bhp billiton, australia
“Rivers and lands are our life. The Ok Tedi River is dead and the Fly River is also affected by the pollution. Forests are dying and our communities will be left with the mess from the mine for a long, long time. We are worried for our children and grandchildren.” Rex Dagi, clan leader.
“The Ok Tedi mine is causing the Southern Hemisphere’s single worst environmental disaster. The damage from the mine will last for most of the 21st century. BHP must demonstrate that it is willing and able to solve existing problems so it does not create new ones.” Wep Kanawi Obe, Papua New Guinea NGO Environmental Watch Group.
“ Ok Tedi has deprived our people of the totality of human right – in everything ." Anna Bisai, Daru.
Every day over the past twenty years, the Ok Tedi mine in Papua New Guinea (PNG) has dumped 80,000 tons of waste into the Ok Tedi and Fly Rivers. The result has been an environmental disaster that has destroyed thousands of square kilometers of rainforest and caused terrible hardship for local people. In particular, there has been a dramatic decline in their staple food, the sago palm, threatening food security.
Australian mining giant BHP Billiton was the major shareholder in Ok Tedi Mining Ltd (OTML) and the mine operator until early 2002. At this time, the company handed over its majority stake in OTML to the newly formed and ironically named Sustainable Development Project Company.
This quiet revolution demonstrates the power of transnational corporations in PNG. With the transfer, BHP gained legal indemnity from PNG government action with respect to all the pollution and destruction it has already caused and will cause in the future. The government surrendered its sovereignty, failing to protect its citizens by setting environmental standards and monitoring corporate activities.
At the same time, the company has been trying to convince local people to sign Community Mine Continuation Agreements in which they sign away their rights (likely for the rest of the century) as landowners to sue the company for damages or environmental catastrophes.
The communities of the Fly River region have resisted BHP Billiton’s use of the river as a dump for their mine waste, and have twice taken the company to court to force it to adopt environmental management systems.
BHP Billiton CEO Brian Gilbertson put a glossy spin on Ok Tedi at the Global Mining Initiative conference in May 2002, declaring that the company will not participate in any new project that puts tailings into rivers. Not too convincing from a company that has walked away from a world class environmental disaster at Ok Tedi, handing the poisoned chalice to the locals.