A proposed dam to hold billions of tonnes of mine waste near the head of Papua New Guinea’s longest river is a potential environmental disaster that could wipe out entire villages if there was a natural disaster, government officials, environmental advocacy groups and villagers living along the river say.
The Frieda River gold and copper mine – slated for development by Chinese state-owned, Australian-based miner PanAust for northern New Guinea island – would be the largest mine in PNG’s history, and one of the biggest in the world.
Part of the mine’s proposal would be a 12,000ha reservoir built to hold more than 4.6bn tonnes of waste rock and mine tailings. The reservoir would hold 9.6bn cubic metres of water – twice the size of Sydney harbour – and the embankment built to hold it would be 187 metres high.
The Frieda River is a tributary to the Sepik River which, at 1,100km is PNG’s longest river and a key source of water, food and livelihood for tens of thousands who live along it.
West Sepik provincial administrator Conrad Tilau told the Guardian the government’s position was clear: “There should not be any dam built at the Frieda.