"We declare our first goal to be for every person to be dynamically involved in the process of freeing himself or herself from every form of domination or oppression so that each man or woman will have the opportunity to develop as a whole person in relationship with others".

- Papua New Guinea National Goals and Directive Principles

Tuesday, 31 January 2012

A Political Economy of the Tumbi Disaster

PM O'Neil comforts a woman who lost her young son at Tumbi. Source: Post-Courier

All is quite in Tumbi.

While LNG Watch is doing its best - with no financial resources - to contact local residents, report on their concerns, and relay vital information from key experts, the press is entranced with mutinies in Port Moresby.

Surely more than one plate can be spun at a time; after all we are talking about one of the worst disasters in PNG's history. For those who can remember Australia's Thredbo landslide,  they will recall the media was camped out at the disaster site 24/7, relaying news of survivors, conveying the suffering of victims, and keeping a spotlight on the issue to ensure politicians acted.

This is not occurring in Tumbi. As a result of this silence, the public are unaware of the desperate humanitarian situation. They are also unaware that two leading international landslide experts - Prof Dave Petley and Prof Tim Sullivan - have gone on  record and demanded  a vigorous, wide-ranging investigation.

The O'Neil government has promised an independent investigation, which is good. However, we should be under no illusion about the complexity and difficulty of the task ahead. First, there is the scientific challenges investigators will face. However, these challenges may pale into insignificance in comparison to the political hurdles.

It would appear ExxonMobil, despite their loud claims to the contrary, are extremely worried that they will not meet the 2014 production date. Were this to occur, the consequences for the LNG operater would be severe. ExxonMobil have forward sales contracts - if they fail to meet their obligations in this respect, they will suffer financial penalties and possibly the loss of significant business. Consequently, they will not want investigators stirring up untoward findings that could inflame already tense relations with landowners. A major shut-down of the operation, would leave the project reeling (and a lot of people, not only foreigners, have a lot of money riding on the operation; look at the luxury hotels popping up in Port Moresby).

Compounding matters, the O'Neil government are faced with almost daily challenges from the ousted - and corrupt - Somare regime. In order to consolidate their own position in power, the O'Neil government has enacted a large program of public spending designed to woo voters. In this political climate, the O'Neil government cannot afford to take steps which might upset the very future income stream their grand gestures are based upon.

Therefore, while we hope to be proven wrong, it would appear better for both ExxonMobil and the O'Neil government if this sorry saga is allowed to gently drift off into the night. It is a Pandoras box, which no one in power really wants to open. Nevertheless, they do not lack the capacity. The O'Neil government includes a number of capable Ministers (e.g. Sam Basil) who have the credentials, respect, and ability to ensure a robust investigation occurs.

The more feet drag on this issue, the more suspicions will grow that there is something to hide. If this indeed was simply a tragic act of nature, then it would be in everyone's interest if the government and LNG venture cooperated to get a robust investigation under way. Moreover, this should be accompanied by a program of humanitarian assistance. People are in desperate need, and many families need to be relocated to safe areas, without being thrown into dependency.  

Now is the time for journalists to stand up and be counted; it is during these periods of crisis and turmoil that the media can prove its critical worth to the public. There is only so much NGOs and bloggers can do. Therefore, we hope renewed efforts will be placed into shining a spotlight on the disaster.

Professor of Hazard and Risk claims Tumbi Inquiry "Urgently Required"

The Tumbi Landslide
By Dave Petley, Wilson Professor of Hazard and Risk in the Department of Geography at Durham University, United Kingdom. Originally posted on The Landslide Blog.
The landslide a week ago in Papua New Guinea continues to generate a great deal of noise in that part of the world.  The confirmed death toll is now 25 people, but that number is expected to rise.  However, given the size of the landslide, I wonder whether it is really possible to recover all of the victims.  Only four bodies have been recovered to date.
There are now some better images of the landslide available online.  This one, from the Australian, appears to show the head-scarp area:
The article suggests that the landslide occurred at the site of a limestone quarry (of which more below).  Certainly the rock would appear to be limestone with quite a thick soil layer.  The very planar rear scarp would suggest a large, unfavourable joint as the release plane.  The block at the top on the left is still sitting on this joint and may be unstable.  The joint either has a very weathered surface and/or is draped by soil from above.
There is also a good overview photograph from the Namorong Report website:

