PAPUA NEW GUINEA – The earthquake in Papua New Guinea has sparked a backlash against the US energy giant ExxonMobil.
Some ‘spooked’ locals blame Exxon’s $19 billion gas project of causing, or at least magnifying, the 7.5 magnitude quake and the series of intense aftershocks.
While firmly denied by Exxon and debunked by geologists, the accusations suggest that the project known as PNG LNG has caused some sort of geological instability in the Highlands region.
The concerns about the project – the country’s biggest revenue earner - are even being expressed at senior levels in the Papua New Guinea government.
PNG’s Vice Minister for Petroleum and Energy, Manasseh Makiba, has said publicly that there should be an inquiry to respond to local concerns that “mother nature” was reacting to the ground disturbed by drilling.
PNG’s Minister for Finance, James Marape, has also demanded answers from the company.
“In a world of science and knowledge, I now demand answers from Exxon and my own government as to the cause of this unusual trend in Hela,” Marape posted on his private Facebook page.
He is among many who have lit up social media in PNG, with blogs and Facebook posts pointing the finger at the oil and gas sector’s alleged contribution to the disaster.
Around Exxon’s operation, communities remain fearful as the death toll climbs, with as many as 18 more killed by a 6.7 magnitude aftershock on Wednesday.
Chris McKee, acting director of the Geohazards Management Division in Port Moresby, said there was no link between the project and seismic activity, which has included more than 120 quakes of magnitude 4.5 and greater in the week after the initial hit.
Papua New Guinea straddles the geologically active Pacific Ring of Fire.
- PNC sources