AUSTRALIAN gold miner, Newcrest Mining, has scaled back its presence at Wafi-Golpu, a Papua New Guinea (PNG) project it holds in joint venture with Harmony Gold, after running into “continued delays”.
Sandeep Biswas, MD and CEO of Newcrest, said in the firm’s third quarter report today the project continued to be delayed “… by unresolved legal proceedings between the National Government and the Morobe Provincial Government” regarding how the economic benefits of the project would be distributed.
The PNG government was also running a separate review of the project in terms of broader economic participation and distribution policies.
As a result, the Wafi-Golpu Joint Venture (WGJC) has deferred the planned work programme whilst the company’s project team based in Brisbane and on site in PNG had been reduced. Other activities such as community and environmental programmes at the site would continue, however.
“It is difficult to estimate the duration of this delay and the market will be advised when discussions recommence,” said Biswas. He added that the PNG government had continued to “signal its support for the project”.
Harmony Gold said in May that following the appointment of PNG’s new prime minister, James Marape, there had been uncertainty about how quickly the project may progress. The PNG first focused its attention on natural gas projects against a backdrop of political unease in the country. Earlier this month, PNG authorities issued warrants for the arrest of the country’s former Prime Minister Peter O’Neill on suspicion of “official corruption”.
The O’Neill government signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) regarding the development of Wafi-Golpu but it did not state the ownership that the PNG government may take in the project.
“Consequent delays in the work program will increase permitting costs,” said Morgan Stanley of Wafi-Golpu in July.
“We view PNG as a relatively high risk jurisdiction, and if permitting approvals are not forthcoming, development of the project could stall and exacerbate our concerns over Harmony’s long-term production decline,” said JP Morgan Cazenove in a note.
Significant delays in the development of Wafi-Golpu could also heighten risks about Harmony’s long-term production profile notwithstanding last year’s purchase of Moab Khotsong from AngloGold Ashanti.
Harmony is thought to be considering the possibility of making a bid for the Mponeng and Mine Waste Solutions assets in South Africa that AngloGold has put up for sale.
The Wafi-Golpu copper-gold mine could cost Harmony Gold $2.82bn in initial capital expenditure to build to commercial levels of production as per a 2018 feasibility study. Of this, Harmony will shoulder about 50% with Newcrest Mining Limited, an Australian firm, carrying the balance. Average annual gold production was put at some 266,000 ounces.