Onus on Chinese to build dam if large Sepik mine proceeds

2:42 pm on 25 November 2016

The onus is on a Chinese developer to build a safe tailings dam if it proceeds with developing Papua New Guinea's Frieda River mine.

Vanimo Harbour, West Sepik, Papua New Guinea.

Vanimo Harbour, West Sepik, Papua New Guinea. Photo: RNZI / Johnny Blades

A feasibility study was recently completed for the copper and gold mine in West Sepik province for which Chinese-owned company PanAust has lodged a special mining lease application.

The study unearthed an even larger copper deposit than previously estimated.

However, local communities are worried about potential mine tailings polluting the major Sepik River system.

Katherine Karaya, the first secretary to the Mining Minister Byron Chan, said the government acknowledges the need to have sound environmental expertise incorporated before the mine is developed.

"Well let's hope that the Chinese do a good thing, the right thing, to build a dam," she said.

"Let's keep our fingers crossed. They say they can do it, they've done it before in China, so let's wait and see. Only time will tell whether they can prove they can do it, or if not there's going to be another lawsuit like the Ok Tedi thing."

Ms Karaya said the Environment Minister would have to be satisfied with the miner's plans before a mining license is granted.

A pre-requisite for a license, according to the Mineral Resources Authority, is an environmental permit approved by PNG's Conservation and Environment Protection Authority.

The MRA has also said PanAust would build a damn that would be part of PNG's largest land tailings storage facility to ensure tailings are not dumped in the Sepik River and its tributaries.

The facility could double up as a hydro power damn for generating electricity.

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