EDO’s Papua New Guinean (PNG) legal-advocacy partner CELCOR (Centre for Environmental Law and Community Rights) and their client Project Sepik have this week called for the rejection of the Sepik Development Infrastructure Project, which includes the Frieda River copper and gold mine. This mine would be the largest ever in PNG and one of the largest in the world. Waste from the proposed mine would need to be stored forever in a tailings dam 2.5 times the size of Sydney Harbour, in a seismically active area of PNG which is also prone to extreme rainfall. 

The call to reject the mine proposal came as Project Sepik submitted 10 independent expert reports on the EIS (Environmental Impact Statement) to PNG’s Conservation and Environmental Protection Authority (CEPA). The expert advice identified significant environmental and community impacts from the project and that the EIS is severely deficient. Submissions on the EIS closed on Tuesday 31 March 2020.

Project Sepik called the EIS ‘unfit for purpose’ on three main grounds.

  • First, the independent experts raised serious concerns about the Project’s ability to securely store the massive amount of mine waste (tailings) safely. The Project is being developed in a seismically active area which is also subject to extreme rainfall. Project Sepik is concerned that damage to the tailings dam, causing catastrophic downstream damage, is inevitable at some point in time.
  • Second, the EIS contains no evidence of free, prior and informed consent of all impacted customary landowners, including communities on the mine site and along the Frieda and Sepik Rivers.    
  • Third, the EIS is missing critical reports and information that are required for a comprehensive assessment of the EIS. Crucial underlying reports relating to the tailings dam and seismic reports were not made publicly available. The EIS is also missing an adequate assessment of the operation and closure of the mine, an assessment of the proposed airport and a resettlement plan for the four villages requiring relocation. It is also missing a comprehensive cost-benefit analysis.

The mine is projected to last for an initial 33 years – although the EIS indicates the proponents may seek permission to extend the life of the mine. It would be situated on the Frieda River, a tributary to the longest river in PNG, the Sepik, which is comparable in size to the Amazon. In 2006, the Upper Sepik River Basin was transitionally listed for World Heritage Status by the PNG Government. The Sepik region is a haven for biodiversity and home to some of PNG’s rarest plants and animals. It is the largest unpolluted freshwater system in PNG and one of the largest and most intact freshwater basins in the Asia Pacific. If the mine were to go ahead, the region could face catastrophic and permanent destruction.

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