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05 April 2018

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I found Michael's piece interesting because it is a scenario that I have seen on various smaller scales throughout Papua New Guinea.

I've done a lot of social mapping for all sorts of resource developments and I have watched companies make their initial forays into areas where they have identified a financially viable resource they wish to exploit. Without exception their opening gambit revolves around the benefits their plan will deliver to the locals if they cooperate.

They build up expectations so much that they create competition among the locals for their piece of the prize. That's when the carpetbaggers and fake land owners emerge from the woodwork.

Then, almost without exception, they fail to deliver on their promises. They ignore the advice given in the social mapping reports, get embroiled with the wrong local people and make such a mess that they often withdraw from the consultation process and tell everyone its the government's job to sort it all out. The government, of course, regards this sorting out as a licence to cream money and short shrift the land owners.

I think this is what happened with the LNG project - too many unfulfilled promises, disregard of good advice and abandonment of consultation - all subsumed to the singular goal of the pursuit of profit because anything else was 'too hard'.

Funnily enough, it's not too hard and properly managed these sorts of projects can have enormous benefits. One day there will be one that shows the truth of that fact.

Very interesting and well researched material.

Many others worth reading include Paul Slovic, Neil Postman, Jacques Ellul and Gerd Gigerenzer.

Sometime in 1974-75, very much a junior, I had a place in a Port Moresby meeting which was discussing the establishment of a hydro electricity project somewhere to the west - perhaps behind Kwikila.

The project's principal aim was to provide electricity for one of PNG's expanding cities - perhaps Moresby itself. I piped up and suggested it might at the same time be a good idea to establish some benefit for people living in the area from which the electricity was being generated by diverting some into a local distribution network.

The reaction was almost as if I had farted. There was puzzlement, some spluttering, and then an improvised statement from the chairman, which made clear cost and infrastructure complications meant that diversions to local beneficiaries would never be approved.

I thought then it was a mistake and after being updated by Michael Main on village thinking in Hela continue to think that extracting local resource without establishing secondary benefit for local people is a fundamental mistake.

I firmly believe that gas extraction, which is shallow in geological terms, could not have triggered the seismic activity that has damaged so much of Huli infrastructure.

However if the people had benefited directly from ExxonMobil's activity, in whatever form they thought most suitable, the post-earthquake reaction against continuing gas extraction may not have been so cohesive or so severe.

This is a fabulous piece of transdisciplinary thinking and discernment about risk.

All too often the contemporary approaches ignore the inherently subjective nature of risk.

The reification of risk via an inordinate focus on structuralism, objectivism and positivism eventually entangles the process with many of the impurities it attempts to resolve. It often disregards that risk is socially constructed.

Not many petroleum engineers would bother reading the work of Mary Douglas.

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