It is interesting to see the way in which the lower part of the  landslide has bifurcated down two drainage paths – unusual but not at all unprecedented.  Of more interest is the apparently large lateral margin scarp on the far side of the landslide, below the trees, which suggests that the landslide has removed a considerable volume of material on that side.  It is hard to tell, but this does not seem to be replicated on the nearside.  To me this suggests quite a complex landslide process (although this does not mean that the triggering process itself was complex). This does suggest that if a meaningful investigation of this landslide is to be undertaken then it will need someone who really knows how to interpret landslide processes.  It is not likely to be straightforward in any way.
At the time of the landslide there were suggestions that it was linked to the LNG pipeline being built through the area by ExxonMobil.  It now appears that the hillslope was a limestone quarry associated with the project, which fits with my observations of the area at the crown of the landslide.  There is a pdf online here,with an Esso Highlands logo, entited “TUMBI QUARRY (QA1) Resettlement Action Plan”, which states that “Tumbi Quarry, known as QA1, is required for aggregate to be used by the Project in the Komo area. The Project will be leasing the quarry from Hides Gas Development Corporation (HGDC) for an estimated two year period, depending on aggregate requirements of the Project, after which the quarry will be returned to HGDC.”
The LNG watch blog has a post by Dr Kristian Laslett of Ulster University, which notes that the site had been blasted in the days leading up to the landslide.  This seems to be supported by various news reports, although of course there is no proof either way.  It seems entirely plausible, though not certain, that the landslide could have been triggered by blasting.  There are many previous examples of landslides being triggered by quarries.
It seems to me that an investigation of this event is urgently required.  However, the investigation does need to be undertaken by an open-minded, independent and very experienced team as the landslide is complex.  IF the quarry was the cause or trigger for the landslide, and if it was providing rock for the Exxon-Mobil project, then this is surely somewhat significant.
Given the focus on the Deepwater Horizon accident a couple of years ago, I am amazed that the mainstream media are not pursuing this story with some alacrity.  One would also hope that Exxon-Mobil will fund a proper investigation of this, and that they will look again at any other quarries that are providing rock for the pipeline project.

Monday, 30 January 2012

Whoa hang on! Lets investigate before giving CCJV more contracts.

While the bodies of villagers trapped under the Tumbi landslide remain buried, the Post-Courier (30/1/12) reports today that: "PNG LNG Project engineering and procurement (EPC) contractor Clough Curtain Joint Venture (CCJV) has been awarded a new work order contract for the project’s upstream infrastructure contract taking total work to $914 million (K2 billion)".

For those living near the Tumbi disaster site, the name Clough Curtain Joint Venture now sends a chill up people's spines. CCJV are the ones who developed the quarry, which more and more experts are fingering as the possible cause of this tragic landslide. 

Indeed, just a day after the disaster it was reported that: "Locals blamed international contractor Clough Curtain Joint Venture (CCJV) for not developing the Tumbi quarry including proper safety procedures that resulted in the loose rocks and soil from the top of Gigira mountain range to cascade causing severe destructions on its way down" (Post-Courier, 25/1/12).

It is a testament to the hubris of ExxonMobil that they would grant this new contract, before there has been a proper investigation into the disaster. We wonder whether it was this same operational hubris, which may have provoked the disaster?  

It is time for the government to come out with a firm plan. Prof Tim Sullivan has already raised concerns over the loss of evidence at the disaster site. While Dr Kristian Lasslett has offered advice on how the inquiry could be conducted. What is stopping the O'Neil government? We appreciate they are dealing with the last desperate gasps of the Somare regime; but Somare has done enough damage, do not allow him to do anymore by taking eyes off the ball on this largescale disaster. 

