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Environmental and social concerns at the Lihir gold mine, Papua New Guinea

Environmental and social issues have marked the Lihir mine. Indigenous land owners use traditional taboo markers made of ginger roots as a customary and non-violent grievance mechanism to denounce tensions and concerns regarding the mining operations.


Papua New Guinea is home to some of the most biodiverse habitats in the world and is rich in natural resources. Having the third largest gold reserves in the world, it has attracted large amounts of investments into mining. Among them is the Lihir mining operation which is one of the two biggest mines in the country [1]. The mine has been operated by Lihir Gold Ltd. and is currently owned by Australian miner Newcrest (see project details). The mine is located on Lihir island, New Ireland Province.

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Basic Data
Name of conflict:Environmental and social concerns at the Lihir gold mine, Papua New Guinea
Country:Papua New Guinea
State or province:New Ireland province
Location of conflict:Lihir Island
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)
Source of Conflict
Type of conflict. 1st level:Mineral Ores and Building Materials Extraction
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Mineral ore exploration
Specific commodities:Gold
Project Details and Actors
Project details


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Project area:730 ha (in 1999)
Level of Investment:600,000,000 - 1,000,000,000 USD
Type of populationRural
Affected Population:1,000 -8,000
Start of the conflict:1995
Company names or state enterprises:Kennecott Explorations Australia Ltd. from Australia - involved in the pàst
Newcrest Mining Limited from Australia - main current shareholder
Niugini Mining Limited from Papua New Guinea - involved in the past
Lihir Gold Limited (LGL) Company (LGL) from Papua New Guinea - operating company
Rio Tinto Zinc RTZ Mining and Exploration Ltd. (RTZ) from Australia - shareholder (until 2005)
Relevant government actors:National Department of Minerals and Energy
Department of Environment and Conservation
Mineral Resource Authority
International and Finance InstitutionsMultilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA)
UBS (UBSG) from Switzerland - provided a loan for the mine developement
European Investment Bank (EIB)
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Lihir Mining Landowners Association (LMLA),
CEE Bankwatch,
Conflict & Mobilization
IntensityMEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
Reaction stageIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups mobilizing:Farmers
Indigenous groups or traditional communities
International ejos
Local ejos
Lihir indigenous clans
Fisher people
Forms of mobilization:Involvement of national and international NGOs
Official complaint letters and petitions
Shareholder/financial activism.
Street protest/marches
Refusal of compensation
Use of non-violent, traditional grievance mechanisms to handle dispute
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Soil contamination, Waste overflow, Large-scale disturbance of hydro and geological systems, Other Environmental impacts, Mine tailing spills
Potential: Air pollution, Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Noise pollution, Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover
Other Environmental impactsImpacts on ocean floors and seabeds through disposal of waste rocks and toxic tailings into the sea
Health ImpactsVisible: Mental problems including stress, depression and suicide
Potential: Other environmental related diseases, Health problems related to alcoholism, prostitution
Other Health impactsCyanide use in gold extraction process; can accumulate through the food chain
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Displacement, Militarization and increased police presence, Social problems (alcoholism, prostitution, etc..), Other socio-economic impacts
Potential: Loss of livelihood, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Specific impacts on women, Loss of landscape/sense of place
Other socio-economic impactsLarge influx of migrant workers; community tensions
Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:Compensation
Fostering a culture of peace
Project temporarily suspended
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain:Social tensions and environmental concerns continue to be an issue.
Sources & Materials
Related laws and legislations - Juridical texts related to the conflict

Papua New Guinea Mineral Resources Authority Act 2005
[click to view]

Papua New Guinea 1992 Mining Act and Regulation
[click to view]

Papua New Guinea Environment Act 2000
[click to view]

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

[4] Gillespie, K., 2013. Ethnomusicology and the Mining Industry: A Case Study from Lihir, Papua New Guinea. Musicology Australia, Vol. 35, No. 2, 178–190
[click to view]

[3] Hughes, D. J. et al. 2015. Ecological impacts of large-scale disposal of mining waste in the deep sea. Nature, scientific reports 5, ; doi: 10.1038/srep09985 (2015).
[click to view]

[1] McKinnon 2002. The environmental effects of mining waste disposal at Lihir Gold Mine, Papua New Guinea. Journal of Rural and Remote Environmental Health 1(2): 40-50 (2002)
[click to view]

[6] Bainton, N., 2011. Customary Dispute Handing Processes at the Lihir Gold Mine, Papua New Guinea. Paper Presented at the Pacific Mining Conference, Noumea, November 2011. (accessed online 20.11.2017).
[click to view]

[10] 2003 paper "A Case Study on Indigenous People, Extractive Industries and the World Bank. Papua New Guinea". Presented at the workshop on “Indigenous Peoples, the Extractive Industries and the World Bank” held at Exeter College in the University of Oxford, UK 14th and 15th April 2003. (accessed online 27.11.2017).
[click to view]

[2] Filer C., 1995. Participation, Governance and Social Impact: The Planning of the Lihir Gold Mine. In: Mining and Mineral Resource Policy Issues in Asia-Pacific - Prospects for the 21st century. Proceedings of the Conference at the Australian National University, Nov. 1-3,. 1995
[click to view]

Links to general newspaper articles, blogs or other websites

[9] Newcrest Ltd company webpage on the Lihir mine (accessed online, 27.11.2017).
[click to view]

[7] ABC News (8 Jun 2015). Police sent to reopen PNG gold mine after locals use taboo plant to demand talks with Newcrest. Accessed online 27.11.2017.
[click to view]

[5] Financial Times 2012 (August, 28). Dispute forces Newcrest to halt Lihir mining. Accessed online on November 21, 2017.
[click to view]

[8] Post-Courier News (November 16, 2017). Temporary stop to Royalty Payment. Accessed online (27.11.2017).
[click to view]

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

Newcrest company video on the mine
[click to view]

Lihir Mining Area Landowners Association calls on Newcrest to Honour Obligations
[click to view]

Meta information
Contributor:EJatlas Southeast Asia Team ("at"
Last update28/11/2017
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