A landowner threat to shut down a major gas project in Papua New Guinea has been averted for the time being.
But Baimuru landowners in Gulf province are warning they may still shut down the $US13-billion Papua LNG gas project in their district.
They are unhappy with the developer, French company Total, over non-renewal of landowner company contracts at the project site and other issues.
The Minister of Petroleum and Energy Kerenga Kua said that talks on Wednesday night addressed the immediate problem.
"These are merely teething issues, and I think it's been substantially resolved already by a meeting last night by Total, the department and stakeholders on the landowner side," he said.
Baimuru is the location of the fledgling project's gas wellheads, which landowners are effectively threatening to block access to as part of their protest.
The landowners have been seeking a recognition of their rights to engage in and benefit from spin-off benefits and contracts from the project.
The acting managing director of Total E&P PNG Limited, Christophe Chazouillères wrote to the Department of Petroleum regarding the matter last week.
He said the decision was made not to renew a labour hire contract with Elk Antelope Joint Venture Limited for two main reasons.
Firstly, Mr Chazouillères said there were several non-compliance issues identified with the landowner company's labour supply which were being investigated by the Department of Labour and Industrial Relations.
Secondly, he said that a number of clans in the umbrella landowner resources company had withdrawn their support for it.
PRL15 landowners accused the developer of a "divide and rule tactic", and issued a statement through their company's directors Oscar Topiro, Keninai Sonae and Kero Ovei.
"The Elk Antelope Joint Venture Limited is a representative landowner company that has proven already that they can operate as a contractor and a sub-contractor to supply manpower/labour and other requirements of the project," they said.
"There is no justification to award the same contract to another landowner company. It is only creating disunity and tension among the landowners and potential to create another Bougainville crisis."
Mr Kua has urged landowners not to rush to threaten to shut down projects without exhausting dialogue avenues.
"As leaders of that community, they needed to be wary of the words they use and the actions they take, because the project is going to be there for the long term and everybody will benefit out of it, and the first line of people to benefit from that will be the local people themselves," Mr Kua said.
"So resorting to threats in terms of shutting down and talking about a Bougainville-type issue and all this is very unhealthy.
"Total have made some decisions, those are business decisions that have to be made during the preparatory stages because the actual determination of who the landowners are is a process that would have to take place in accordance with the Oil and Gas Act."
Mr Kua said the process of landowner determination is ongoing, but that when he signed off on it, benefits would be able to flow as provided for under the Oil and Gas Act.
The minister, who is less than two months into the role, had been a vocal critic of the project deal signed by the former Peter O'Neill-led government and Total in May.
He and PNG's new prime minister James Marape pushed for a review of that deal, in the interests of ensuring fair benefits from this large resource extraction project for PNG and its people.
But Mr Kua, who said the issue behind the landowner threat was isolated and not connected to the government's review of the deal, appears more comfortable about the project now.
"I used to push that barrel on behalf of the landowners before. And I still do in the residual areas that remain to be attended to.
"But what I've noticed is that the state and the developers in particular substantially complied with their obligations to pass the benefits on to the landowners."
Mr Kua said that tomorrow he expected to take a paper to cabinet to approve the review between the parties to the deal.
The long term plan, he explained, was to reform the Oil and Gas Act and other laws to provide for an increased stake by the state in future resource projects.