Work at PNG mine set to restart after deal reached

3:30 pm on 3 May 2023
PNG prime minister James Marape and Barrick Gold CEO Mark Bristow in Port Moresby, 15 October 2020.

PNG prime minister James Marape and Barrick Gold CEO Mark Bristow in Port Moresby, 15 October 2020. Photo: PNG PM Media Unit

The company that is set to recommence operating the Porgera Mine in Papua New Guinea's Enga Province is hoping to start work there before the end of this year.

The New Porgera Ltd is the result of two plus years of negotiations between Canadian mining giant Barrick Gold and the PNG Government, which had been seeking a bigger cut.

Barrick Gold and its investment partner Zijin Mining will hold 49 percent in the new company while the PNG government, the provincial government and the landowners will retain 51 percent.

The man heading Barrick Gold, Mark Bristow, has no concerns that his company is now a minority shareholder.

He said the economics of the operation will work to different percentages.

"The PNG PM James Marape had advisors and we had advisors and every time we had a negotiation we worked through this economic split and eventually we settled on 47 percent of the economics goes to the investors - Barrick Gold Corporation and Zijin, and 53 percent goes to him, which is a fair deal. It is a fair deal anywhere in the world."

Bristow said there will be equal representation on the board.

Tribal fighting affecting workforce

He said they still have aspects of the exploration licence to work through before a new special mining lease is issued, and right now they are finalising the development agreement with the government's Mineral Resources Authority (MRA).

"As soon as we get that authority from MRA we will move to the full re-start - that's mining and processing. In the meantime we have been doing a lot of remedial work, getting ready so that the re-start can happen as quickly as possible."

A major concern for Bristow is the latest violence in the Porgera district which poses a threat to the mine and its workers.

A number of people died last week in tribal fighting.

Bristow said the company is already employing 1000 people, many of them local, and this will soon rise to 3000.

But he said, because of the fighting in the streets, many workers cannot get to work.

"That's not right. It's not right for a bunch of thugs to prevent people to earn a decent wage and the mining industry pays really well compared to anywhere else, particularly Papua New Guinea. And we prefer local people. We develop them, invest in upskilling our local employees, we want local businessmen," he said.

Aerial view of the Porgera gold mine.

Aerial view of the Porgera gold mine. Photo: Zijin Mining

Other opportunities in PNG

Barrick Gold is open to starting other mining operations in PNG.

Bristow said they were offered a chance to look at the Panguna Mine in Bougainville, but the company saw too many difficulties, especially re-opening a mine that has been shut down for more than 30 years.

He said that is one of the hardest things to do in the mining field, especially while Bougainville is working through its independence aspirations.

But he said company geologists are looking at opportunities in other parts of PNG.

"For me before we do that it is important that we get Porgera up and running.

"And so just as we do at Porgera, preparing for its future, we are doing the same for understanding the opportunities and geology of the main PNG island as well as these other satellites," he said.