Porgera mine dispute escalates for Barrick, Zijin

Barrick Gold's 47.5%-owned Porgera gold mine in Papua New Guinea. Credit: Barrick Gold.

Barrick Gold (TSX: ABX; NYSE: GOLD) has served a dispute notice to the Papua New Guinea (PNG) government over the country’s refusal to renew a licence for the Porgera mine.

The world’s second-largest gold producer says that PNG’s decision to reject the application for the lease extension violated a bilateral investment treaty between the country and Australia, as well as international law governing foreign investment.

Barrick and its Chinese partner, Zijin Mining, temporarily halted operations at the mine in Enga province in late April. The move followed Prime Minister James Marape’s refusal to renew Porgera’s permit on environmental and social concerns.

The Toronto-based miner noted the rejection was publicly announced without notifying the mine manager, Barrick Niugini Limited (BNL), or following appropriate processes.

In May, the gold giant offered an extra 15% stake in the Porgera mine to local landowners, in a fresh attempt to break the impasse with the government over the mine’s future.

PNG later threatened Barrick with criminal proceedings, claiming the company’s joint venture in the country was planning to illegally export US$13 million in gold and silver to Australia. BNL refuted the allegations.

The ongoing dispute has done to Barrick what the pandemic did not — dent its expected output for the year. It now expects to produce between 4.6 million and 5 million oz. gold this year — 200,000 oz. lower than its previous estimate.

Barrick revealed at the time that PNG was also asking the company and Zijin to pay US$191-million in back taxes arising from tax audits conducted between 2006 and 2015.

Mark Bristow, Barrick’s president and CEO, said in March that Porgera had “tier one potential” but faced many challenges in the form of “legacy issues and an unruly neighbourhood.”

The gold mine, located in PNG’s northern highlands region, is a joint venture between Barrick and Zijin Mining. Each owns 47.5% of the mine, with the remaining 5% held by landowner group Mineral Resources Enga.

Porgera contributes about 10% of the nation’s exports and employs over 3,300 Papua New Guinea nationals.

The open pit and underground gold mine sits at an altitude of 2,200-2,600 metres in Enga province, and is about 600 km northwest of Port Moresby.

Other mining companies operating in PNG, including Newcrest Mining (ASX: NCM), have not been impacted by the decision regarding Porgera. The Australian miner has “welcomed” the Prime Minister’s support for its Wafi Golpu gold and copper asset, adding that its special mining lease at the Lihir operations remains in good standing with a renewal not expected until 2035.

— This article first appeared in MINING.com. The Northern Miner and MINING.com are part of Glacier Resource Innovation Group.


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