Minister questioned on waste disposal method

The Environment and Conservation Minister was questioned today on alternative waste disposal methods for the Wafi-Golpu mine in Morobe Province.

Morobe Governor Ginson Saonu outlined that the developer proposed deep-sea tailings placement as the only option in its environmental impact statement.

Morobe is not against Wafi-Golpu mining but it is against its deep sea tailings placement (DSTP) method.

Saonu asked Minister Wera Mori to clarify a number of critical issues surrounding the proposed dumping of mine waste into the Huon Gulf, where over 400,000 people have sustained their livelihoods from for many generations.

Saonu also voiced concern over Minister Mori’s involvement in the Wafi-Golpu campaign, questioning why DSTP is the only option available.

“Are you aware that the landowners have agreed in principle to make available as much as 500 hectares of land for the construction of a tailings dam?

“Are you and CEPA (Conservation & Environment Protection Authority) relying solely on the environmental impact statement from the developer or have you engaged an independent scientific study to test the data and assumptions made and supplied by the developer as if it was the Gospel truth?”

The Governor further asked if the Minister would give an undertaking on the floor of Parliament that no permit will be issued until the safety of his people are guaranteed by the Government and the developer.

In response, Minister Mori said he does not advocate for the developer, saying he personally needs to be satisfied that the environmental impact statement (EIS) meets requirements.

“Mr Speaker, I would like to inform Parliament that the EIS process has taken a number of years to be completed,” stated Mori. “They have looked at a lot of possible sites where they could be able to host the tailings, especially in terms of terrestrial tailings. But unfortunately, given the fact that the ore deposit is deposited in an area where it is a very high, mobile, active zone, it is not possible.”

In response to a tailings dam, the Minister drew attention to the collapse of the Ok Tedi mine tailings dam under the then developer, BHP Billiton, in the 1980s. He said the same incident can happen for the Wafi-Golpu site as it shares similar geological features with the Star Mountains of Western Province.

“It is marked by a lot of major faults, it is along the boundaries of two or three tectonic plates and movements along them pose great risk. Coupled with that, that particular area receives a lot of rainfall and so that in itself is a recipe for disaster.”

The Minister further assured Morobe Province that CEPA and the developer will have a monitoring station between Bukawa and Wagang to monitor the situation on a regular basis.

(Environment and Conservation Minister, Wera Mori, giving his response in Parliament today)

Carmella Gware