Papua New Guinea is ready to take control of Barrick Gold’s (TSX: ABX) (NYSE: GOLD) Porgera mine after refusing to extend the company’s lease on social and environmental grounds, Prime Minister James Marape said on Friday.
“The special Mining Lease will not be renewed in the best interests of the state, particularly in lieu of the environmental damages, claims and resettlements issues,” Marape said.
The decision comes nine months after the mining lease expired. During this time, the world’s second-largest gold miner has faced a backlash from residents and landowners over what they claim are negative social, environmental and financial impacts from the mine.
Negotiations with Porgera’s operators were complicated further by a split among the landowners.
Barrick Niugini Limited, Porgera’s manager, applied for a permit extension in June 2017 that could have renewed its rights for 20 years and had been engaging with the government on the issue since then, Barrick stated in the statement.
The company proposed in 2019 a benefit-sharing arrangement in response to a request from Marape. The deal could have delivered over half the economic benefits to PNG stakeholders, including the government, for 20 decades, according to Barrick.
Tier One Possible
Barrick’s president and chief executive officer, Mark Bristow, had stated last month that Porgera had “tier one potential” but faced many challenges in the form of “legacy problems and an unruly neighbourhood.”
The gold mine, situated in the northern highlands region of PNG, is a joint venture between Barrick and Zijin Mining. Each own 47.5% of this mine, with the remaining 5% held by landowner group Mineral Resources Enga.
The government has stated it intends to give a portion of Barrick and Zijin’s stakes to the landowners and the national and provincial governments.
Porgera contributes to approximately 10% of the nation’s exports and employs over 3,300 Papua New Guinea nationals.
The Open pit and underground gold mine sits in Enga province at an altitude of 2,200-2,600 metres and is about 600 km northwest of Port Moresby.
“We don’t have enough details on the implications of the decision yet, including the timing of the transition,” Jackie Przybylowski of BMO Capital Markets said in a research note.
“Barrick has warned that it will seek all legal avenues to challenge the government’s decision and also to recover any damages. We anticipate that discretionary spending, such as development Capex, will be lessened throughout the current period of uncertainty,” Przybylowski noted.
The mining analyst also said that “while removing Porgera from Barrick’s portfolio could have a negative financial impact, it would improve the ESG performance of their organization’s portfolio going forward.”
“Barrick reports allegations of human rights violations in the region on its website,” she pointed out, “including allegations of ‘extreme’ violence linked to local police forces or private security forces acting on behalf of the joint venture.”
Other mining firms operating in PNG, including Australia’s Newcrest (ASX: NCM), have not been affected by the decision regarding Porgera.
The miner has “welcomed” the Prime Minister’s support for its Wafi Golpu gold and copper asset, adding that its special mining lease in the Lihir operations remains in good standing having a lease renewal not expected until 2035.