MAC: Mines and Communities

Newmont Under Fire for Waste Disposal Practices in Indonesia

Published by MAC on 2011-04-27
Source: Jakarta Globe (2011-04-18)

Indonesian environmentalists are urging their government not to allow Newmont of the US  - the world's second biggest gold miner - to continue dumping mine tailings into the sea from its West Nusa Tenggara operations.

Note: NTB is the acronym, in bahasa Indonesian,for West Nusa Tenggara Province.

NTB Miner Under Fire for Waste Disposal Practices

Fidelis E. Satriastanti

Jakarta Globe

18 April 2011

Environmentalists have urged the government not to allow the operators of a gold mine in Sumbawa, West Nusa Tenggara, to continue dumping their tailings into the sea.

The tailing permit for Newmont Nusa Tenggara, the local unit of US mining giant Newmont Mining Corp., for its Batu Hijau gold and copper mine was granted in 2005 and expires this May.

Pius Ginting, campaign manager for mining at the Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi), said on Sunday that the dumping of tailings into the sea had reduced the coastal fish population and polluted the water.

He said tests by Walhi had shown the phytoplankton population in the water had decreased by almost 15 percent between 2006 and 2010, thus impacting the rest of the food chain and forcing fishermen to go further out to sea to catch fish.

Yani Sagaroa, head of Walhi's national board and a Sumbawa resident, said that fishermen were now only making Rp 20,000 to Rp 25,000 ($2.30 to $2.90) a day from their dwindling catches, whereas in 2005, before the dumping began, they easily made Rp 100,000 a day.

"The tailings have even drifted as far as Lombok Island, and the fishermen have had to sail an extra 70 kilometers from their usual fishing grounds to get as many fish," he said, adding that Newmont was dumping 110,000 to 160,000 tons of waste daily into the sea. "This is obviously hard on the subsistence fishermen sailing in small boats."

Pius said the dumping had also clouded the water off the Sumbawa coast. He said the level of total suspended solids in the water there, a measure of the nonsoluble residue, had increased by almost 112 percent between 2006 and 2010.

"If you refer to the Marine Water Quality Criteria for the Asean region, then the normal change in TSS level is 10 percent per year," he said.

"So over a period of four years, it should only be about 40 percent. But here it's gone up by 111.7 percent, which is way too high."

Pius said Walhi had sent a letter last month to the Environment Ministry to ask that it reject any extension of Newmont's permit for submarine tailings disposal. He said there had been no response yet from the ministry.

Masnellyarti Hilman, the ministry's deputy for toxic waste management, said her office was still reviewing the permit.

"Our team is conducting research in the field, so we're still discussing the issue," she said.

Indonesia is the only country where Newmont uses the STD method to dump its tailings, which it claims costs more than conventional methods but is more environmentally sound.


Embattled Miner Newmont Set for New Row in NTB

Jakarta Globe

20 January 2011

Mataram. The country's leading environmental group has accused the world's largest gold miner of polluting a coastal area of Sumbawa Island in West Nusa Tenggara by dumping its tailings into the sea.

The Batu Hijau copper and gold mine is operated by Newmont Nusa Tenggara, the local arm of US mining behemoth Newmont Mining Corporation.

Ahmad Junaidi, a member of the local branch of the Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi), said on Tuesday that NNT had been dumping 120,000 tons of tailings into Sumbawa's Senunu Bay daily since 2000.

He said the activity was to blame for the reduced catches reported by fishermen and posed a major threat to the health of communities living around the bay.

"That threat becomes very real when the pipes that carry the tailings out to sea spring a leak, and that has happened before," he said.

Walhi previously accused another Newmont subsidiary, Newmont Minahasa Raya, of dumping 20,000 tons of tailings a day into Buyat Bay on Sulawesi Island.

The company faced both civil and criminal suits in Jakarta.

However, the civil suit was dismissed in 2005, and the company's top American executive was acquitted of all criminal charges two years later.

Ahmad said the much larger amounts of waste being pumped into Senunu Bay should prompt the authorities to review NNT's permit to dump tailings into the sea.

He said that while the company's operations may have met legal requirements, there was no way to determine their effect on the marine ecosystem.

Kasan Mulyono, public relations manager for NNT, said Walhi and other nongovernmental groups were within their rights to comment on the issue.

"But the dumping of tailings has been permitted by the Environment Ministry and has undergone a quality management process that was approved by the government," he said.

He confirmed that the company was continuing to dump its tailings into the bay.

In a separate development, NNT denounced last Thursday's decision by the West Sumbawa district administration to significantly limit the amount of copper-gold concentrate the company was permitted to ship from Benete Port.

The restriction was imposed by the district head, Zulkifli Muhadli, just as concentrate was being loaded onto a ship bound for Germany. The ship was supposed to carry 21,978 tons of concentrate but left with only 1,382 tons.

Arif Perdanakusumah, senior manager of external relations for NNT, said the decision was in breach of existing export and operating procedures.

"This latest restriction, under the pretext of compliance with new regulations, is a violation of existing procedures and is not in accordance with higher laws," he said.

NNT, he said, had consistently complied with all commodity export laws and the company's logistics operations were audited by a government-appointed auditor as well as teams from the provincial and district administrations.

Arif said the restriction would cause the company losses of $11,000 to $13,000 a day as it sought more ships to take on the backlog of concentrate.

"We're going to meet with the West Sumbawa district head to seek clarification in this matter and try to put the differences between both sides to rest," he said.

Zulkifli, however, said the restriction was justified because NNT had "drained the region's wealth over the past decade."

He accused the company of failing to disclose how much copper and gold it mined from Batu Hijau, although publicly available figures from 2005 show the mine produced 325,500 tons of copper and 719,000 ounces of gold.

"We need to know exactly how much of our natural resources they're extracting, because it's a key source of our regional revenue," Zulkifli said.

The company is also contesting the district administration's new tax on miners, reportedly designed to generate around Rp 200 billion ($22 million) to fund the district budget.

The regulation, which went into effect on Jan. 1, requires mining companies operating in West Sumbawa to pay the administration a 1 percent levy on sales volume and 1.5 percent on goods and services procurement.

NNT said the administration had not consulted with mining companies before passing the regulation and vowed to file an objection.

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