PAPUA NEW GUINEA: World Bank suggests closure of copper mine

The Australian press and Reuters have reported that a leaked report written by the World Bank recommends closure of the Ok Tedi copper mine in Papua New Guinea on environmental grounds.

Papua New Guinea’s government asked the World Bank to assess the future viability of the mine following the admission last summer by the mine management that environment impacts have been greater than originally predicted. According to the mine management, the operation involves discharging “about 85 million tonnes of waste rock and tailings into the Ok Tedi [river]”. These discharges have led to sediment build-up in the river bed which has reduced fish habitats, flooding and the death of some “tree species along the river banks and other vegetation”.

The World Bank has refused to comment on the press reports that it has recommended closure, other than to acknowledge that it has assessed the mine.

In June 1999, The Broken Hill Proprietary Company Ltd (BHP), an Australian firm, set out four options for the future of the mine:

  • continue current dredging trial in the lower Ok Tedi river, which is thought to offer “only limited environmental benefits”
  • dredge and pipe tailings to a formed storage area, which would have to be very large and would involve the risk of “acid generation”
  • early mine closure

BHP itself is in favour of a planned, early closure of the mine, according to reports issued this month and last summer by the Australian Broadcasting Commission.

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