Protesting PNG landowners close to turning off tap for LNG Project

12:35 pm on 12 August 2016

A government delegation is due in Papua New Guinea's Hela province today to respond to disgruntled Highlands landowners threatening a shutdown of the country's major LNG (Liquefied Natural Gas) project.

LNG Project facility, Central Province, Papua New Guinea.

LNG Project facility, Central Province, Papua New Guinea. Photo: RNZI / Johnny Blades

The project's gas conditioning plant in the hides area of this highlands province remains locked by landowners protesting that the government owes five years worth of project commitments worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

The project developer ExxonMobil said its facilities were continuing to operate and that it was monitoring the peaceful protest in Hela.

A deployment of extra police to Hela from the capital in recent days is a sign that the government is concerned about the landowner threat.

However, the government's initial response to the current protest did not satisfy the landowners.

Stanley Mamu from LNG Watch said a government delegation made a brief trip to Hela on Wednesday to talk with the landowners, and are expected back in Hela today with an ultimate response to their grievances.

"If the government cannot satisfy their petition, they will forcefully go inside and close down wellheads B, C and D... it's the well tap that supplies the gas."

Overnight, it emerged that more landowner groups from LNG Project areas in neighbouring Southern Highlands province have joined the Hela landowners in their protest.

Moran and Gobe landowners have also launched their own conditional demand for the government to make outstanding payments of royalties they claim are owed to them.

They have signed a demand paper giving a 21 day-ultimatum as of 10th August for the government to honour its outstanding commitments of around 14 million US dollars.

It's not the first time that landowners in this Highlands region have obstructed the project over their grievances over commitments or royalties owed however, this time the landowners appear less willing to accept the government response.

LNG Project site (run by project partner Oil Search) in Nagoli, Hela Province, Papua New Guinea.

LNG Project site (run by project partner Oil Search) in Nagoli, Hela Province, Papua New Guinea. Photo: RNZI / Johnny Blades

250 LNG shipments have reportedly been made since the project started exports two years ago, but landowners in four petroleum development license areas of Hela say they are yet to be paid as the founding project agreement.

"This sort of gate closure, we've never experienced that, from the beginning (of the LNG Project) until now," said Stanley Mamu.

He said the proliferation of firearms among some Hela landowners was a concern, especially with PNG security forces looming as a response to the Hides protest.

On Tuesday, the Minister of Petroleum and Energy Nixon Duban said delays in payments to the landowners in the Hela LNG area were due to complications over identifying genuine landowners.

He said paying royalties to the wrong people would have consequences which the government wanted to avoid.

In parliament yesterday, the prime minister Peter O'Neill said that all outstanding payments will be made to the landowners, but didn't give a time frame.

Exxon meanwhile said it respected the right of individuals to peacefully protest, but also encouraged "continued dialogue between landowners and the government to resolve their outstanding issues promptly".