MAC: Mines and Communities

Lawmakers Confirm Report Of Pollution At Freeport

Published by MAC on 2006-05-11
Source: The Jakarta Post

Lawmakers confirm report of pollution at Freeport

M. Taufiqurrahman and T.B. Arie Rukmantara, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

11th May 2006

The tailing system used by PT Freeport Indonesia in its operation in Timika, Papua, has caused severe damage to the environment, a House of Representatives-sanctioned team says, confirming earlier similar findings.

The team, formed by the House working committee on Freeport to investigate the U.S.-owned firm's operation, said that rather than resorting to a more environmentally friendly system, the mining giant simply disposed of its hazardous waste in nearby streams.

"As a result of this method, tailings are scattered randomly in various locations, forming small islands. When they reach the beach front on the Arafuru coast, they bond strongly with the mangroves there," team member Sony Keraf said Wednesday.

The six-member group, headed by Catur Sapto Edy of the National Mandate Party, returned from Timika on May 7 after conducting a three-day inspection at the Freeport mine.

Sony, a former environment minister under the Megawati Soekarnoputri administration, said million tons of hazardous waste had caused severe destruction to the Arafuru coastline.

"The tailings have reached the surface and the water there has turned black with a silver sheen. Compared to this, what Newmont has done is nothing," Sony said, referring PT Newmont Minahasa Raya, an Australia-based mining company which the police accuse of polluting Buyat Bay in North Sulawesi.

Newmont disposed of hazardous waste from its mine site into Buyat Bay, although the company argues the disposal methods were safe and sanctioned by the government.

The Mining Advocacy Network (Jatam) environmental group estimates Freeport tailings in the area amount to around 800 million tons.

Another environmental group, Greenomics Indonesia said Tuesday that Freeport should restore the ecosystems in a 43,000 hectares of river basin areas in the Minajerwi, Kamura, Otakwa Blumen regions.

These wetlands are connected to the Otomona River, where the company dumps thousands of tons of its tailings every day.

Greenomics estimates repairing the ecological damage to the rivers would cost the company around US$7.5 billion based on current international standards.

The House team also criticized Freeport's book-keeping, saying for many years it was not transparent.

As a consequence, the government and the public never had information about how much Freeport had profited from its mining activities in Papua, Catur said.

"For 30 years now, Freeport Indonesia has been secretive about how much minerals they have exported or how much money they have reaped from the mining activities," Catur said.

The team suggested there should be an independent audit of the Freeport operation because the firm's current auditor, PT Sucofindo Indonesia, was on the company's payroll.

"How can there be an independent audit if the surveyor is paid by Freeport," Catur said.

For years, audit reports produced by Sucofindo had been the primary information source for the government about Freeport's operational activities, he said.

The team called for the Supreme Audit Agency to inspect the company, also scrutinizing Freeport's community development program, security system, human rights record and environmental policies.

Freeport has repeatedly said the company complied with all of the country's environmental regulations.

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