New Caledonia's huge Goro nickel project under siege again
Environmental and other local protestors have again been attempting to disrupt construction at Vale Inco's Goro nickel project in New Caledonia. Goro is the largest new nickel production operation, and perhaps the largest new greenfields mining project of any type, under construction anywhere in the world today.
Posted: Monday , 18 Feb 2008
Vale Inco's multi-billion dollar Goro nickel project in New Caledonia appears to be under siege again by indigenous Kanak groups, now supported by the French branch of environmental NGO, Friends of the Earth. According to local activist group, Rheebu Nuu, "Indigenous groups remain committed in stopping the Goro Nickel project from going ahead and request that Inco restore the areas it has destroyed by removing its installations and reforesting the area."
Nonetheless, Brazilian mega-miner Vale, which inherited the Goro project with its take-over of Inco, said recently it anticipates the US$3.2 billion operation could begin production in the final quarter of the current year with first commercial deliveries anticipated in early 2009. The project is one of the largest mining projects under construction anywhere in the world
When in full production, Goro is designed to produce 60,000 tonnes of nickel a year and between 4,000 and 5,000 tonnes of cobalt. Construction is currently about 80 percent complete and the local opposition to it, on past performance, is unlikely to make a huge difference to the operational schedule, but creates a problem in that poor relations with the local community can fester and lead to further problems down the line.
The local Kanak population has proved to be a thorn in the side of Vale Inco and was successful in stopping land based waste disposal which Vale Inco said at the time was necessary to protect the sensitive offshore environment. New Caledonia has the world's second longest coral barrier reef after Australia's Great Barrier Reef.
Because of the prevention of the onshore waste disposal by the Kanaks, Vale Inco is now implementing an approved offshore disposal plan and the latest local opposition is an attempt to prevent the mining company laying the pipe to the offshore disposal area. The protestors say that it will disturb a series of submarine geothermal vents (marine vents of this type are thought by some scientists to be the origin of life on earth) unique in that these vents are the only known instances at shallow depth and thus very available for scientific study.
Meanwhile, the Southern Province Government in New Caledonia is reported as denying that the waste disposal pipe poses any threat to the environment. Radio New Zealand quotes the southern province's environmental head, Christophe Chevillon, as saying "It's only one part of a grouping of submarine vents, which was concerned by the Goro Nickel pipe project. And I discussed that with the people of environment at Goro Nickel. We decided to move the traject of the pipe to avoid this submarine vent. Today, there's no problem with this point"
Even so, a fleet of local boats have been successful in delaying initial pipe laying by Vale Inco engineers with a confrontation between locals and armed police. Local youths are also reported as having attacked Vale Inco security installations and vehicles
As noted above, it is probably unlikely that the protests will delay the project implementation by any serious amount of time, if at all, but it is indicative of growing tensions between the indigeneous people of New Caledonia and the French government in general, and the local police's alleged heavy handed treatment of protesters, which could have a long term effect on the Goro project and other New Caledonian industrial installations.
New Caledonia is one of the world's major nickel producers and another big operation at Koniambo in the north of the island may also soon be on the path to production with preliminary finance having been agreeed for the project, which is 49 percent owned by Xstrata.
Koniambo is described as another world-class resource, with nickel contained in both saprolite and limonite (as at Goro) with grades that compare favourably with other laterite deposits in the world. The saprolite orebody contains 142.1 million tonnes of measured and indicated resources grading 2.13% nickel and 156.0 million tonnes of inferred resources grading 2.2% nickel. Again this will be a multi-billion dollar development should it go ahead.