The Legend of Gigira-Laitebo is subscribed to by the 26 Tuguba Tribes upon whose customary land the Natural Gas is to be exploited. According to Legend, the Laitebo Prophesized that the energy under Mount Gigira would give light to the World. Unfortunately that has not been the case for communities impacted by the LNG Project.
The PNG LNG Project is a USD 15 billion project expected to produce 9 trillion cubic feet gas over a 30 year period. The Government of Papua New Guinea is expected to earn USD 5.6 to 7.5 billion during the life of the project. The exploiters are expected to earn 6 to 8 times more.
The exploiters involved in the LNG Project, are ExxonMobil, including Esso Highlands Limited as operator, (33.2 percent), Oil Search Limited (29.0 percent), Independent Public Business Corporation (PNG government, 16.6. percent), Santos Limited (13.5 percent), Nippon Oil Exploration (4.7 percent), Mineral Resources Development Company (PNG landowners, 2.8 percent) and Petromin PNG Holdings Limited (0.2 percent).
In January 2010 the once peace loving Motuan Villages shed blood over land disputes related to the project. Four Porebada villagers were killed by youth from Boera over disputed land known as Portion 152 where the LNG plant is being built near Port Moresby.
Later in March that year, former PNG Defence Force Commander Jerry Singirok warned that the presence of foreign owned security firms brought in by the LNG Project, posed a security threat to the nation. He accused these security firms of dismantling the Defence Force by recruiting the best men.
It was also in March 2010 that all agreements related to the LNG Project were finalized.
“How is it that a country as richly endowed with natural resources as Papua New Guinea with multinational mining companies flocking there like bees to a honey pot is actually going backwards when it comes to key social indicators such as wealth and life expectancy?”
To which landowner, Simon Ekanda replied bluntly:
“It's just like raping a woman. They're going to rape our resources.”
By November of 2010 landowners from the Gas site started expressing their frustrations. They had launched court proceedings to challenge the validity of Section 6 of the Oil and Gas Act (OGA) and the powers of the State to compulsorily acquire land for the benefit of outsiders under the Land Act. The airport at Tari was also closed and an aircraft transporting explosives for the LNG Project was confronted.
It was also in November that US Secretary for State, Hilary Clinton made the first ever visit to PNG by a High-ranking US Government Official. During the visit she warned the PNG Government about the risks associated with poor management of revenues from the LNG Project. Mrs. Clinton later told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that China was seeking to outflank Exxon-Mobil in PNG.
When President Obama recently announced that the US would be stationing troops in Australia, a PNG commentator wrote:
“PNG hosts American national interests and national security. The multi-billion dollar LNG project is managed by the US multinational, ExxonMobil. As China becomes more trade dependent it will need a cooperative security from traditional and non-traditional security threats. Given this economic and strategic scenario, [a] miscalculation by the US against China will construct a tendency towards tension and conflict.”
The prophecy of the Laitebo now plays itself out in the 21st century. But instead of giving light to the world the world’s spotlight has been turned on it. Will it fuel conflict between nations just as it has fuelled conflict in local communities? That is a 15 billion dollar question.
Perhaps the most ominous warning is found in a New York Times article titled Riches May Not Help Papua New Guinea:
“If foreigners come to our land, you give them food and water, but don’t give them the fire,” said John Hamule, 38, as the others nodded. “If you do, it will destroy this place.”