Up until 1970, there was little mineral extraction in Papua New Guinea, but since the 1970s mineral extraction has dominated the national economy.
With the exception of the Ok Tedi Mine (copper-gold) almost all of the mining in PNG has been gold mining. The two largest gold mines are the Porgera (Enga Province) and Lihir (New Ireland Province) mines. In 2009, the Hidden Valley gold and silver mine (Morobe Province) commenced production. 2010 will see the start of production from the Ramu nickel-cobalt mine.
All the mining activity that has taken place in the country since 1970 has produced approximately 5 million tonnes of copper between 1970 and 2007. The country produced 202,277 t of copper in 2003 compared to 211,315 in 2002, all of which was produced by the Ok Tedi Mine the most active mine in the country. The mine reported that 29.32 Mt of ore was mined (approximately 240,000 t/d material moved) and 29.26 Mt milled (77,000 t/d) with a head grade of 0.78% Cu and 0.8 g/t Au. Respective gold and copper recoveries for 2003 at Ok Tedi were 68% and 84%.
Edie Creek has been a historic gold and silver mining area since 1926. Located about 5 km south-west of Wau, it was the centre of one the first major gold rushes in PNG before World War II. Large amounts of gold have been extracted by both alluvial and underground mining.
Hidden Valley is an open-pit, gold-silver mine and processing plant in Morobe Province. The mine is approximately 210 km north-north-west of Port Moresby, and 90 km south-southwest of Lae. It is operated by Morobe Mining Joint Ventures, a 50:50 joint venture between Harmony, a company that operates primarily in South Africa, and Newcrest Mining, an Australian gold and copper mining company. The metals are epithermal deposits from hydrothermal systems related to volcanic activity.
The Ok Tedi Mine is situated at Mount Fubilan in the Star Mountains in western PNG, close to the Indonesian border. OK Tedi Mining Ltd. (OTML) is owned by BHP Billiton (52%), Inmet Mining Corp. (18%) and the PNG government (30%). OTML has been at the focus of several pollution claims and as a result, BHP Billiton reviewed its position in OTML and is set to withdraw from the project. Inmet and the Government of Papua New Guinea are to retain their respective interests in Ok Tedi, with BHP Billiton's interest being transferred into a trust.
Of the government’s 30%, 2.5% is allocated to mine landowners. OTML is one of PNG’s largest export earners, contributing 20% to PNG’s exports. Ore resources are estimated at 344 Mt grading at 0.88% copper and 0.92 g/t gold.
Bougainville Copper Limited (BCL) has developed the Panguna mine but work has been limited due to civil unrest in the province. Rio Tinto is a major shareholder of the BCL (54%) and intends disposing of its stake in the company. The deposit has a life of mine of some 20 years and has a capacity to produce 180 000t of copper and 480 000 oz gold per year. This development marked one of the first major investments in PNG, and was at one stage one of the world's largest copper - gold mines.
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According to the project proponent Ramu NiCo "Ramu Nickel project is located in the Madang Province of Papua New Guinea. The annual output will be nickel/cobalt intermediate product, in which the aggregate nickel metal accounts for 31,000 thousand tonnes and cobalt 3,000 tonnes.
The Project is composed of three parts: the Kurumbukari mine site, the Basamuk processing plant and a 135 kilometers slurry pipeline from the mine to the processing plant. The mine is located on the Kurumbukari plateau, on the southern side of the Ramu River Valley, 75 kilometers to the southwest of Madang. The processing plant site is located on coast of Basamuk bay, 55km to the southeast of Madang.
First discovered in the 1960s, the kurumbakari mine site was once explored intermittently by several companies. By the 1990s, Highlands Pacific Limited completed detailed exploration followed by a feasibility study. In 2005, China Metallurgical Group Corporation (“MCC”) acquired the majority interest in the Project and Ramu NiCo Management (MCC) Limited became Manager and Operator for the Ramu Nickel Joint Venture. The Project construction has now been substantially finalized and is being progressively commissioned."
Allied Gold, an Australian-based company, operate an open pitgold (and silver) mine called the Simberi Oxide Gold Project in the volcanic highlands on the eastern side of Simberi Island Gold production started in February 2008 and the mine has a projected life of 8 years. Production for the 2008 calendar year was 75,267 ounces (2,133,787 grams).
The Solwara 1 Project is located at 1600 metres water depth in the Bismarck Sea, New Ireland Province. It will be the world’s first deep-sea mining project, with first production expected in 2013. The resource is high grade copper-gold resource and the world's first Seafloor Massive Sulphide (SMS) resource.