Sunday, 29 January 2012

Landslide affected families demand immediate resettleme​nt of 4 clans affected

The traditional landowners of the Tumbi quarry have called on both the Government and the Developer to immediately relocate the four major clans (Ware, Pepe, Parakua and Imini) to safe and secure agricultural land before they become the next landslide victims.

The leaders of the clans namely: Giya Hawi, Libe Hale, Tokoya Piwago, Wabe Ako, Abe Okopi, Tiki Halimbu, Tomo Warolo, Urupu Andawi, Wandipe Kau, Ekanda Timbabu, Timothy Nogobe, Ekawi Hale, Tiki Yuli, Peter Pamiari, Hiruba Yakapi, Tamita Malamu, Ekawi Tanda, Ako Tagirali, Tumbiyama Andigi, Eka Lawi, Nane Pipila, John Kuni, Pape Timbabu, Toya Komapuk, Tandali Kilip, Tabi Togola, Kula Potabe, Kupiawi Aluya, Daniel Huripa and Michael Kane talked to this reporter this afternoon from Tumbi village.

"People are not willing to give us shelter, food, clothes, land and gardens because of the impression that we are rich landowners...We are victimized by the so called Multi Million Kina  LNG project", said Mr. Hibson Puma.
The Tumbi Quarry landowner Chief Yogobo Piwago said, he had requested many times for the developer (ExxonMobil) to resettle the village before work began on the quarry but this fell on deaf ears.

"We have been living on this land for the past 6000 years", said Mr Timothy Nogobe, "this is the first time our mountain has killed us. We have therefore come to conclude that what has  triggered the landslide is the quarry and the use of chemicals and dynamite to blast the quarry at the top of the mountain, this has changed the ground water (Tumbi and Tuku) for the rapid breakdown of the mountain Tumbi burying alive more than 25 people. According to Hela historical record, our mountains (namely GIGIRA, HALIAGO, ILU, KEPUA, URAGA, BE-DINI, AMBUA-KELAPO AND TAU-PARILA) have withstood the earth quakes, intense rainfalls but never collapsed its structures like what happened at Tumbi Quarry".

Mr. Michael Kane said that "we support the LNG project but it must be done within the laws of our country and it must respect the rights of the indigenous landowners and its environment. Our long journey to successfully harvesting the benefits of our Gas depends on how well, the State and the Developer proactively and sensitively address this disaster with the victim and affected families within the quarry Tumbi".

Mr. Hibson Puma called on the PPC and PSC in Tari to use the Tari, Koroba and Margarima Police to provide security at the site and not hire mobile squads from outside the Province as it is insulting to the immediate families of the deaths. "We are not at war! We need clean water, garden food, shelter and comfort. We do not need to see high powered guns in this type of situation".

PNG LNG Watch fears that if ExxonMobil and the PNG government does not respond to the affected landowners' demand at this time, the frustration of the deceased relatives will rise and might cause the destruction on the PNG LNG project.

Expert argues disaster investigation must be wide ranging and independent

Investigating the Tumbi Disaster

By Dr Kristian Lasslett*

(Originally posted on the International State Crime Initiative Website and the Institute for Research in the Social Sciences Blog, University of Ulster)  

Source: AP/Post-Courier

At around 4am last Tuesday morning, a landslide 1.5km along swept through Tumbi, in Papua New Guinea’s Southern Highlands, while residents lay asleep. Reporting from the ground, Andrew Alphonse conveys a scene of devastation:

The sound of wailing fills the air around the legendary Gigira mountain in Tari as mothers openly shed tears as they go about trying to locate their loved ones in one of the worst landslides ever recorded in Papua New Guinea. Clad in mud and weeping and wailing, the mothers are joined by other villagers, lucky to be spared by the tonnes of mud, huge limestone slabs and debris that came down suddenly on the sleeping village at the foot of the mountain. (Post-Courier, 25/1/2012).

While the death toll remains unknown at this stage, it is expected that up to 60 villagers may have perished.

People’s first thoughts have, of course, been for the victims and their families. Nevertheless, questions are beginning to be asked about the cause of the landslide. In particular, concerns have been raised over the potentially destabilising effects of a local quarry, which was developed for a $US15.7 billion liquefied natural gas venture, headed by ExxonMobil.

