JOE WASIA | Supported by the Bob Cleland Writing Fellowship
SEABED MINING. IT’S A NEW TERM to the ears of many Papua New Guineans. In simple definition, it’s the underwater extraction of mineral resources.
This method is rarely used in the world whereas onshore extraction is vastly used. Both methods have environmental and health risks which are assessed and analysed before projects begin.
Now a new frontier in mining is set to be opened up by underwater extraction of resources from the seabed off the coast of Papua New Guinea.
This is despite vehement objections from environmentalists and local activists and even some parliamentarians.
Canadian firm Nautilus Minerals was last year granted a 20-year licence by the PNG Somare government to commence the Solwara 1 project near East New Britain and New Ireland provinces, which is said to be the world’s first commercial deep sea mining operation.
This process will involve levelling underwater hydrothermal chimneys which spew out vast amounts of minerals. Sediment is piped to a waiting vessel, which separates ore from water before pumping the remaining liquid back to the seafloor.
Fact. This will be dangerous to the entire marine life and the ecological system in the Bismarck and Coral seas.
The greenlight was given by the Somare government and is now confirmed by O’Neill-Deon government. But the decisions by these successive governments do not go well with the vast majority of the people in PNG.
After observing the objections from different landowner groups, activists, non government organisations, some members of parliament and so many people around the country, I conducted interviews with expatriates at the PNG LNG project site.
These were conducted with expatriates already working here and new starters with different contractor companies. It took five months to complete the interviews.
The question asked was “Have you ever seen a seabed mining activities in any part of the world or have any knowledge about the method?”
The question was designed to obtain basic knowledge about the method used and how familiar it is.
Two hundred and seventy (270) expatriates were interviewed of whom 246 said they have no idea about the method and had never seen seabed mining.
Twenty-four people were able to explain the method but could not say how it works. They said the method is rarely used.
From the results, I could say the PNG government and its responsible ministries were convinced to believe and accept what was not practical in many parts of the world.
It is believed that developed countries have treated Papua New Guinea as guinea pigs to conceptualise what was not practical elsewhere. PNG has been a playground for the big boys.
If you look closely how the licences are issued and permits are granted to such mining, logging, and other heavy industries, you can see almost all companies never follow the proper processes.
Papua New Guinea gained independence in 1975 and its 38 years old. I think we should not be treated like robots and tools and playgrounds for the developed nations. We must reach maturity.
We have enough money to take this nation to the next level. PNG does not need any more new projects. We have so many mining, oil and gas, logging, and other heavy industries operating in our country for over decades.
PNG’s revenue from these industries is much higher which makes up more than 70% of the total annual revenue. I think the population of this country is equally proportional to the billions of kina national annual budgets.
Papua New Guinea does not need any exploration companies or any new projects for that matter. The country direly needs transparency, accountability and good governance to rise to the next level. We already have billions of kina from the existing extractive industries and from other revenues sources.
After observing hundreds of exploration companies, mining, and oil and gas projects already here in PNG I wonder if we have a heart for the future generations of this country. Mining and petroleum resources that we see are non renewable and will definitely be exhausted one day.
Why, under successive governments, continue issuing licences and permits to so many exploration and mineral project development companies in the country?
I call on the current government, under the leadership of Peter O’Neill, to look carefully into the whole scenario and reverse the decision.
Protect the natural beauty of the Bismarck and Coral seas which had sustained thousands of people in the provinces within and around the seas.