Catholics In Coalition for Justice and Peace

Blog Post

Proposed mine threat to Sepik River in PNG

Posted 28 Jun 2019 09:00AM


Jubilee Australia has released our report 'The river is not ours'. The report tells a tale as old as time about local communities that are fighting to have their say about a mine they believe could seriously alter their lives and environment. Our report finds that their concerns are legitimate and that they should be heard.

The mine is the Frieda River Mine, a proposed copper and gold mine along the Sepik River in PNG. It is a venture of PanAust, an Australian-based, Chinese-owned company that is headquartered in Brisbane.

If approved, the Frieda River mine could permanently damage the important Sepik river system, and with it the 400,000 Indigenous peoples whose lives depend on it.

We teamed up with the PNG-based group Project Sepik to report on the concerns shared by villages on the Upper Sepik. One of the main concerns raised in the report is the lack of Free Prior and Informed Consent and how Indigenous self-determination has been largely ignored.

Although PanAust has consulted with people whose land the resources are located and where the mine and infrastructure will be built, the company has failed to conduct proper consultations with the communities living in the Sepik River downstream.

All of the villages visited expressed opposition to the Frieda River Mine going ahead. Their concerns are based on the fear that the mine and activities relating to it will exacerbate sedimentation, flooding and soil erosion, a reduction of fish populations and damage to their gardens, processes that are already underway due to other causes.

The biggest environmental challenge that the Frieda River Mine faces relates to the question of how to build and house an effective and safe tailings storage facility. Notably, PanAust has provided very little information to the public on how they plan on keeping the Sepik river system safe.

The sorry history of copper-gold tailings failures in PNG (the Ok Tedi and Panguna tailings disasters) and the specific challenges of this particular location (large amounts of waste, high rainfall, propensity for earthquakes) mean that the concerns expressed by the local communities are very realistic. Meanwhile, recent tailings dam failures in Brazil (Samarco in 2015 and Brumadinho in 2019) have reminded us how real this threat is.
 Read the report now 
This begs the question: Should the Frieda River Mine have progressed this far without properly consulting with the Indigenous communities whose lives and environment will be significantly impacted by the project?

We think not.

As you might remember from the end of last year, we raised money to a) release this report and b) bring members of Project Sepik over to Australia to make the voices of the local communities heard and advocate for a Sepik river free of large-scale mining led by outside actors.

Thanks to your help and the generous support of our friends at AID/WATCH, an Australian awareness tour involving a visit from our Sepik colleagues will take place in late 2019. Stay tuned for more information about this!
All the best,
Luke Fletcher, CEO and the Jubilee team