YEHIURA HRIEHWAZI in Sydney
OIL Search Ltd has strenuously denied spilling toxic chemicals into Lake Kutubu in 2007 which villagers claimed had killed fish and a young girl.
The thorny issue was brought to the fore again last week as Ramsar – the world body responsible for the protection of wetlands – said it would seek response from Oil Search and the PNG Department of Environment and Conservation over the claims by the villagers.
A group of Australians calling themselves as the Friends of Kutubu went to the Australian newspapers – Sunday Age and Herald Sun – in September and blamed Oil Search for what they termed as the “ecological catastrophe”.
Meanwhile, an online reporter for website called Reportage called Ramsar for comments and in doing so aroused the organisation’s interest because PNG is a signatory to the Ramsar convention which requires the government to ensure the world-recognised lake is not disturbed.
Oil Search group environment manager Dr Ben Yaru and operations manager Phil Caldwell told The National in their Sydney office at the weekend that what’s being reported were totally wrong and void of any scientific evidence and fact.
However, they said they fully appreciated the Lake Kutubu people’s sensitivity and close attachment to the lake and were working closely with them to allay any fears of toxicity in the water.
They said the company drilled a well in may 2007 at an site 2.5km from the lake in accordance with normal procedures where risk assessments were done and a range of preventive and monitoring measures were undertaken.
The chemicals used form the mud system used during drilling was very low in toxicity which was very harmless and none of it was spilled into any water systems because its a very-well protected and controlled operation, they explained.
They said they even did baseline data survey of the surrounding water sources prior to commencement of drilling.
During the drilling they were informed by a member of the community that there had been discoloration of two tributaries flowing into Lake Kutubu and that fish had been killed.
There had also been high rainfall in the area that caused turbidity in the lake and sometimes that had been associated with recorded dead fish.
However, some members of the community immediately linked that to the company’s drilling activities.