The Nautilus Environmental Impact Statement for the Solwara 1 Project was submitted to the PNG Department of Environment and Conservation (DEC) in 2008. In 2009 DEC issued the final environmental permit for the development of the Solwara 1 project followed by the granting of a 20 year mining lease in January 2011. The mine is scheduled to commence commercial operation in late 2013.
Public concern in PNG over the Solwara 1 mine has grown over the past several years. The outrage expressed by PNG civil society during 2012 is unprecedented. Never before in PNG’s history has a development proposal galvanised such wide ranging opposition – from representatives of local communities, students, church leaders, non-government organisations, academics, staff of government departments and national and provincial parliamentarians.
Foremost in people’s minds is the fear that PNG is being used as a laboratory for the experiment of sea bed mining and that insufficient research has been conducted on deep sea ecosystems and the impacts of sea bed mining on marine species and coastal communities. Already, the people of New Ireland Province have witnessed cloudy water, dead tuna, and the lack of response of sharks to the age old tradition of shark calling. These changes are attributed to Nautilus’s pre-mining activities in the lead up to commercial mining and raise great concern about the sustainability of local livelihoods and customs.
The Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) was the key document considered by the PNG National Government in the granting of the environmental permits and operating licence to Nautilus. The EIS should provide a clear and rigorous assessment of potential hazards and impacts. It should provide the groundwork for comprehensive risk analysis and the development of mitigation strategies. Most importantly the EIS should have provided a solid basis for the Government of PNG to decide whether to approve this project and if so, under what conditions.
This review demonstrates that the EIS fails to provide solid ground for informed decision making. We are aware that a review of the oceanographic components of the EIS was conducted in 2009 by Cardno Investments Pty. Ltd., an Australian based company specialising in coastal engineering and infrastructure developments. We have not been able to obtain a copy of this review. Nautilus advises that the recommendations of the review have been addressed by the PNG Department of Environment and Conservation in the permit conditions. But these also are not in the public domain.
Solwara 1 is the world’s first deep sea mining experiment. As such it demands extremely careful attention to scientific detail and transparency in decision making. Important next steps are to make available the full data set behind the EIS, the earlier Cardno review of oceanographic
components of the EIS and the conditions of the permits issued by DEC.
This information must be made available in a form that can be readily understood by the people of Papua New Guinea and especially by the people of New Ireland and East New Britain provinces who are most at risk from Solwara 1. I re-iterate the words of the author of this review, “The people of PNG deserve better.”
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