisely the same leach tank collapse also happened at the Rössing uranium mine in Namibia.
The deeper issue which the government and mining industry are desperate to avoid discussion of is regulatory capture.
Over the past few decades, environmental regulation has moved to a model where industry largely self-regulates and self-monitors, while government largely ticks a box to see if systems are in place to manage risks and minimise impacts.
There is very little high-level technical and industrial expertise left within government agencies that are supposed to oversee heavy industrial projects and ensure environmental protection, such as a Department of Mines or an Environmental Protection Authority (EPA).
Instead, our environmental “monitors” are poorly resourced and struggle to maintain staff, especially in light of the more attractive packages working for a company.
It is easy to direct some blame at the regulators, in this case the Northern Territory government.
And it remains unclear just how much action has been taken to independently assess the damage from last Saturday’s spill of radioactive material. This morning, the ABC was reporting that the Office of the Supervising Scientist had refused to comment about whether it has carried out its own tests.
But realistically Ranger and its owners must take the main blame. Under the modern era of effectively self-regulating, they built the tanks, they operated the mill, ran the internal inspection and maintenance program – and yet an acid leach tank still collapsed.
Across Australia, many local community groups watch their local mine breach statutory conditions and never get more than a slap on the wrist. Just a few examples include:
Such failure to demonstrate safe practice and good environmental outcomes undermines public confidence, which often leads to legitimate concerns and even outright opposition to existing or new mines in a region.
Yet industry and government fail to make the links and think environmental regulation is still best left largely up to companies – and poorly resourced regulators often become the easy scapegoat.
Many other industries have learnt how to assess and greatly reduce the risk of catastrophic accidents. These include chemical plants, oil and gas refineries, and construction.
Even in the mining industry itself, 2012 was the first fatality free year for Western Australian mines – the result of decades of effort on safety systems and culture.
Other industries – such as pharmaceuticals, airlines and vehicle safety – have learnt to address public safety in rigorous, independent processes.
While accidents still happen (cough cough BP), in the main, the frequency would appear to be lower than for Ranger.
If governments are serious about public, worker and environmental safety, they need to ensure that regulators are properly skilled and resourced to inspect, assess and act independently without fear or favour.
They cannot let regulators become too close to industry and perceived to be captured and too lenient. In the end, regulatory capture erodes public confidence and reduces trust, leading to project delays, increased costs and greater risks.
Some obvious issues that must be addressed fully and publicly include: construction standards, training of workers, inspection and testing regimes, radiation safety, possible radiation-induced metal fatigue, chemical corrosion, workers’ safety, environmental impacts, monitoring and management, and structural safety.
The community simply does not accept the “trust us” mantra of a company and its spin doctors as good enough anymore – and nor should they. In the digital age, it is perfectly reasonable to expect real scientific evidence, independence and transparency.
By Gavin Mudd, Senior Lecturer at Monash University, consults to Gundjeihmi Aboriginal Corporation (www.mirarr.net) and is the chair of the board of the Mineral Policy Institute.
With thanks and borrowed from The Conversation
Welcome to the final Mining Monitor for 2013. Online version here.
While there is still much to be done to curb the impacts and excesses of the global mining industry, it’s worth pausing for a moment at this time of the year to remember what we have achieved with the help of colleagues, affected communities, supporters, family, friends and donors.
This year MPI has been productive and effective with its support for mining affected communities in Australia, PNG, the Pacifc, Africa and Scandinavia – as well as producing a documentary, research articles and a revamped website and mining monitor.
MPI uses a range of strategies to a achieve our goal of securing improvements in mining projects, policy, law and practice. Our goal is ambitious and almost never-ending as we seek to prevent mining related injustices, embed better practices in a global mining industry and secure better outcomes for those most at risk. To do his we have a varied work-plan; from attending a protest or an AGM, to undertaking and publishing new research, to assessing damaged sites or supporting remote communities. Below is just a sample of what we have achieved this year.
Now to to say thanks. Thanks very much to our major funders and project partners, without you we would achieve little. Thankyou to the MPI Board; Mia, Gavin, Richard and Adam who provide the direction and the energy that keeps MPI on track. Thanks to Jessie, Andrea, Belle and Cathy for the work you do or for just helping out when needed. Thanks to the Earth Welfare Foundation for understanding the importance of our Mining Legacies work and helping bring that to fruition.
MPI has some big ideas for 2014 and we would appreciate your help.
Merry Christmas and seasons greetings to you all, thanks.
Charles, ED, MPI.
Gavin Mudd and Jessie Boylan from MPI traveled to Rockhampton, then on to Mount Morgan to document the famous Mount Morgan gold-copper mine, which generated not only extra-ordinary wealth for its major shareholders but has left Queensland and Australia with probably it’s largest and most polluting mining legacy.
Gold was first mined on a commercial scale in 1882 with bonanza grades of more than 100 grams per tonne – ie. more than three ounces per tonne of ore – which proved extremely profitable. These ore grades were several times typical gold mines of the time (such as Bendigo & Ballarat in Victoria). The original syndicate was re-formed in 1886 as a new company, the Mt Morgan Gold Mining Company, and large scale mining began. Two members of the original syndicate were Walter Hall and WIlliam Knox Darcy – both generating huge fortunes from their investment. Darcy soon shifted to the UK in 1889 and began to invest in a range of other ventures – the most important being oil exploration in (then) Persia from 1900 – and, despite nearly losing his fortune, struck black gold in 1908 and made another incredible fortune. The oil venture, called the Anglo-Persian Oil Company, was changed name to BP in 1954. Walter Hall had built his original fortune from horse coach company Cobb & Co from 1857, but as an initial investor in Mount Morgan, he reaped enormous fortunes along with other initial investors. Shortly after his passing in 1911, his wife, Eliza, used a considerable fraction of the Halls’ wealth to establish the Walter & Eliza Hall Institute for Medical Research – now a world renowned medical research centre.
