EXPERIENCE in the petroleum sector indicates that the State has been serially failing get social mapping studies right in many petroleum development projects in the country over the years.
The importance of social mapping studies, including landowner identification studies and clan-vetting cannot be overemphasized.
Identification of these landowners ensures that benefits emanating from a petroleum project are fairly distributed.
While this is the noble intent of social mapping, it has not been done properly in practice, giving rise to so many landowner disputes over the years.
By law, social mapping is an important prerequisite to the hosting of a benefit sharing agreement (Bsa) forum, which eventually leads to the Department of Petroleum awarding petroleum development licenses to project developers to develop petroleum projects.
However, many Bsa forums have been hosted without properly identifying who the beneficiaries are in the project license areas.
For example, the PNG LNG project was rushed without conducting proper social mapping study,
The State is currently undertaking clan-vetting to complete the process of identifying project-affected landowners after the commencement of the project.
Similarly, a BSA forum was convened by the Department of Petroleum for P’nyang gas, but landowners boycotted the BSA forum because no proper social mapping study was conducted.
Recently, the Department of Petroleum assistant secretary, Kepsey Puiye, said Section 47 of the Oil and Gas Act directed projected developers to undertake full-scale social mapping and landowner identification but the developers were failing to meet this important requirement.
Hence, he has advised the minister for petroleum to make a provision in the Oil and Gas Act to penalise companies that fail that component.
In the same vein, the State has recently appointed its negotiation team for the Elk-Antelope LNG project in anticipation for the BSA.
It is understood that the developer has conducted the social mapping study, including the landowner identification and clan-vetting exercise.
However, from what I am hearing from locals from the project area, social mapping done by the developer excluded many project-affected landowners. They are now seeking to have their names included in the social mapping study. They are currently in desperate need of being assisted and heard by the authorities that be such as Department of Petroleum, project developer, minister for petroleum, Gulf governor and Kikori MP.
The Government must ensure that all genuinely-affected landowners are identified before the BSA forum can be hosted. To proceed without resolving this issue will not only make it difficult to fairly distribute benefits, but also put future security of the Elk-Antelope LNG project at risk.