Earthworks

Papua New Guinea Court Demands Cleanup at Mine

Shreema Mehta's avatar
By Shreema Mehta

February 4, 2014

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A pipe from Ok Tedi mine spews waste into local river. Photo credit: Australian Broadcasting Corporation

It's remarkable to think about the things irresponsible mining companies get away with -- particularly in isolated and developing parts of the world.  For example, mining companies regularly dump toxic mine waste  directly into the world's rivers, lakes and oceans – killing wildlife, contaminating drinking water and destroying livelihoods in the process.

But recently, the tiny Pacific Island nation of Papua New Guinea, said: enough is enough. PNG's National Court ordered the huge Ok Tedi mine, formerly run by BHP Billiton, to stop dumping mine waste into the river.

As we detail in our Troubled Waters report, an investigation into this irresponsible practice, for nearly 30 years, the Ok Tedi mine has dumped on average, 20 million tonnes of waste into the river system each year. The resulting water contamination has reduced the local fish population by a staggering 60 to 80 percent. Local residents have tried to shut down the mine for years, staging protests and filing lawsuits. BHP Billiton withdrew from the mine in 2002, transferring its ownership to a trust and providing funds for development in exchange for immunity for lawsuits.

Since this deal, the mine has remained controversial. Even BHP is not off the hook the way it thought it would be, as a court revoked its immunity from environmental lawsuits just last year.

While the Singapore-based trust is meant to continue operating the mine, channeling its revenue to local development programs, it has come under fire by citizens and government officials for not making good on this claim.

It's unclear as of now whether this court order will lead to true accountability for current and past operators of this destructive mine. But regardless, it shows how fed up Papua New Guineans are of reckless mining destroying their waterways. We hope the order helps bring an end to the incredibly destructive practice of dumping mine waste into PNG’s waters.

Tagged with: troubled waters, png, papua new guinea

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