Friday MCC Ramu Nico held a meeting with ‘stakeholders’ (all 50 of those who represent LOCs, and members of the Provincial administration---but no one, notably, from PNG PORTS) to announce----not request, mind you----an amendment to the ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT ASSESSMENT oftheir mining license to include the export and sale of CHROMITE.
The ‘environmental assessor’ Bafike Kongrui gave a detailed presentation about the mining and handling of this harmless nickel/cobalt byproduct, which is apparently crucial to the production of stainless steel. We were told that the market price for this common substance was excellent.
MCC now felt that with all the pressure they’ve been put under to generate more landowner spinoffs they would go ahead and mine this along with nickel and cobalt, and allow landowner groups (50% from Karumbukare, the rest from other LO groups) to truck this product down from the mine to the wharf in town.
Incidentally, this would actually expand the mine’s impact footprint to include Madang town, where a convoy of chromite-carrying Hino Twin Steer trucks would clog daily traffic on its way to the town wharf. Each and every truck was to be accompanied by 2 Hilux vehicles of EMERGENCY RESPONSE personnel in case anything should disrupt the safe passage of this presumably harmless substance.
But the company was generously volunteering to assist (although not specifying degree) in the maintenance of that section of highway to be used (because, they reminded us, the roads are really a government responsibility, not theirs).
The landowner participants in this work would be expected to buy 16-28 Hino trucks for this excellent business opportunity. The chromite itself would be washed and allowed to separate from the rock, collected and somehow prevented from leaching before being loaded to the trucks and away. Both the ‘environmental assessor’ and the MRA rep who also spoke were fairly bursting with pride for the benefits this would bestow upon the landowner associations, all the income they would receive, out of the generosity of MCC’s new business model. No mention of how much MCC would be making by the sale of chromite, but a fair few graphs about the taxes and revenues all of Madang would enjoy from this new transport business. Shell would certainly make money on fuel.
A wonder that more of the newly broadened ‘impact community’ couldn’t be invited.
When Stotick Kamuk took the floor, the former RD Tuna HR Manager and new MCC cheerleader, he made it clear up front and repeatedly that this as a golden opportunity for the landowners and any possible reservations people might have about MCC expanding their operations should be checked by the awareness of how much everyone would benefit. And so forth.
We were treated to a powerpoint called the CHROMITE TRANSPORT AND EXIT PRESENTATION. Plenty of images of the harmless substance in situ, as were were reminded that it occurs naturally all over Karumbukare and is therefore completely harmless BEFORE PROCESSING, etc etc.
We also learned that beside the EMERGENCY RESPONSE vehicles accompanying the trucks transporting this chromite, these 18.5 tonne trucks would be limited to carrying but 15-16 tonnes each because the roads are (“let’s face it”) not perfect; and the nylon bags used to hold the chromite would similarly not be packed to their limits.
In 2013 there should be 90,000 tonnes of chromite for export, rising to 160,000 tonnes annually by 2014. That works out to roughly 10,000 lorry-loads of chromite coming and going to Madang wharf. FORTY a day, conservatively speaking. FORTY TRUCKS RUNNING LOADS OF SOMETHING HAZARDOUSE ENOUGH TO WARRANT EMERGENCY RESPONSE VEHICLES BESIDE THEM MOVING THROUGH TOWN TO AND FROM THE WHARF EVERY DAY. ...As our children walk to school.
That's one truck every 20 minutes.
Once again we were told of the crucial importance of a wharf outside of town (i.e the PMIZ) to keep the town free of this congestion. This succeeded in driving home the message of an earlier presentation by a Reykjavik-based geothermal energy company proposing to tap the steam vents of Zaria, Karkar’s famous volcano, for cheap green energy production. The result, they had just told us, would be enough cheap green energy to power an entire (marine) industrial zone. Coincidentally?
So here we were discussing yet another advantage of the PMIZ, as a way of avoiding the nasty traffic congestion required for MCC to export from the town wharf.
We should see this as a benevolent spin-off from MCC to the landowners. Indeed, the chromite itself would just be buried at the mine otherwise---so export was really a boon to everyone. A win-win. Somehow I kept sensing an elephant in the room.Have we been burying chromite at the mine site already?
They assured us that buryng it was better than sending it down the pipeline anyway. We should be relieved this extra substance would not be traveling its flimsy corridor. The chromium, it seems, is far too abrasive to run the wobbly course of that world class pipeline, and would soon erode it's delicate walls. Well that was reassuring. Not just that the pipeline itself would be spared, but that MCC was thinking of the mess that might occur if the pipeline were damaged. (Am I wrong, or hasn't it already been damaged?) By the way, were they otherwise thinking they might dump chromium into the sea? (Hold that thought folks).
Who could doubt that the State of China has our health and safety as a foremost concern. Haven’t we been reading about the environmental horrors China is now itself facing? About the diasterous environmental impact of Chinese resource extraction projects in Africa?
Thank them, indeed. Both Stotick Kamuk and the Deputy Administrator once again made it clear that we were not invited here to complain about the mine, or even to talk about the mine in general, but to ask questions about this new amendment to the EIA. The floor was now open.
First of all, a Kurumbukare landowner from the back of the room wanted to know why, after MCC had been talking to them about this transport business for years (?!) they were only being told know that they would own but 50% rather than 100% of it?
Stotick dissembled something about delays and bureaucracy that in no way addressed this man's concern but was offered as a simulcra of explanation anyway.
I had been googling Chromite on my handheld just to allay my fears about its familiarity to something called Chromium-6 an extremely dangerous hexavalent chromium that Canada had already warned the stakeholders of a chromium mine would have “immediate or long-term effect on the environment…or may constitute a danger to human life or health.” What sort of substance, I asked, requires an ‘emergency response system’ for transport? And when has the phrase ‘systems in place’ ever sounded reassuring in PNG? What are they trying to hide?
Isn’t this the same substance that slowly killed the population of Hinkley California before Erin Brockovich exposed it?
Audible gasps---some people had seen the movie. (Thank god for cable.)
How do we know that the storage of this Chromite will never leach Chromium 6 into our water table also? Does anyone remember the [my own personal favourite] scene in the film when the power company executives are in the boardroom trying to convince Brockovich and her team that the water from their plant is perfectly safe---and Brockovich tells them, ‘Great, cause we had some of it shipped in here for our meeting today’---whereupon one man gently lowers his glass---?????
Now I laughed and said, you all know me as that crazy white missus who always asks too any questions at these meetings, but I am not trying to take money from your pockets or keep you from trucking something as a business. But I am a grandmother here and just as worried about you drivers as I am about my grandchildren and I don’t want anyone saying to me years from now how you should have listened to what I was saying.
Nogut yupla tok o sori mipla ni bin harim tok blong Nancy. Yu ting wanen---ol kongkong bai lukautim yu taim yupla kamap sik?
I trust our Chinese hosts did not fully understand my comments.
I'll sign off now and go look for a push-up bra.---But didn't I read somewhere that Erin Brockovich had moved to Australia?