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Protestors Commandeer Key Exxon Asset in New Guinea

Protestors in the Hela province of Papua, New Guinea have taken control of a conditioning supply plant belonging to Exxon.

The plant is an important asset to the company’s efforts, and is a supplier to Exxon’s PNG LNG project, which is valued at $19 billion. The protestors are demanding that the government pays approximately $631,000 in royalties that are currently being held in a trust. The funds were to be held by the central bank while land claims were assessed, as per an agreement made in 2009. Those assessments are still in progress.

Exxon is calling for a quick resolution to the matter, asking the government to settle the landowners’ grievances. Exxon said that it is monitoring the situation, which for the present, remains peaceful. The company’s facilities are still in operation.

A company spokesman stated, “We respect the right of individuals to peacefully protest, but we also encourage continued dialogue between landowners and the government to resolve their outstanding issues promptly…We are committed to maintaining a positive relationship with landowners, the government and the wider community.”

Stanly Mamu from PNG blog LNG Watch said that protestors and landowners have given the government a deadline of Friday to craft a plan to address the grievances. Mamu stated that if the government does not come up with a response to the demands, landowners plan to shut down wellheads supplying gas to the project. Police have been deployed to the region to prevent a shutdown, but the landowners have vowed to fight if necessary.

According to Mamu, landowners have said that there could be a response similar to the 1998 civil war on Bougainville. In that war, 20,000 people died. The Bougainville war erupted when the government did not address environmental concerns over Rio Tinto’s copper and gold mining operations, and did not share royalties from the operation. New Zealand brokered peace negotiations in 1997, and the conflict came to an end after it came to light that the government had hired mercenaries to regain control of the island. The island will have a referendum for independence in 2020.

Lincoln Brown for Oilprice.com

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