Bill Yomba, from Papua New Guinea’s National Disaster Office told CNN: "We are still trying to find out the cause but at this stage we believe the gas project run by Esso Higlands Limited [ExxonMobil subsidiary] was a contributor because they had been digging for limestone in the area" (CNN, 25/1/12). Yomba’s concerns are shared by Sir Alfred Kaiabe, a former member of parliament for the region, who informed ABC Radio that this sort of landslide is unprecedented in the area (ABC Radio, 25/1/12).

Local residents have also raised questions. The ABC’s Liam Fox reports:

There are people - locals are already drawing some links. How correct that is, we're not able to say yet. But they believe that the quarry next to the landslide site caused the landslide. That blasting in the past has, quote, 'softened the ground' as they have said. And that quarry was used by the LNG site for its operations. (ABC Radio, 25/1/12)

Given these serious concerns, calls are being made for an independent investigation into the disaster. The Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea, Peter O’Neil, having inspected the affected area, has promised to appoint an independent investigative team (PacNews, 26/1/12). This is a welcomed step. Too often in Papua New Guinea local knowledge is ignored. Indeed, one of the factors contributing to the country’s greatest crisis to date – the Bougainville conflict – was the dismissal of local concerns over the Panguna mine’s environmental effects, as ill-informed conspiracy theories. 

Landowners, NGOs, and local politicians have come out in support of the Prime Minister’s proposal. Speaking on the Pacific Beat program, member for Komo-Magarima claims:

At the moment, people have their own views on what has caused the landslide, but we will wait for the investigation to happen and that investigation is most welcome by myself and all the members of parliament from Southern Highlands as well as the landowner leaders and landowners and the people themselves. (ABC Radio 27/1/12)

Local NGO LNG Watch has also rallied behind an independent investigation, claiming that it could prevent further tragedy:

Mount Gigira, it’s a kind of range; people are sleeping along that place all the way to Hides 1, 2, 3 and 4 (numbers refer to Petroleum Development License areas) and then down to Komo. So that thing (the landslide) might happen again. So to stop that incident happening in the future, I want these people to come in and do the investigation. (Radio New Zealand, 27/1/12)

However, if local concerns are indeed to be adequately addressed it is essential that the investigation is conducted in an open and transparent manner, using a range of experts, who consult closely with those in the devastated region; landowner knowledge of the local environment must be given its proper due.

The investigative team should also have the resources to independently study the region, without over-reliance on datasets produced by ExxonMobil or its subsidiaries/contractors (unfortunately, there may be a dearth of independent data to draw on, which will make matters difficult).

Furthermore, it is not enough to send in a team of natural scientists. While earth science specialists will of course be critical, the literature on disasters is clear, complex social factors mediate these types of events. Co-Director of the International State Crime Initiative (ISCI), Prof Penny Green observes, “it is not the climatic or geophysical hazard which kills – rather it is the political, economic and social structures which determine population vulnerability that bear responsibility” (Green 2011). Consequently, if the right research questions are to be formulated, social scientists with relevant expertise must be utilised.

In the interests of transparency and independence, civil society should be centrally involved in overseeing the inquiry. Indeed involving NGOs, scholars, and community groups, would be a healthy step in ensuring the investigation is robust, vigilant, and unafraid to ask difficult questions.

The parameters of the study must be wide also. In particular, critical questions must be levelled at the national government, in addition to ExxonMobil. While the O’Neil government is proving more resilient in the face of demands by major resource operators, we know from revelations involving the recently ousted Somare regime that the Papua New Guinea state has over the past two decades viewed itself primarily as a business partner of resource operators (Dateline, 26/6/11). This attitude has had a debilitating effect on the nation’s regulatory apparatus. Consequently, we saw most recently a waste disposal method banned in China, the US and Canada, approved for the Ramu Nickel mine, without adequate data on the serious social and environmental consequences of this decision.

