II. MECHANISMS FOR INTEGRATING ENVIRONMENTAL CONSIDERATIONS INTO SECTOR POLICIES AND FOR MONITORING ENFORCEMENT
D. Institutional arrangements for coordination with trading partners/neighbouring countries
3. Torres Strait baseline monitoring study
The Ok Tedi mine disposes of plant tailings and waste rock into the tributaries of the Ok Tedi River. The Ok Tedi, in turn, flows into the Fly River. The Fly River flows into the Gulf of Papua through a large and complex delta system. The Fly River delta is a typical example of a tide-dominated delta, in contrast to a wave-dominated delta (e.g., the Niger Delta) or a sediment-dominateddelta (e.g., the Mississippi delta). Being a tide-dominated delta, the Fly system tends to discharge a greater proportion of sediment into the marine environment than would occur if it were a sediment-dominated system. However, the Fly delta contains a very large mass of mobile sediment that buffers the effects of changes in sediment deposits. The Fly River water discharged into the Gulf of Papua is circulated through the Torres Strait and reaches the area of the Great Barrier Reef. Available information on the sedimentary systems, water chemistry and characteristics of the fauna and flora of those seas prior to dumping of mine wastes is very limited.
In 1989, the Government of Australia announced the terms of reference for a Torres Strait baseline monitoring study. The study concluded that no contamination of Gulf of Papua waters had occurred as a result of riverine disposal of tailings and waste rock from the Ok Tedi mine. Ok Tedi Mining Limited also sponsored a study by the Australian Institute of Marine Science of the effects of tailings and waste rock dumping from the mine. The data showed no evidence of any effects on either the chemistry of the sea waters or the sediment load away from the delta itself. It concluded that there was no evidence of pollution from the Fly River in the waters of the Torres Strait.
The results of those studies have done little to reassure some of the communities living around the delta who believe that the dumping is a direct cause of the loss of fish species in the river system and a decline in their livelihood. (See annex for discussion of environmental management at Ok Tedi.) A court action was brought against the company, BHP, by lawyers who were acting on behalf of the owners of land adjacent to the Ok Tedi River system (box 2). The legal action was taken against BHP as the operator of the Ok Tedi mine in a Melbourne court. The claims centred around alleged damages from impacts on the lifestyle of people both in the area affected by the siltation and those living adjacent to the Ok Tedi River.
While the hearings in Melbourne were in progress, the Government of Papua New Guinea acted to introduce legislation to ensure that claims by its citizens for compensation against companies operating in Papua New Guinea were heard in the Papua New Guinea court system. In 1995, the government enacted the Restated Eight Supplemental Agreement which, inter alia, established a compensation scheme for the people living along the Ok Tedi/Fly River system, while providing an option for litigating the compensation claims through the Papua New Guinea courts. In 1996, further legislation in the form of the Compensation (Foreign Legal Proceedings) Act, 1995, came into effect. That Act restricts access by the people of Papua New Guinea to courts overseas.
Meanwhile, Ok Tedi Mining Limited continues to conduct ongoing investigations regarding other options for tailings disposal and methods for mitigating the effects of riverine disposal on the river systems. Apart from the constraint that the mine must not be placed in a loss-making position, alternatives for tailings and waste disposal must be safe in the context of local conditions. The risk factors include high physical relief near the mine, very high rainfall, the possibility of earthquakes and poor foundation conditions offered by most of the outcropping strata. Alternatives under consideration include a dam, dredging on the lower Ok Tedi, tailings storage on the lower Ok Tedi, and combined dredging and piped storage. The estimated costs for those options range from K 300 million to K 450 million (Uiari, 1996).