1 Feb 2012

PNG Gas Project under pressure after massive landslide

5:30 pm on 1 February 2012

It remains unclear how much of an impact last week's massive landslide in Southern Highlands in Papua New Guinea will have on the country's largest resource extraction project.

Although it crosses several of PNG's provinces, Exxon Mobil's 16-billion US dollar Liquified Natural Gas project is centred on the Hides gas fields in the area affected by the landslide.

Exxon has said the landslide, in which at least 25 people are confirmed to have been buried, won't impact the schedule of the project.

But in Hela region where the landslide occurred, blame is already being directed to the project with claims that a nearby quarry used for the project involved explosives which unsettled the earth.

Johnny Blades reports:

The LNG project is the biggest commercial activity ever in the country and has drawn unprecedented foreign interest in the remote Hela region of Southern Highlands.

Naturally mistrustful of outsiders, many Hela people blame the LNG project for social and environmental problems.

John Tamita , a worker with the regional NGO Hela Community Care, says Exxon and its partners have ignored the problems in their rush to build the big gas pipeline.

"That's why more disasters and natural disasters are created. More people are affected, more deaths will rise in the near future and then the government and the company will be blamed for it."

A landowner from the LNG site, Eric Huai, says the landslide left a mound of mud and rocks that stretches for over a kilometre and is around five hundred metres wide at some points.

It's cut off the main road connecting Komo and Nogoli...

To the main activities in the LNG project, it's been cut off. It's going to be delayed, definitely. It's realy a big concern for Exxon Mobil and the project.

Christine Yango is a liaison officer with LNG project partner Oil Search, PNG's prime oil and gas producer with a 29 percent share.

She doesn't believe the project will be derailed by this disaster but admits it's created a logistical challenge.

Yeah I think people are waiting. But we can't deny the fact that the road system is cut off because of the landslide. It affects major infrastructure areas: the Hides gas conditioning plant and the Komo airfield; the road that brings all the supplies and things. I think at the moment that for food rations and things like that, they're using air transport, helicopters, but they haven't cleared up the area to allow vehicles to pass through yet.

However Christine Yango denies that the project is to blame for the landslide, saying it was a natural phenomenon which has nothing to do with nearby LNG activity.

John Tamita says that the LNG Project will have to cope with the fallout from the destruction because many people's lives have been ruined.

And the police are making awareness and giving them (Tumbi locals) the word to move out of the place. But finding a house will be a problem because they are native landowners and they've been living there for generations to generations. And if they go, they'll have to go to another land which is occupied by another person which will be difficult to move into.

He says Exxon Mobil is expected by local tribes to compensate families of victims and help resettle those displaced by the landslide.