|Wednesday, 9 May 2012|
RIO Tinto has joined the growing ranks of major miners lured to Papua New Guinea. It did not make any grand announcements on the matter but has picked up at least three tenements.
|Bougainville Copper chairman Peter Taylor|
Bougainville Copper, which is about 54% owned by Rio, touched on this development in its annual general meeting last week.
“Rio Tinto Exploration has applied for and has been granted exploration licences in PNG, the first such grants of licences since the mid 1990s,” Bougainville Copper chairman Peter Taylor said.
“This is a good indicator that Rio Tinto is looking to be an active participant in PNG’s future mineral development.”
While a Rio spokesperson is yet to respond to enquiries made last week, PNGIndustryNews.net has been able to obtain some limited information on three licences which have been awarded to Rio.
One of them is exploration licence application 1935, known as the Dumpu licence, in the Eastern Highlands of PNG.
The other two tenements have already been granted as exploration licences.
They include EL1933, known as the Markham licence, which is in Morobe province and EL 1934 (Angoram licence) in East Sepik province.
Those two licences were probably awarded some time last year with both listed in some PNG government documentation dated in January.
Given that Rio is a heavyweight in the bulk mining game, it is likely that all of three of the licences are prospective for copper-gold opportunities.
PNG Chamber of Mines and Petroleum executive director Greg Anderson told PNGIndustryNews.net that Rio’s return was a stamp of approval for the country.
Key players in PNG’s mining industry already include Barrick Gold (Porgera mine) and Newcrest Mining (Lihir mine and its joint venture with Harmony Gold at the Hidden Valley mine and the exciting Wafi-Golpu project).
At the exploration stage, Xstrata Copper is advancing the Frieda River copper-gold project while Brazilian mining giant Vale struck a JV with explorer Goldminex over various Owen Stanley Ranges porphyry copper-gold tenements last year.
Outside of industry speculation that Anglo American has shown interest in PNG opportunities in recent years, Rio’s iron ore rival BHP Billiton did make a substantial effort to pick up a variety of tenements in PNG last year before pulling out of ELA negotiations this year.
“We did consider exploration for copper in the country but elected not to for a number of reasons including our ability to deliver on our commitment of world-class health, safety, environment and community performance,” a BHP spokesperson told PNGIndustryNews.net last month.
There has been industry concern over some of the other possible “reasons” behind BHP’s change of heart in PNG but BHP would not reveal its confidential discussions with governments.
There is also an interesting contrast in the fortunes of the recent PNG endeavours made by Rio and BHP.
Rio’s past operation of the troubled Panguna mine on Bougainville Island appears to have caused no major issues in regards to winning new tenements in PNG.
BHP did not receive such treatment. Last year John Pundari, who was the mining minister before the demise of the Somare government in August, released a barrage of criticism against the environmental damage caused by BHP’s past operation of the Ok Tedi mine.
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