Ok Tedi Mine
Lonely Planet review
The open-cut Ok Tedi mine has been yielding gold and copper from Mt Fubilan, just beyond Tabubil, since 1984. For a time it was the largest gold mine outside South Africa, and if you can persuade Ok Tedi Mining Limited (OTML) to let you visit (having done the mandatory two-hour safety course), the immense size of the operation won't fail to impress.
The logistics are extraordinary: to get the ore to ships off the PNG coast, a copper/gold slurry is sent 140km through a pipeline to Kiunga, where it's loaded on to barges for the 800km trip down the Fly River.
The mine has not been without controversy. In 1984 a tailings dam collapsed allowing 80,000 tons of pollution per day to flow into the Ok Tedi and Fly rivers. The resulting disaster endangered the livelihoods of people living along the river and damaged important breeding grounds for ocean fish near the river mouth.
A lawsuit was filed against BHP, the Australian company that developed and managed the mine. Thirty thousand villagers demanded compensation for the environmental damage. But BHP refused; it persuaded the PNG government to make it illegal for anyone to claim damages from BHP or its affiliates, such as Ok Tedi Mining Limited, in such cases. The suit was filed instead in Melbourne and, soon after, BHP and the landowners agreed on a big out-of-court settlement.
In 2002 BHP opted out of Ok Tedi. Control was assumed by a company owned by the traditional landowners, who retained most of the mine's OTML management to run the show.