Ok Tedi pollution slammed
By Norm Dixon
The BHP-controlled Ok Tedi gold and copper mine in Papua New Guinea's Western Province has been found guilty of seriously polluting the Ok Tedi and Fly rivers through its disregard for environmental safeguards.
The ruling was made by the Amsterdam-based International Water Tribunal (IWT). The PNG government was criticised for encouraging the mining giant's activities.
The Times of PNG reported on February 27 that the IWT, an independent body set up to settle disputes over fresh water resources, found that the mine's waste disposal practices were responsible for the pollution. The body was acting on a complaint laid by the Wau (PNG) Ecology Institute.
An IWT jury found that Ok Tedi Mining Limited (OTML) does not have a satisfactory disposal system. This results in the discharge of large quantities of toxic tailings and waste water and the dumping of tonnes of waste rock into the two rivers. As many as 30,000 people rely on these rivers for their livelihoods.
The dumping has caused a build-up of silt on the riverbed which causes flooding of plantations and food gardens. The disruption of the river ecosystem threatens the fish on which villagers rely for food. Boat transportation has also been disrupted.
The IWT accused OTML of using its foreign exchange earning power to blackmail the government into allowing the discharge of waste at levels above the limits set out in environmental laws.
The tribunal called on the company at least to meet the environmental standards that apply in its home countries. As well as Australian-owned BHP, OTML's shareholders include the German government, German-owned Metalgesellschaft and Amoco, the US oil company.
Ok Tedi management claims that the cost of the construction of a tailings dam would make the mine uneconomic, and the PNG government has accepted this. The IWT said that if this is really the case, then the overall cost of the mine in environmental damage and effects on people's health far outweighs the mine's benefits, and it should phased out.