Businessman defends PNG water pipeline

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An Australian businessman on Friday defended his ambitious plan to build a $US27 billion ($A29.

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97 billion) pipeline to transport fresh water from Papua New Guinea to the Australian state of Queensland as feasible.

Fred Ariel said his Might and Power company had signed a deal with the PNG government to complete a feasibility study into the construction of a 3000km pipeline to supply farming and drinking water.

The plan would involve piping water from PNG’s Mendi River south under the Torres Strait and through north Queensland into the Murray-Darling river system, a key source of Australian agricultural produce.

“I estimate we could potentially increase the flow into the Murray by up to 40 per cent,” said Ariel.

The issue has raised questions in Queensland, with the state’s minister for natural resources Stephen Robertson reportedly sceptical about the proposal.

Ariel said he expected the study to be completed within a year, but that it would be another decade before any water was ready to flow through the undersea pipe which could potentially supply about 2000 gigalitres per year.

“I see this as a 2020 project,” Ariel told AFP by phone.

The scheme would also involve the construction of six hydro-electric power stations, which would generate electricity for towns along the pipeline’s route.

“We could sell electricity back into the grid, which would help towns like (Papua New Guinea’s) Lae, which is running short of power,” said Ariel.

Previous schemes have been dismissed as unfeasible, but Ariel said the sheer volume of water combined with the fact that the water was gravity fed, reducing the need for pumping, ensured it could be economical.

“There’s your difference: altitudes and volumes,” he said.

He said while he had strong support from PNG authorities, discussions were ongoing with Australian politicians. He told Radio New Zealand a scheme of this type was a matter of time.

“I think it’s inevitable. We know that the engineering exists. We know the supply is there. We know that the demand is there. It’s not rocket science to hook up point A to point B with a long hose,” he said.

Ariel, well known in Queensland for his adventure tourism company, said the idea first came to him on a rafting trip in PNG in the early 1990s, and that he began working on the project when decreasing water resources became a major issue in Australia.

The idea of piping water vast distances is not unknown in Australia, the world’s driest inhabited continent, with a plan for a pipeline to carry water thousands of kilometres across Western Australia to Perth mooted in 2005.