Gold reserves were first discovered in 1982. At that time, explorations were conducted by a joint venture between the Kennecott Explorations Australia and Niugini Mining limited . A first feasibility study was conducted by in 1988 that raised concerns over the economic feasibility of the mine . In 1989, Kennecott was bought by Rio Tinto Zinc corporation (RTZ) .
In 1995, negotiations between local landowners, company and state were made, following a series of impact assessments and studies . Negotiations were ongoing for a while and first not accepted by local customary landowners. However, they finally agreed when the government promised them a 15% equity stake in the project and 2% of royalty rate of annual output . The agreement was signed during 1995 and included a benefits package for the community that foresaw the payment of royalties as well as the development of infrastructure and social services .
The Lihir Special Mining Lease (SML) was granted in 1995 and the Lihir project was transferred to Lihir Gold Limited (LGL) Company, which was managed and operated by the Lihir Management Company – a subsidiary of Rio Tinto. Production started in 1997 .
In 2005, Rio Tinto divested its stakes in Lihir and the operations became owned by LGL. In 2010, LGL was taken over by Australian miner Newcrest , in a %9.5 billion deal .
The mine is an open pit mine, consisting of overlapping pits [1;9].
In 1995, exploration costs had mounted to ca. 150 million USD . Capital cost of mining operation were, at that time, estimated to amount to 600 to 1000 million USD. .
Initially, 450 million USD of shares were floated to finance the mine .
A study  reported that the Union Bank of Switzerland provided a loan for 300 million dollars. The loan was indemnified against political risks and environmental issues by the World Bank’s Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA) .
Another study  reports a 46 million USD loan from the European Investment Bank in 1996. The CEE Bankwatch Network, supported by many NGOs, demanded the bank to withdraw the loan due to environmental concerns .
In 1999, the mine’s processing plant and related infrastructure covered a land area of about 7.3km2 .
In 2011, the mine produced about 600,000 ounces of gold. Output was expected to rise to between 700,000 and 900,000 for 2012 . For the financial year 2016, Lihir produced about 900,000 ounces of gold. Since operations started in 1997, the mine has produced more than 10 million ounces of gold .
An article from 2002  estimated that the processing of 104 million tons of ore reserves will create around 341 million tons of waste rock. Most of the waste rocks were going to be disposed into the ocean.
In 1995, the community that hosted the mining project had a population of approx. 8,000 people . (Since then, the population has grown rapidly ). At that time, about 1,000 people were customary owners of land leased to the company. They formed later the Lihir Mining Landowners Association (LMLA) .
In 2016, the company reported that about 4,500 people were employed at Lihir .