The National, 26 March 2012.
THE government last night vowed to implement tough measures – including the declaration of a state of emergency in a province – as a PNG liquefied natural gas (LNG) project developer Esso Highlands began withdrawing workers from its site.
Prime Minister Peter O’Neill will call a National Executive Council meeting today to discuss the measures to be taken as the developer of the PNG LNG project in Southern Highlands started pulling its workers from the Hides 4 area. Landowners had stopped work at the site over compensation demands which the developer, Esso Highlands, had been trying to resolve.
A source said the developer began evacuating its workers from the project sites in three chartered aircraft yesterday. The source predicted it would be the end of the project if the closure continued this week.
It could not be confirmed last night how many employees had left. Company spokeswoman Rebecca Arnold will issue a statement today. O’Neill told The National last night tough measures were needed to protect the LNG project.
“I am calling a special cabinet meeting (today) to make tough decisions to protect workers on site and to protect the interest of the nation,” he said.
The landowners had stopped all LNG-related activities at Hides 4 in the Southern Highlands. Vehicles hired by Esso Highlands and the contractors had been returned to their owners because the companies could not continue to pay when they are lying idle.
O’Neill said: “I am aware of the landowner issues around the project area and concerns have been expressed to the government about the security of the project as a result of certain groups putting in demands that are outside the UBSA (umbrella benefits sharing agreement) and LBBSA (licensed-based benefits sharing agreement).”
He said some of the measures the council would consider today
included the declaration of a state of emergency in the Southern Highlands, the deployment of PNG Defence Force troops there, additional police manpower and additional funding for the exercise.
“The demands are unreasonable and unfair to the nation. I appeal to landowners to reconsider their actions which are undermining the project,” O’Neill said.
He said the government had already made the decision for a call-out of the PNGDF and troops should be deployed immediately. “We will ensure the security of the project is protected,” he said.
The source said officials from the department of petroleum and energy and ExxonMobil had been sent to the site but could not resolve the landowners’ grievances.
The landowners have demanded K99 million from Esso Highlands as compensation for the different projects activities in the area. Other demands include the upgrading of the:
-Para Health Centre to a referral hospital; and
-Para Community School building;
-Hides-Komo road to start immediately.
They also wanted employment and contracts be given to locals plus a permanent water supply for the people. Hides 4 Landowner Umbrella Association Inc chairman Chris Payabe had said landowners wanted the government to immediately take ownership of the project and address their concerns. He maintained that the project would remain closed if their demands were not addressed.