At present efforts and resources should rightly be focused upon stabilising the landslide area, and housing the displaced. Nevertheless, for landowners who have already raised serious questions about the equity of the LNG operation, it would be provocative in the extreme, if this tragedy became the subject of a whitewash. 

Dr Kristian Lasslett is the Papua New Guinea Coordinator for the International State Crime Initiative and is a Lecturer in Criminology at the University of Ulster. He can be contacted at kak.lasslett@ulster.ac.uk

Saturday, 28 January 2012

Further Evidence Supports an Independent Inquiry into the Tumbi Disaster

LNG Watch, both in this blog and on Radio New Zealand, has called for an independent investigation into the cause of the recent Tumbi landslide disaster.

To date, the National Disaster Office has pointed the finger at ExxonMobil owing to the existence of a quarry in the vicinity of the landslide area. Testimony from local landowners would suggest there may be some merit to this claim. LNG Watch has been told that a project contractor used high explosives in the quarry, without first carrying out a feasibility study. Landowners claim they demanded a study, but their cries were left unheard.  If this is true then proper due diligence has not been exercised.

Moreover, experts who have worked in the affected area are raising concerns in the social media. This following note was posted on PNG Exposed:

I am a professional earth scientist wanting eagerly to know the final outcomes & conclusions of the investigations by foreign experts. I have not been to the area since the nineties, but I believe they  must have cut a big hole into the mountain side to dig out the  karanas; thus under-cutting the mountain face. When the mountain face  would not hold any longer, the recent rains just caused it to slide. Limestone does not hold water & thus only results in reels & loose rock falls; not the entire mountain as in this case.......get the quarry operator to provide all designs & recent survey pick-up of quarry works just before the land slide; else they are at fault.

Of course, at the moment these are speculative claims – they must be verified with solid evidence before finger pointing begins. Hence the importance of an independent inquiry.

Moreover, as we have previously stated, this inquiry must scrutinise the national government. Too often resource developers are being allowed to conduct operations without regulatory oversight. This is having devastating environmental impacts around the country.

We are pleased to see the Prime Minister has come out in support of an independent investigation; we hope he is true to his word. Sadly, all we can hope for now is truth, the damage to local communities will never be undone. 

Thursday, 26 January 2012

LNG Watch Calls for an Independent Investigation into the Hides Landslide

While the facts surrounding the tragic Hides landslide remain sketchy, prima facie evidence is being produced which indicates this was not purely a natural disaster. While it is important at this stage that people remain focused on the rescue efforts, serious attention must be given to the cause of this disaster. LNG Watch, therefore, fully supports James Marape's (Hela Transitional Authority Chairman) call for an independent investigation into the landslide.

While the geophysics of the area may have made the landslide an inherent risk, the critical question is - did the work of ExxonMobil (or  its subsidaries) increase the risk of the landslide? If so, why did the company fail to identify this risk, and put in place the proper safety measures? Moreover, the investigation must also focus on the state. It has a regulatory duty to the citizens of PNG to ensure industry conducts itself in a safe and competent manner.

We know from recent events in Madang involving the Ramu mine, that the national government prefers to see itself as a business partner, not a regulator. Has this attitude helped create the environment in which unsafe industrial practices can proliferate, leading to events such as the recent landslide?

Of course, we must be clear, LNG Watch is not accusing ExxonMobil of criminal conduct; however, fundamental questions need to be answered. The only way they can be answered to a standard that will give peace to the relatives of victims, is if an independent inquiry takes place. Moreover, this independent inquiry needs to include a broad range of experts from a variety of fields if it is to be robust. We hope the O'Neil government has the courage to break with the past business-partner model, so that this event can be scrutinised properly.

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

ExxonMobil contributed to the landslide claims National Disaster Office!

We have now all learnt that tragedy has struck residents living near ExxonMobil's  Souther Highlands operation. A large landslide 1km long has destroyed dozens of homes. Sadly, the death toll could reach 60. 

