Hides landowner dispute threatens gas production

A dispute between disgruntled landholders in Papua New Guinea’s Hela province and the Papua New Guinea government is now nearing the end of its second week, with protesters restricting access to the Hides gas conditioning plant.

The landholders have used downed trees to block the thoroughfare to the site and have threatened to shut down the entire Papua New Guinea LNG project if the government does not respond to their claims for payment of due royalties from LNG sales.

The protesters, peaceful to this stage, are complaining that the benefits of the LNG project have not begun flowing to Hela province despite an agreement between landholders and the government signed 10 years ago.

ExxonMobil Corp., operator of the PNG-LNG project, says that while the dispute is between landowners and the government, the company is doing everything it can to help facilitate communication between all parties. ExxonMobil will neither confirm nor deny reports of disruption to production.

Prime Minister Peter O’Neill said all outstanding payments will be made in due course. However the government is still trying to ensure it has recorded every person due for payments under the Landowner Beneficiary Identification Program.

Energy Minister Nixon Duban says this program needs to be completed properly so that there are no issues in the future for PNG-LNG, its potential expansion, or the development of the Total SA-led Papua LNG project.

A government delegation has been in Hela this week for discussions with landowners, but has asked for more time for the ongoing clan vetting process to establish legitimate landowners in the area.

Extra police have been deployed in the region to ward off any moves towards violence.

ExxonMobil and its main partner, Oil Search Ltd., are very much the meat in the sandwich; both companies have said they are committed to maintain a positive relationship with landowners, the government, and the community in general.

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