Across Australia, the mining industry remains in full swing – from coal mining and coal seam gas projects across eastern Australia, to a renewed gold industry in Western Australia, massive iron ore expansions in the Pilbara and several new iron ore projects in WA and South Australia, major new copper and lead-zinc mines, to a continuing push for new uranium mines. Australian mining companies are also very active around the world – including Papua New Guinea and across the Pacific Rim, across almost every part of Africa chasing gold, uranium, iron ore, coal and whatever else they can find, as well as a growing presence in South America (especially Chile and Peru).
The need for an independent watchdog on mining and its environmental and social impacts has never been greater. The Mineral Policy Institute remains the only civil society organisation which continues to focus solely on the full spectrum of mining issues – with the great irony being that despite the mega-revenues for the mining industry, funding for a mining-focussed NGO remains difficult to find.
This means it is up to us, our supporters and ongoing donors to continue to help MPI achieve its goals of a just and sustainable minerals cycle, where impacts are greatly reduced and benefits more widely shared.
Over the past year, there has been a growing and strong community movement against rampant expansion of coal seam gas, especially Queensland and New South Wales, as well as increased awareness of the long-term risks from mining and the poor state of regulation of mining by state and federal governments.
Some landmark popular books have now been published helping to raise awareness of these issues, including Matthew Binns’ “Dirty Money”, Sharon Munro’s “Rich Land, Wasteland” and Paul Cleary’s “Minefield”. Collectively, the story of the impacts of mining are being better understood by the broader community and this is helping to force change by the government regulators and mining industry – though the journey remains challenging and a long way to go.
The main projects MPI has been working on over the past year are in the Morobe Province in Papua New Guinea, and Mining Legacies.
In the Morobe Province, the existing Hidden Valley gold-silver mine caused significant impacts during construction, and MPI was engaged by the downstream communities and the Lutheran Church to (a) review the impacts from the Hidden Valley project and (b) present some ideas regarding future impacts and change – given the region includes the Wafi gold and Golpu copper-gold project, learning the lessons from Hidden Valley are critical.
Based on work to date, we are hopeful that MPI’s work will help to improve environmental and community standards and mining company and government performance, and ensure that if the community does give their consent and if Wafi-Golpu does proceed, it sets a benchmark high standard for a new mine in PNG – including building a large scale tailings dam, good social and environmental baseline studies, properly designed and resourced environmental monitoring and management, appropriate economic investments in the community and returns, and so on.
Given PNG’s past and current operating mines, where tailings are still dumped into rivers at Porgera and Ok Tedi (and previously Bougainville) or into marine ecosystems at Lihir, there clearly remains a long way to go to address historic and ongoing impacts and prevent future impacts.
The Mining Legacies project is a new MPI project designed to highlight the long-term pollution problems from mining – mainly from acid mine drainage (AMD) caused by exposure of sulfidic mine wastes to the surface environment. The original project started as a field trip from Cairns to Darwin in mid-2011 to document ongoing impacts from old mines in the Chillagoe area west of Cairns, the Croydon goldfield, the Westmoreland-Calvert Hills area – which includes the devastating impacts from the 1990s Redbank copper project, as well as McArthur River and the Pine Creek goldfield.
Since this trip, more minesites have been added to the website and MPI has worked hard to make the site more broadly based, and we are continuing to seek funding to add more sites, visit more regions and facilitate other groups to highlight the impacts from their local patch. Long-term pollution risks remains the Achilles Heel of modern mining – and MPI hopes the Mining Legacies project can help communities as well as the industry and government understand and better address the long-term risks and impacts.
Overall, the need for a group like the Mineral Policy Institute is more acute than ever – and our work will continue to advocate for a truly sustainable minerals cycle.