                                          Source: ABC News

Clearly our first thoughts must go out to the family of the victims. However, given the scale of this tragedy it would be remiss if we did not consider whether there was a causal link between the landslide and ExxonMobil's operations. When asked by ABC Radio, Exxonmobil denied the link. Nevertheless, disturbing evidence is beginning to emerge. 

For example, in today's Namarong Report it was reported that United Nations PNG Coordinator has pointed the finger at Exxonmobil's operation. However, perhaps most damningly Bill Yomba from the National Disaster Office made the following remark to CNN:
"This is a very huge landslide that covered a 1 kilometer area. We are still trying to find out the cause but at this stage we believe the gas project run by Esso Higlands Limited was a contributor because they had been digging for limestone in the area".
According to the ABC's Liam Fox similar accusations are being levelled by villagers near the landslide:

"There are people - locals are already drawing some links. How correct that is, we're not able to say yet. But they believe that the quarry next to the landslide site caused the landslide. That blasting in the past has, quote, 'softened the ground' as they have said. And that quarry was used by the LNG site for its operations. But Exxon Mobil says that's not the case anymore and hasn't been for about six months."
The Post-Courier is relaying similar views from the ground:
"Locals blamed international contractor Clough Curtain Joint Venture (CCJV) for not developing the Tumbi quarry including proper safety procedures that resulted in the loose rocks and soil from the top of Gigira mountain range to cascade causing severe destructions on its way down." 
In a move that may seem insensitive in light of the tragedy, ExxonMobil has resumed work in the affected area - whether this risks further destabilising the site we are not sure. ExxonMobil's spokesman Rebecca Arnold has informed investors and customers this event will not prevent it from meeting its corporate targets. 

Rest assured LNG Watch will keep readers fully updated on information as it comes to hand. It is absolutely essential for the victims and their family that the accusations again ExxonMobil are thoroughly investigated. 

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Landslide in Papua New Guinea: 40 missing

Reuters News Service, 24 January 2012
 A landslide swept through two villages in Papua New Guinea on Tuesday, covering much of the settlements in mud and leaving up to 40 people missing, officials and residents told Australian media.
The accident, which occurred in the island state's Southern Highlands on Tuesday morning, prompted U.S. oil giant Exxon Mobil to stop work at its nearby $15.7 billion liquefied natural gas (PNG LNG) project.
The Australian Broadcasting Corporation said it was unclear how many people had been affected by the landslide due to conflicting local reports.
But local parliamentarian Francis Potape told ABC radio the slide covered two villages in mud, leaving some residents buried. Joseph Warai, a resident of the stricken area, said around 40 people were missing.
The Papua New Guinea police and the National Disaster Centre were unavailable for comment, with officials expected at the landslide site on Wednesday.
Papua New Guinea shares the island of New Guinea with Indonesia, and is Australia's nearest neighbour, directly north. The majority of its people live subsistence lives despite its abundant mineral wealth.
ExxonMobil leads a consortium building the LNG project, the country's biggest-ever resource undertaking due to come on stream in 2014. The project is expected to produce 6.6 million tonnes per annum and could see GDP increase by 20 percent.
Exxon spokeswoman Rebecca Arnold said she had no details on the scale of the landslide or when work would resume on PNG LNG.
"All PNG LNG Project personnel have been accounted for," Arnold said. The company said it would help with any rescue effort.

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Police Association Warns: RPNGC Works for Private Patrons

Blinked and you would have missed it, but here is a very interesting posting by NBC news that appeared on Facebook last Sunday:

The Police Association, meanwhile, alleges, a lot of money is being used to keep the Police force responsive to orders the political masters involved in the current political developments. Association General Secretary Clemence Kanau says, the Association is serious concerned, this should not be the case, since the police force is only responsible to the national constitutional. 
"When our police members came in from the highlands region,they are not reporting to one or reporting or advocating for the constitution but they are reporting for the interest of individuals. And we are told, lot of funds, lot of money has been used in terms of making sure our policemen are being responsive to the cause of money but not the cause of the constitution. We have tirelessly in the last couple of years, raised salary and allowances of the policemen, three consecutive times and we are happy that the policemen today are highly paid, but because of the money and because of their interest to serve the politicians of the day, force is now divided, we are very much concerned"

Readers will recall similar concerns were raised in 2010 and 2011, when it was found the RPNGC was on Esso Highlands payroll. Indeed on the 10 November 2010, LNG Watch wrote: "A figure of K2 million has been cited as the per month subsidy Exxon Mobil are/will provide the RPNGC for security services". 

