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Woodlark Gold Mine, PNG


Description:

The Woodlark Island Goldmine Project mine will be an open cut mine in the centre of Woodlark Island. The island, also known as Muyua Island is isolated and has a mainly subsistence population of 6000 people. The indigenous inhabitants have been fighting for decades for legal control of their land. While most of the forests on mainland Papua New Guinea are customary—i.e. owned by local communities—Woodlark Island remains largely crown land and therefore in the hands of the state.

The project has a complex and chequered history of ownership, which dates back to 1988 and has passed through several companies and joint ventures. Currently, the project will be operated by Woodlark Mining Limited (WML), a company owned by Kula Gold Limited, and was granted a Mining Lease in July 2014. This lease and two adjacent exploration leases cover half the land area of Woodlark Island. The PNG Government acquired a 5% interest in the project with the option to undertake a further acquisition of up to 25%. Proceeds from this interest are expected to be distributed between local landowners and the Milne Bay Provincial Government. During the exploration phase, the mine supported a workforce of approximately 350 people. During operation it is expected to be between 300 and 500. It is estimated that 60% of the workforce will be PNG locals. Various levels of PNG government and local communities have expressed concern about the opportunities to maximise local employment. Sources of conflict are yet to be fully realised but the principal concerns are described below. These concerns are amplified by delays in the Environmental Impact Report process, poor consultation practices, a lack of transparency and participation and the inexperience and small size of the company when compared to the size of the project.

Stakeholder engagement was conducted for an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) which was published in January 2013. Policies underlying stakeholder engagement were stated as generic principles which include respect and recognition of cultures and values, transparency and consultation and seeking to create lasting, but temporally unspecific, relationships built on trust and mutual respect. To this end, WML considers that local communities have been consulted and ‘informed’ of planned mining and mine-related activities. A number of global environment Non-Governmental Organisations (NGO’s) and religious organisations are listed within the EIS as being potential stakeholders, but the EIS gives no indication that any NGO groups have been involved. The Mineral Policy Institute requested involvement before the EIS was released for public consultation in July 2013. This was ignored and numerous subsequent requests for the EIS were rejected by Kula Gold directors.

Impacts upon local communities were considered to be ‘direct’, ‘indirect’ or ‘minimal’. This assessment appears based solely upon geographical proximity to the mine itself. The only village considered to be directly impacted by the mine was Kulumandau. In this case, direct impact consists of relocating nearly 10% of the population of Woodlark Island. WML have indicated that it will facilitate communication with the local communities by ‘credible’ and ‘trusted’ representatives, but it is unclear how these representatives were selected and how the qualities of credibility and trustworthiness were measured and whether they were assessed by WML, the local communities or both. Key potential points of conflict involve the lack of specific plans for relocation and compensation of these affected villagers. Relocation will mean that land has to be retitled and returned to traditional owners. These concerns are magnified because of uncertainties about the time-frame of the project and exploration activity associated with adjacent leases.

The proposed marine mine waste disposal has further potential for conflict involving both local communities and those bordering the Solomon Sea. There are specific concerns about the impact on the marine environment and fishing activities in particular. Marine mine waste disposal has proven to be very controversial in PNG and was the subject of a series of court cases involving the Ramu Nickel mine and Basumuk Bay refinery.

Basic Data

Name of conflict:Woodlark Gold Mine, PNG
Country:Papua New Guinea
State or province:Milne Bay Province
Location of conflict:Kulumadau
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)

Source of Conflict

Type of conflict. 1st level:Mineral Ores and Building Materials Extraction
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Mineral ore exploration
Tailings from mines
Land acquisition conflicts
Specific commodities:Gold

Project Details and Actors

Project details

An estimated 11 Mt of ore will be mined by using open cut mining with four pits. Overall total production is estimated to be over 800,000 oz of gold at an average rate of 90,000 oz per year. The mine is expected to produce 12.6 Mt of tailings and Kula Gold’s preference is to pipe these overland and discharge them into Wamunon Bay in the Pacific Ocean some 10 km to the north east of the mine site. In PNG, marine mine waste disposal (MMWD) is also carried out at the Simberi, Lihir and Ramu mines and was carried out at the now closed Misima mine. The disposal of mine waste at sea has proven to be very controversial in PNG and was the subject of a series of court cases involving the Ramu Nickel mine and Basumuk Bay refinery. Extensive new infrastructure is required including roads, camps, power generation and transmission facilities, wharves and warehousing. The mine will be served by an existing airstrip at Guasopa (the principal airstrip for the island) 30 km to the south-east. This will be upgraded for the project and will require construction of new roads to access it. Quarries will be needed to supply building materials and will be constructed adjacent to infrastructure where possible.

Project area:6,000
Level of Investment:160,000,000
Type of populationRural
Affected Population:300-3000
Start of the conflict:01/01/1988
Company names or state enterprises:Kula Gold Limited (KGD) from Australia - Project Owners
Relevant government actors:Papau New Guinea National Government
Papua New Guinea Mineral Resources Authority
Papua New Gunea Department of Environment and Conservation
Milne Bay Provincial Government
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:PNG Mine Watch
Alotau Environment Group
Mineral Policy Institute Australia

Conflict & Mobilization

IntensityLOW (some local organising)
Reaction stagePREVENTIVE resistance (precautionary phase)
Groups mobilizing:Indigenous groups or traditional communities
International ejos
Social movements
Fisher people
Forms of mobilization:Involvement of national and international NGOs
Objections to the EIA
Public campaigns
Arguments for the rights of mother nature

Impacts

Environmental ImpactsPotential: Air pollution, Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Floods (river, coastal, mudflow), Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Noise pollution, Soil contamination, Waste overflow, Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Groundwater pollution or depletion, Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity, Mine tailing spills, Soil erosion, Large-scale disturbance of hydro and geological systems
Health ImpactsPotential: Mental problems including stress, depression and suicide, Health problems related to alcoholism, prostitution, Occupational disease and accidents, Infectious diseases, Deaths
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Displacement, Land dispossession
Potential: Increase in violence and crime, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Specific impacts on women, Loss of landscape/sense of place, Loss of livelihood

Outcome

Project StatusPlanned (decision to go ahead eg EIA undertaken, etc)
Conflict outcome / response:The Environmental permit was granted in Feb. 2014 and the project is still in development with mining not yet started as of May 2015
Development of alternatives:Similar to other mines in Papua New Guinea the Woodlark project is expected to deliver poor social outcomes for local communities and a legacy of terrestrial and marine destruction.
The project should be not proceed as currently designed. It needs to be assessed against other more appropriate development options and should redesigned to limit social and environmental impacts and reassessed with proper consultation on Woodlark Island throughout the Milne Bay Province and with external stakeholders.
The disposal of mine waste into the ocean should be rejected by PNG and the host countries of mining and/or finance companies.
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain:The project has been approved but is unfunded, so remains a threat to Woodlark island and Milne Bay Province.

Sources & Materials

MPI - A New mine for Woodlark island
http://www.mpi.org.au/2015/02/a-new-mine-for-woodlark-island/

Alotau Environment Group
https://www.facebook.com/groups/alotauenvironment.nominingpollution/

Other documents

ALOTAU ENVIRONMENT - Mining in Milne Bay
https://file.ejatlas.org/docs/1887/mining_mb_april_2015.pdf

Meta information

Contributor:Charles Roche, Mineral Policy Institute, Australia. [email protected]
Last update18/08/2019

Images

 

Woodlark Island Beach