March 20, 2018

Hela Government casts doubt on PNG Earthquake Report

Hela Governor Philip Undialu has cast doubt on an Australian government report which cleared resource companies of blame for the recent earthquake.

The report by Australian government agency Geoscience Australia cleared mining and hydrocarbon companies of any wrongdoing over the 7.5 magnitude earthquake which caused much devastation in the Highlands. Undialu and Hela provincial administrator William Bando were given copies of the report by Oil Search staff in Moro last Saturday.

He said an independent investigation must be conducted into the earthquake under the terms of reference of the Hela government.

The report said there was significant public concern that industrial activities such as mining or hydrocarbon exploration and production in the Highlands, could have contributed to the earthquake.

The report said:

“While the Feb 26 earthquake was the largest earthquake in the Highlands since 1900, its occurence was consistent with the known seismic characteristics of the region;

“The high frequence of earthquakes in this region is due to natural tectonic processes that have been recognised by many geological studies of the region over the past half-century;

“The size of the earthquake and intensity of the ground shaking of this event are consistent with the regional plate tectonics that have formed the New Guinea Highlands over millions of years;

“The depth at which this earthquake started (17km or more) is not consistent with earthquakes triggered through mining or hydrocarbon and extraction activities, which generally occur at depths less than 5km; and “The Feb 26 earthquake is highly unlikely to have been triggered through mining or hydrocarbon exploration and extraction activities.”.

Meanwhile,  Papua New Guinea Prime Minister Peter O’Neill has commended the partnership between the Government, private sector and development partners towards the relief efforts after the recent earthquake.

He told the PNG Petroleum and Energy Summit in Port Moresby the earthquake was the worst PNG had experienced.

“The disaster has been terrible but I have no doubt that we will recover and we will further promote the industry in our country,” he said.

“We’ve seen an ongoing rise in the prices in oil and gas which has been good. But we have seen the worst earthquake that hit the Highlands region in nearly 100 years.

“The scale of this disaster is substantial and the impact on the local community is devastating.

“We still haven’t got the final confirmed death toll but we know it is well over 150 lives lost.

“There still remains a high risk threat of diseases to be present and the aftershocks are continuing.

“Working together with the private sector, our development partners, and the governments of Australian, New Zealand and China for the swift and effective response to the disaster.

“I thank the private sector for their outstanding contribution to this effort, in particular Oil Search who have demonstrated their commitment to our people, swinging into action very early just after the earthquake struck.

“This response has saved lives and continued to give hope to the people in the disaster area who are scared and confused.”

O’Neill also acknowledged ExxonMobil, Mineral Resources Development Company, Defence Force, Australia and New Zealand governments and other partners.

O’Neill commended Ok Tedi and Kumul Petroleum Holdings, both donated K50 million (US$15 million) each.

“I am very encouraged by the partnership. There is no doubt that we will continue to enhance this so we can support many of the affected communities for years to come,” O’Neill said.

The participants observed a two-minute silence for those who lost their lives during the earthquake.