Mining in Papua New Guinea: A Complex Story of Trends, Impacts and Governance

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Science of the Total Environment



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Mining is often portrayed as a contributor to sustainable development, especially so in developing countries such as Papua New Guinea (PNG). Since 1970, several large mines have been developed in PNG (e.g. Panguna, Ok Tedi, Porgera, Lihir, Ramu) but always with controversial environmental standards and social impacts often overlooked or ignored. In PNG, mine wastes are approved to be discharged to rivers or oceans on a very large scale, leading to widespread environmental and social impacts – to the point of civil war in the case of Panguna. The intimate links between indigenous communities and their environment have invariably been under-estimated or ignored, leading many to question mining's role in PNG's development. Here, we review the geology of PNG, its mineral resources, mining history, key trends for grades and resources, environmental metrics (water, energy, carbon), mine waste management, and regulatory and governance issues. The study provides a unique and comprehensive insight into the sustainable development contribution of the mining industry in PNG – especially the controversial practices of riverine and marine mine waste disposal. The history of mining is a complex story of the links between the anthroposphere, biosphere, hydrosphere and geosphere. Ultimately, this study demonstrates that the scale of environmental and social impacts and risks are clearly related to the vast scale of mine wastes – a fact which remains been poorly recognised. For PNG, the promise of mining-led development remains elusive to many communities and they are invariably left with significant social and environmental legacies which will last for decades to centuries (e.g. mine waste impacts on water resources). Most recently, the PNG government has moved to ban riverine tailings disposal for future projects and encourage greater transparency and accountability by the mining sector, including its interactions with communities. There remains hope for better outcomes in the future.


Sustainable mining; Riverine tailings; Marine tailings; Papua New Guinea


Earth Sciences | Mining Engineering



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