World Bank Calls for Ok Tedi Mine Closure Following Romanian Cyanide Spill - Message to BHP: Clean Up Ok Tedi; Message to Mining Industry: Stop Dumping in Rivers

Mineral Policy Center – Mineral Policy Institute – MiningWatch Canada – Non-governmental Environmental Watchdog Group

Washington, D.C. — A new World Bank report calls on the mining company Broken Hill Proprietary (BHP) to immediately close the troubled Ok Tedi mine in Papua New Guinea due to the environmental damage being caused by the mine. In response to the report, international environmental groups including U.S.-based Mineral Policy Center, the Australia-based Mineral Policy Institute, MiningWatch Canada, and Papua New Guinea's Non-governmental Environmental Watchdog Group, called on BHP to take full responsibility for mine cleanup by implementing a comprehensive mine closure plan.

This report follows the recent cyanide spill at a mine in Romania, which devastated a 250-mile stretch of the Danube River and its tributaries. At BHP's Ok Tedi mine, however, BHP is intentionally dumping mine waste into the Ok Tedi and Fly rivers, and the environmental impacts are devastating. This is a practice that would not be allowed in most developed countries.

BHP has recognized the significant environmental damage caused by the mine and the company has said that the mine operation is contrary to its current environmental charter. The mine has experienced repeated cyanide spills. After the waste dam collapsed in 1984, BHP has been dumping over 80,000 tons per day of contaminated waste rock and tailings directly into the Ok Tedi and Fly rivers. As a result, significant portions of these rivers are biologically dead.

The World Bank's report, commissioned by the Papua New Guinea government, sharply critiques BHP's Ok Tedi mine and the options BHP has considered for remediation. According to the World Bank, BHP "reviews a limited set of technical options ... that minimizes overall risk to shareholders."

"You can draw a direct line from the Romanian cyanide spill which devastated the Danube to BHP's Ok Tedi mine in Papua New Guinea. In both cases, irresponsible mining practices have literally killed rivers. But at BHP's mine, after the tailings dam collapsed, BHP kept mining and pumped the waste directly into the river. This is willful environmental misconduct," Stephen D'Esposito, president of Mineral Policy Center, said today in response to the World Bank report.

D'Esposito continued: "There is only one acceptable course of action for BHP. They should design a full-scale cleanup of the rivers and surrounding ecosystems and set aside all of the funds necessary to complete the cleanup. This is what BHP would do today in the U.S. In fact, in 1998, when a tailings pile collapsed at BHP's Pinto Valley Mine in Arizona, BHP conducted a cleanup of the pristine Pinto Creek. BHP is obligated to do the same in Papua New Guinea."

D'Esposito also called on BHP to stop riverine waste disposal. "Today we are calling on BHP to make a pledge to end the practice of dumping mine waste directly into rivers in all parts of the world. Despite its stated commitment to safe environmental practice, and despite the lessons of Ok Tedi, it has not yet made a public commitment to never let another Ok Tedi occur."

"BHP's irresponsible attempt to walk away from the problem and receive legal indemnity is totally unacceptable. BHP is putting share value ahead of the livelihoods of thousands of people. The World Bank report reaffirms the long held position of non-governmental groups in Papua New Guinea, Australia, Canada and the USA. If the mine cannot operate without causing massive environmental and social destruction, it must close, and BHP must fully rehabilitate damaged communities and environments," Geoff Evans, director of the Mineral Policy Institute, said today.

According to Wep Kanawi, spokesperson for Papua New Guinea's Non-governmental Environmental Watchdog Group, "A mine closure plan needs to be put in place immediately. At the mine site, BHP must fund a transition to a sustainable local economy. The communities affected by loss of fish and destruction of riverbank gardens downstream must be compensated and their environment rehabilitated."

"It's payback time for BHP. Their account is due on Ok Tedi and they must be made to do the right thing and ante up for damages as an example to the industry as a whole," said Alan Young, chairman of MiningWatch Canada. "If BHP can get away with this in Papua New Guinea, then what can we expect as Canadians from BHP's diamond mine in northern Canada? There should be no double standard on cleanup for mining companies."

- END -

* Stephen D'Esposito, Mineral Policy Center 202.887.1872 ext. 203, 202.422.8991 (mobile)
* Alan Young, MiningWatch Canada – c/o Canadian Environmental Law Association 416.960.2284
* Geoff Evans, Mineral Policy Institute 02.9387.5540, 0418.261.404 (mobile)