FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS ABOUT WAFI-GOLPU AND DSTP
1. What is Wafi-Golpu?
The Wafi-Golpu mine is a copper and gold mine that has been proposed to be located approximately 65 kilometres south-west from the city of Lae, in the Morobe province of Papua New Guinea.
2. Who is running the mine?
The mine is run by the Wafi-Golpu Joint Venture, which is 50:50 owned by two PNG companies, Newcrest PNG2Ltd and Wafi Mining Ltd. These companies are owned by Australian companies Newcrest Mining, and Harmony Gold (Australia), an Australian subsidiary of South African mining company Harmony Gold.
3. Where is it up to?
The Wafi-Golpu Joint Venture has received an environmental permit, but has not yet received a special mining licence.
4. How much waste will Wafi-Golpu generate?
The mine is estimated to release 360 million tonnes of mining waste over 28 years - and potentially more, if the mine runs even longer.
5. How long will the mine run for?
The mine is proposed to run for 28 years, however, the Environmental Permit has been granted for 50 years – which raises questions as to whether the mine’s life will be significantly extended.
6. What is DSTP?
Deep sea tailings placement, or ‘DSTP’ refers to the dumping of mining tailings into the deep sea. It is referred to as an alternative to land-based disposal of mining waste, such as tailings dams. Instead, under DSTP, the mineral ore is converted into slurry and transported through a pipeline to be processed at processing plants located at the coast. Waste is subsequently discharged into very deep water offshore.
7. Where will the mining waste be dumped?
The mining waste will be treated and dumped into the ocean offshore from Wagang Beach, at a depth of around ~200 metres.
8. Where will the mining waste go?
The company states that ‘most of’ mining waste will settle on the floor of the Markham Canyon, an underwater trench offshore from the Huon Gulf, deeper than 2km below the waterline. However, the companies’ own scientists admit that only 60 per cent of the mining waste will reach the Markham Canyon, and approximately 40 per cent will disperse in the water column. This means that the companies own scientists admit that 144 million tonnes of mining waste will be dispersed in the water of the Huon Gulf.
However, even this amount is under dispute.
Professor Ralph Mana, who conducted an independent review of the company’s environmental impact assessment (which has not been made public by PNG’s Conservation Environment and Protection Authority, CEPA) has said that: “I would confidently say that less than 10 per cent of tailings might find the canyon, if at all, and the rest will spread in all directions to distances as far as 30km.”
He has also said that: “It will be worse than Basamuk because Basamuk canyon directs the tailings to 800-1,000m depth…The take home message is Wagang is not a good spot for DSTP. Period.”
9. Is the mining waste toxic?
The mining waste from Wafi-Golpu will include arsenic, cadmium, cobalt, mercury, zinc, selenium, lead, manganese, sodium, nickel, vanadium, aluminium, silver, calcium, iron and potassium.
We do not know what levels of each mineral are present in the tailings as this has not been made public by the company. However, exposure to heavy metals can be very damaging to human health.
The mining waste to be dumped into the sea may also include processing chemicals that were used to process the minerals. Many of these chemicals are toxic to aquatic life and can have impacts on human health. There does not appear to have been a scientific study of the impacts of these chemicals by the companies, and no disclosure of how much will be dumped into the ocean.
10. Who will be impacted?
The Morobe province has 9 districts: Bulolo, Finschafen, Huon, Kabwum, Lae, Markham, Menyamya, Nawae, and Tewai/Siassi. Of these, 5 districts are found along the coastline: Tewai/Siassi, Finschafen, Nawae, Lae and Huon – meaning that the majority of districts in Morobe province could be impacted by DSTP.
We estimate that more than 400,000 people along the Huon Gulf could suffer the impacts of DSTP, as well as future generations who also would have depended upon the Huon Gulf.
People living along the 130km pipeline could also be affected if the pipeline were to crack or spill. This could happen, given that PNG is seismically active. The pipeline to the ocean will cross waterways, agricultural gardens, forests and a floodplain. The pipeline will also run through the town of Lae, pumped right past the Yacht Club and all the way to Wagang.
11. Have the companies recorded a baseline in the Huon Gulf?
No, the companies have not recorded baseline environmental, social or economic data regarding the Huon Gulf. This means that it will be difficult or near impossible to monitor changes in the Huon Gulf, and any changes could be conveniently blamed on other factors, for example, climate change.
12. What compensation will coastal communities receive for mining waste being dumped into their ocean?
13. Are there any laws about DSTP in Papua New Guinea?
There are no laws specifically focused on overseeing or regulating DSTP in Papua New Guinea. There are Draft Guidelines for Deep Sea Tailings Placement, however, these are not enforceable. These Draft Guidelines appear to require baselines to be developed, which Wafi-Golpu Joint Venture has not done for the Huon Gulf.
14. How many emissions will Wafi-Golpu generate?
How exactly Wafi-Golpu will be powered has not yet been confirmed. However, it is possible that Wafi-Golpu will be powered by several large diesel generators. Assuming 250 effective working days per year for Wafi-Golpu Mine and 100 MW of power capacity, the amount of power required per annum would be 600 billion watt hours. This would require the combustion of 1,333 trillion liters of diesel annually, which equates to 6.7 trillion barrels (200 litre drums) of diesel per annum.
In terms of CO2 emissions from the combustion of diesel, this would equate to 160 million kilograms (160,000 tonnes) of carbon dioxide emitted from the Wafi-Golpu Mine per annum – or 4,480,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide omitted over its 28 year life.
15. Is there a risk along the pipeline?
Yes. The pipeline which will transport concentrate for processing, will be 130km long.
On September 11 2022, an earthquake measuring 7.6 on the Richter scale was one of the highest ever recorded in Morobe province. If the DSTP pipeline had been operational, the pipeline could have ruptured, spilling toxic mining waste which could have polluted important agricultural land, waterways, villages and even the town of Lae.
Morobe province is the most populated province in PNG - to run a 130km pipeline across a seismically active area is placing an immense risk on the people of Morobe.
16. Does the government have control over DSTP?
There is no regulatory body or legislation in Papua New Guinea to oversee DSTP.
There are no laws, no regulations, and no authority established to monitor, regulate or investigate DSTP, and therefore the government cannot properly protect its people. Without these, the people of Papua New Guinea are left largely unprotected from long-term environmental damage, from effective legal recourse, and from proper scientific investigation.
The entire Morobe Province was caught by surprise when this 7.7M Earthquake struck on Sunday 11th September 2022 causing massive damages, injuries and even deaths. The government response to the earthquake serves as a warning for how it may manage disaster response if DSTP were to go ahead.