Unfortunately, it appears from Kanau's comments the problem persists. This raises the question, if the police are working for their political and economic paymasters, who is policing the powerful?

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Hides gas plant site closed

Angry LOs block off road
ANDREW ALPHONSE, The Post Courier, 17 January 2012
ANGRY Hides gas field landowners in Tari, Hela Province have forcefully shut down the operations of the existing Hides gas to electricity plant site as of 2am on Sunday. 

They felled trees and dug a huge drain across the access road at Kulu near Yuni, preventing movement of workmen and vehicles to the plant site and Nogoli camp where operator Oil Search Limited (OSL) is based. 

The Post-Courier visited the site on Sunday afternoon and observed that locals had used spades and steel rods to dig up the road under the cover of darkneww without being detected by OSL security. The locals also chained the gates to the plant site, preventing OSL workmen from gaining access. An OSL security officer at Nogoli confirmed the shutdown to the Post-Courier, stating that the closure of the plant site is placing OSL under extreme pressure as the gas plant operations supplies electricity to power the nearby Porgera gold mine operations in the Enga Province.

Hides PDL 1 landowner leaders from the 17 clans that receive yearly rental royalties are frustrated over certain unresolved issues with the State and decided to take action. Spokesmen Howard Timania (Humani clan), Hengebe Hondope (Pina) and Ekape Andiria (Pina) said the State through its relevant agencies like Department of Petroleum and Energy (DPE), National Planning and Finance and Treasury have failed to address all outstanding Hides PDL 1 issues for nearly 20 years now while attention is shifted to the multi-billion kina PNG LNG project landowners from the neighbouring Hides 4 PDL 7, Angore PDL 8, Juha PDL 9, the proposed Komo LNG international airport and the proposed LNG conditioning plant site near the Hides 4 well pad head.

The leaders said Hides PDL 1 have presented submissions after submissions but these are filing up at DPE and National Planning offices while the State deemed fit to entertain and pay benefits to other landowners like Hides PDL 8 who just received their K16 million business development grants (BDG).

They said last week the 17 landowner groups were paid a mere K14,000 as annual rental payment for the plant site by DPE but this amount is “peanuts” compared to the millions of kina the operations at Hides PDL 1 has being making both for the developer OSL and the State in the past 19 years. The landowners said LNG project developer ExxonMobil has also raised many false and high expectations for the landowners when in fact there is nothing sustainable for the landowners to participate and they are mere spectators in their own land and that it was unfair for Hides PDL 1 landowners as their existing Hides PDL 1 project would supply more than 80 per cent of raw gas in the LNG project. They said OSL was also shifting the blame to ExxonMobil and the State while it (OSL) is also another major partner in the LNG project development. They said because of the failure by the State to address all these outstanding issues at Hides PDL 1, landowners who were marginalised but patient for nearly 20 years had decided to take action to show their frustration.

The leaders also demand a positive response from Petroleum and Energy Minister in the O’Neill-Namah government, William Duma to honour their K500 million outstanding Hides MOU claim be paid while another K40 million golden handshake’’ for the old Hides chiefs as per the Kokopo 2009 umbrella benefit sharing agreement (UBSA) commitment be paid too.

The landowners said they would still hold the road in ransom until the State, OSL and ExxonMobil comes to heed their plight.

Hides chief and Komo LLG deputy president Peter Pureni yesterday called on Mr Duma and Treasurer Don Polye to immediately go to Hides and meet the landowners. Mr Pureni said several times he has advised the State on their failure to address issues at Hides and now the landowners have resorted to taking the action to shut down the plant site.

Police mobile squads attached with LNG security operations are monitoring the situation, but could not remove the road blocks.

