Pre­par­ing for the start line

Panaust is keen to be­gin de­vel­op­ment of the Frieda River cop­per and gold pro­ject but there are ob­sta­cles to over­come.

Business Advantage Papua New Guinea - - Human Frieda River - By David James

There is lit­tle doubt that the Frieda River mine in West Sepik Province is a world-class re­source. Panaust Man­ag­ing Di­rec­tor Fred Hess says its value is well un­der­stood and that it ‘has been known about’ for al­most 50 years.

The com­pany is cur­rently wait­ing for per­mit ap­proval. Once that has been re­ceived, the com­pany will then con­sider what the en­vi­ron­ment is like for mak­ing an in­vest­ment de­ci­sion. Hess says the mine ‘is in the top 10 cop­per de­posits in the world.’ But he adds that there is a num­ber of con­di­tions that will have to be met ‘in or­der for us to pro­ceed to that in­vest­ment de­ci­sion.’

En­vi­ron­men­tal is­sues

The en­gi­neer­ing chal­lenges are con­sid­er­able. Hess has de­scribed the pro­ject as a sub­stan­tial open-cut min­ing op­er­a­tion dom­i­nated by a very large stor­age fa­cil­ity that is de­signed to take the tail­ings from the pro­cess­ing plant and the waste from the mine. That sits be­hind a very large em­bank­ment, which will take about 40 per cent of the cap­i­tal cost.

‘It doesn’t pro­duce any cop­per but it is a nec­es­sary re­quire­ment in or­der to pro­duce cop­per. It is dis­tinc­tive in the sense that PNG has tra­di­tion­ally taken cheaper forms of tail­ings and waste dis­posal routes.

‘But, be­cause of the is­sues that we have with Frieda River be­ing up­stream from the Sepik River, this is the so­lu­tion we have come up with, which we think ad­dresses all the en­vi­ron­men­tal is­sues that are so im­por­tant to a pro­ject like this suc­ceed­ing.’

Hy­dro power

‘The other spe­cial part of this pro­ject is that, be­cause of the size of the em­bank­ment, be­cause of the size of the catch­ment it sits in and the amount of wa­ter that falls as rain and gets col­lected in the catch­ment, and be­cause of the height of the em­bank­ment, the op­por­tu­nity to pro­duce hy­dro-elec­tric power also presents it­self.

‘That makes it a unique stor­age fa­cil­ity, in our as­sess­ment, in be­ing able to store not only tail­ings, min­ing waste and wa­ter but it can gen­er­ate a re­turn in terms of hy­dro­elec­tric­ity.’

World scale de­posit

Hess ar­gues that the pro­ject is of na­tional sig­nif­i­cance, de­scrib­ing it as a ‘world scale de­posit’. Al­though it will cre­ate many jobs for lo­cals, he warns there are chal­lenges ahead. ‘There are no free lunches. We must be mind­ful of the risks of de­vel­op­ing large-scale projects. Frieda River has sub­stan­tial lo­gis­ti­cal chal­lenges. It is in­land; there are no roads.

‘If you look at the ter­rain, it is rel­a­tively moun­tain­ous and it has a high level of rain­fall all year round. That makes it a chal­leng­ing en­vi­ron­ment in terms of build­ing sta­ble struc­tures and un­der­tak­ing the whole con­struc­tion ef­fort.’


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