By 1905, the gold ore was declining in grade and reserves were not as easily found and mined. However, beneath the gold ore cap of the famous ‘Ironstone Mountain’ was an even larger deposit of gold-copper ore. The wealth continued to flow and pollution problemsd remained ignored. In 1927 a major fire soared through the mine workings and the company went into liquidation … but in 1933, after some years of study and a much stronger copper market, the mine was re-opened as a large scale open cut mine and stayed in production until 1982 when the famous mine was finally depleted. Tailings were then reprocessed for to extract residual gold until 1990, at which time the Queensland Government took over ownership and responsibility for the site – by then an infamous site of massive environmental pollution in the Dee River.
By 1982, total ore processed was about 56 million tonnes grading about 5 grams per tonne of gold and about 0.85% copper, with minor amounts of silver. In addition, about 100 million tonnes of waste rock was also mined. Final production is estimated to be about 242,578 kilograms of gold (ie. about 7.8 million ounces of gold) and about 374,000 tonnes of copper.
The environmental pollution is caused by acid and metalliferous drainage or ‘AMD’ – also known as acid mine drainage. AMD is generated when sulfidic rocks, such as pyrite (ie. iron sulfide), are exposed to water and oxygen in the surface environment rather than being isolated as crystalline rock underground. Above ground in the surface environment, the sulfides react with water and oxygen to form sulfuric acid – which in turn dissolves extreme concentrations of salts and metals, including potentially copper, arsenic, nickel, cadmium, zinc, aluminium, iron and many more. AMD is a deadly toxic soup to aquatic ecosystems and biodiversity. Downstream in the Dee River, the AMD has devastated the aquatic ecosystem for tens of kilometres and left it stained and heavily polluted – severely impacting not only on the environment but also human uses of the Dee River.
In the past decade, some works have been undertaken to try and reduce the pollution, such as seepage interception from leaking waste rock dumps and a water treatment plant to treat the highly acidic water which had accumulated in the former open cut – just a mere ten billion litres or so … (ie. 10 GL or 10 million cubic metres). Although these works have helped to partially reduce the pollution burdens from the former Mount Morgan mine to the Dee River, as our photo’s below show, the pollution burden remains intense and there is a long way to go to restore the Dee River to normal health.
During our visit, several locals expressed a clear view that they wanted the Dee River cleaned up – but recognised it would cost alot of money …
The Mount Morgan mine is a ‘classic’ legacy site – generating enormous wealth in its heyday but leaving an environmental disaster, which will cost current taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars.
In January this year, a large storm hit the region and the pit filled up and over-flowed for the first time, sending huge AMD-rich waters further down the Dee River than ever before. Locals felt this was the worst impact yet from the Mt Morgan mine, a timely reminder of the need to urgent remediate the site.
Toro Energy – Wiluna uranium proposal WA
Part of keeping an eye on mining companies is through proxies or shares, MPI has shares in Toro Energy the proponent of WA’s first uranium mine proposal. In October Toro held an extraordinary general meeting MPI Director Charles Roche attended the meeting as others handed our economic reports to shareholders as the entered. Questions were raised about an ASX investigation into allegations the company was releasing misleading information to their shareholders about the size of the project and the level of approval their mine proposal has.
Toro has got conditional environmental approval for one project including 2 separate deposits. They have expanded by acquiring an additional 7 deposits in the region and are now promoting the larger project to their shareholders but have not referred the larger project.
The economics report produced by the ‘Economists at Large’ outlined the market failures of the industry and the lack of certainty about the uranium price recovery, operating costs and risks of a small company with a small deposit and low grade uranium. MPI did well to raise these issues during the meeting, MPI questions dominated question time and went for longer than the actual meeting.
In November Toro held their Annual General Meeting. MPI allocated proxies to an Ngaanyatjarra elder who lives in Wiluna and a Wongutha woman from Perth. The company were reluctant to allow them into the meeting despite their proxies. Major issue raised in the AGM were around water, the expansion of the project and lack of community consultation and the long term issue of Toro excluding women and vocal opponents of the project from the consultation process.
Paladin Energy – Langer Heinrich, Namibia and Kaylekera Malawi
Paladin Energy is a Perth based company with two operating mines in Africa. MPI has been engaged with Paladin for over six years and at various times and to varying degrees worked with affected communities in Africa.
MPI and other NGOs have received proxies to attend Paladin AGM’s for the past four years. Paladin shareholders have got progressively more frustrated with the company as they continue to mine, break production records but fail to return any dividends to shareholders and instead report massive losses.
Last year Paladin promised shareholders they would cut costs. This year MPI and Jo Vallentine from the Anti Nuclear Alliance of WA raised issues about Paladins cuts and impacts on health and safety at the mine site, highlighting the reported miscarriages from female workers, the death of the two workers and the ongoing industrial action of pay cuts and safety breaches. Paladins board and shareholders did not respond well to this.