The closure of the plant site is affecting all EPC 4 international contractors working at Hides 4, conditioning plant sites, well pad, access roads, Kobalu, Komo and related quarry developments to come to a standstill as they could not get diesel supplies for the heavy machinery, equipment, trucks and vehicles. Post-Courier travelled to Hides 4 on Sunday afternoon and saw machines, equipment and trucks grounded while only light 4WD trucks were doing other odd jobs in the normally busy and hectic project area. 

These contractors depend on the mini refinery at Hides plant for their diesel supply.

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

ExxonMobil’s Neo-Colonial Views on Papua New Guinea

In a speech that would have made former Minister of Territories, Charles Barnes blush, Project Manager for the PNG LNG project, Decie Autin, has demonstrated that neo-colonialism is alive and well (as if we didn’t know).

Presenting at a Chamber of Mines and Petroleum seminar (one organisational centre for the natural resource swindle) in early December 2011, Autin made predictable remarks about Exxon’s corporate social responsibility (we still await for the Post-Courier to transcribe these remarks as a ‘news report’) – however, punctuating her speech were a series of patronising comments and implicit threats (clothed of course in business euphemisms).

She begins with the observation:

Gas projects are very capital intensive. Unlike most mining Projects we have to build  vast infrastructure up front at great costs in the expectation that we will see a return on  the investment over the life of the Project.  So in order to attract the huge capital investment required, and to gain the gas  customers’ confidence, we have to convince them that we can do this … and we can do  it on schedule,  while delivering on our commitments in the areas of safety, health,  environment and social management ... Reputation is everything in this business. 

Autin then identifies a series of threats to the LNG operation, that she suggests could potentially undo the project’s reputation. At one stage PNG’s culture enters Autin's crosshair. She claims, “Papua New Guinea’s unique geographical, social and cultural characteristics have  always presented issues and challenges for any business operating in the country”.

To flip the argument, would Americans appreciate it if a Papua New Guinean claimed that “the United States’ unique geopgraphical, social and cultural characteristics have always presented issues and challenges for any business operating in the country”. What exactly is it about Papua New Guinea’s culture and society that is so ‘challenging’? That  Papua New Guineans stand up for their rights? That  Papua New Guineans value their land? That  Papua New Guineans protect their environment for future generations? 

Austin’s speech continues:
 I have been disappointed to see issues, almost completely unrelated to the  Project itself, flaring up and disrupting our progress.  For example, we have seen an increase in security incidents along the Highlands Highway, that is affecting our ability to transport equipment and supplies via road. Damage to bridges and infrastructure is [also] a serious issue.
Note the almost! Please Ms Autin clearly distinguish between common criminality and legitimate direction action by landowners. There is a rather large difference between landowners blockading an airstrip due to concerns over corrupt and inadequate corporate practices, and hold-ups on the Highlands Highway. Nevertheless, we suspect this is part of Exxon’s strategy, treat all forms of protest as criminal actions and demand landowners be arrested.

However,  Autin is confident that these problems can be resolved by Exxon’s partner, the PNG government:

I would like to thank the Gov’t of Papua New Guinea for all of their support.  You have been an instrumental partner on so many  fronts, and play such a critical role in the success of the Project.  We look forward to continuing to work with you as we bring this Project online.
And herein lies the problem, with corporate predators circling PNG’s national wealth, how on earth are the people to protect their rights when the regulator (the national government) is a partner and financial beneficiary of these operations.

Nevertheless, we thank Autin for finishing her speech in a language Papua New Guineans can understand (sarcasm emphasised) – clearly she has read her Lonely Planet guide to PNG: “As I have already pointed out, this is like the ‘Rugby World Cup’ of Projects – and as a  team we are only as good as our weakest player so we must ensure we are all on our  game, aligned and pushing forward to reach our goal”.

There is no need to use patronising sporting metaphors Ms Autin, Papua New Guineans are quite capable of understanding your arguments, and they know exactly what you are saying and to whom. Shall we summarise, “keep the locals in line, or LNG's investors will be mighty upset”! Simple.