An earthquake in Papua New Guinea rattled ExxonMobil’s gas project on the island nation to the tune of $19 billion, and a backlash against the U.S. company’s activities is becoming more difficult to contain.
A group of locals are blaming the activities of Exxon and its local partners for the 7.5-magnitude earthquake that hit the island on February 26. Aftershocks after the initial quake compounded the effects of the natural disaster.
The project, known as PNG LNG, is recognized as one of the world’s most successful liquefied natural gas projects, but the foreign presence is becoming more and more unpopular amongst locals. The country’s Vice Minister for Petroleum and Energy, Manasseh Makiba told Reuters that Exxon should open an official inquiry to identify the causes of the aftershocks to address the locals’ concerns.
“It could be man-made but that cannot be confirmed until a proper scientific inquiry can be done,” Makiba said. “We need to resolve that.”
Finance Minister James Marape also asked the company to take action in a Facebook post: “In a world of science and knowledge, I now demand answer(s) from Exxon and my own government as to the cause of this unusual trend in my Hela.”
The islands of Papua New Guinea sit on the Pacific Ring of Fire, known for its regular volcanoes and earthquakes. Chris Mckee, Exxon’s head of Geohazards Management Division, claims the recent activity was just part of the area’s normal geological climate.
“Earthquake activity has been going on much longer than the oil and gas industry presence in the region – there is no connection at all,” he said.
Scientific evidence strongly suggests the earthquake was “naturally occurring and consistent with prior events”, an Exxon spokeswoman said in a statement following the activity.