Memo to all the journalists suddenly taking an
interest in mining company ethics, don’t forget about the Canadians happily bludging off the Ok Tedi
environmental disaster.

BHP’s exit from Ok Tedi in 2002 by gifting
its 52 per cent shareholding to PNG Sustainable Development Program Ltd will go
down as one of the biggest ever acts of corporate philanthropy. That 52 per
cent stake earned a profit of A$118 million for PNGSDP in just the December
quarter and A$345 million over 2005. It should do as well or better this year.

Paul Anderson’s BHP couldn’t countenance
the Ok Tedi mess – 80 million tonnes of tailings and overburden a year dumped
into the Ok Tedi River – but PNG couldn’t countenance the loss
of more than a quarter of its export income. So the mining continues and all
the profit from BHP’s former shareholding goes into hopefully sustainable
projects in Western Province in particular and PNG in general

No such ethical concerns though for Canada’s
Inmet Mining.
It retains its 18 per cent stake in Ok Tedi and is happy to take the rich profits
and never mind Ok Tedi’s gross pollution.
The PNG Government has the other 30 per cent – an arguably reasonable position
for it to be in to judge the competing interests of the precarious young
nation.

While BHP copped plenty of environmentalist and ambulance-chasing
law
firm stick over Ok Tedi, Inmet has just quietly sailed along under the
radar.
Ok Tedi’s A$119 million contribution to Inmet’s bottom line last year
was by
far the biggest from the company’s four projects. Canadians don’t seem
to care much about what nastiness their fellow lumberjacks are up to in
the wilds of PNG, as long as the dollars keep rolling in.

The Inmet website is good for a cynical laugh or two. Dig around and you can find all the
platitudes you want about caring for the environment. The board even has a “safety,
health and environment” committee but my
personal favourite is Inmet’s 2004 social and environmental performance report:

We continually strive to find the right balance between our
impact on the environment and the social and economic benefits our operations
bring to the communities we operate in. Inmet’s approach to environmental
management is to pair sound science with responsible risk management practices.
We monitor and minimize impacts on the environment and address impacts caused by our activities.

We continue to focus our activities on
evaluating and finding ways to reduce the impact our operations and closed
properties have on the environment. Environmental laws and regulations continue
to become more prescriptive in several jurisdictions where we operate, so we
must continually ensure all details of environmental compliance and risk
management are being met at all locations.

Crikey, whoever wrote that should be
penning speeches for Lord Downer on AWB compliance.

Inmet says when Ok Tedi closes in 2013 the
main activity will be removal of mine infrastructure. Total cost of closure,
US$100 million. Inmet’s share, US$18 million – about two months’ profit at
present rates. B*gger all, really.

Peter Fray

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