MAC/20: Mines and Communities

Freeport 'committed' to the environment

Published by MAC on 2006-04-12

Freeport 'committed' to the environment

The Jakarta Post

12th April 2006

PT Freeport Indonesia (Freeport) has again come under fire for allegedly polluting the environment in its Grasberg mine in Papua. The Jakarta Post's Tb. Arie Rukmantara discussed the issue with Freeport's Senior Vice President for Safety, Health and Environment Rusdian Lubis. The following are the excerpts of the interview.

Question: The State Ministry for the Environment has publicly announced that Freeport has not met the government standards on several aspects of its environmental management. What measures will your company take?

Answer: For two weeks, staffed by 24 professionals, the Program for Pollution Control, Evaluation and Rating (Proper) audit team visited our mining operations. In its preliminary finding, the team acknowledged Freeport's effectiveness in environmental management practices in some areas and they also made several suggestions for improvements in other areas.

The State Ministry for the Environment then sent us a letter to follow up the suggested improvements. This is very common in an audit process. There are always things to be improved. We appreciated their suggestions and will work together with the ministry and local government in addressing these issues.
We are now preparing work plans and implementation schedules for approval. We and the government have common objectives, one of which is to continually improve our environmental performance.

The Proper audit also showed that the government staff and Freeport staff could work together and enjoy mutual respect as environmental professionals.

Is there any disagreement about the tailing management issue?

Both Freeport and the government want us to optimize our current environmental management programs so as to reduce our impact on the environment. In their public statement concerning their preliminary findings, the Proper audit team acknowledged that Freeport's disposal of tailings in the ModADA (deposition area) is in accordance with our Amdal (Environmental Impact Analysis).

Has the company found other alternatives to dispose of its tailings other than Riverine Tailing Disposal?

Several alternatives or options, as a matter of fact, have been assessed and analyzed. The studies showed that the Riverine Tailing Disposal or to be precise, Riverine Tailing Placement came out as the best choice.

The current system allows us to further manage and utilize the tailings as valuable resources. In the Amdal process Freeport -- with government approval -- invited experts (national and international) to conduct a series of technical studies. They assessed many options in tailings management and selected the best system for the site conditions.

The experts rejected tailings storage areas since there is no way to build an extremely high dam in a seismically active area with a lot of rainfall. If the dam fails, the environmental impact would be disastrous. They also rejected the use of a pipeline to carry tailings from the mill to the deposition area because of the distance and the difficult terrain. The construction of a pipeline would also significantly disturb the canyon systems.

On top of that, the pipeline could easily be damaged due to landslides, floods, and earthquakes. The Amdal concluded, with the approval of the Indonesian government, that the current system represents the best choice considering the geotechnical, topographic, climatological, seismic and water conditions.

Later, from 1998 to 2002, Freeport conducted a comprehensive Environment Risk Assessment (ERA) to analyze the potential risks associated with the Riverine Tailing Placement on human health, plants and wildlife and aquatic ecology. The risks identified in the reports were in line with the impacts predicted in the 1997 Amdal.

The ERA took four years to complete. It included 96 studies by national and international experts, more than 10,000 samples and more than 200,000 data points. Parametrix Inc. said that it was probably the most comprehensive ERA done in the mining industry in the world.

The ERA process and report was reviewed and feedback provided by a team of 19 independent experts from the government, academia and non-governmental organizations. The documents were submitted to the State Ministry for the Environment and the Energy and Mineral Resources Ministry in December 2002.

The government environmental audit report is made based on the Proper scheme. What motivated Freeport to participate in the scheme this year and why did the company participate in the previous years?

Most importantly, from this year onward Freeport will participate in the Proper audit. Our motivation stems from Freeport's commitment to continual improvement of our environmental performance. In practice, Freeport has always submitted itself to a rigorous program of environmental audits -annual internal audits, annual external audits to maintain our ISO14001 rating, independent external audits every three years and, now the annual Proper audit.

Those audits help us find new ways to improve our environmental programs and hence our environmental performance. Because Proper was conducted by the government, it has the added benefit of increasing communication and mutual respect between Freeport and the government's professional staff.

Do you believe that your company deserves a black or red label, the lowest scores given under the Proper scheme?

As we understand it, these ratings are not issued until late in the year. We believe we have done our best. We have good environmental programs, but we know we are not perfect. Hence, we are open to ideas on how to improve our environmental performance. That's why we participate in so many audits including Proper.

To conclude, we respect the Proper audit program. They have made some good suggestions and now we are working with them to devise corrective actions and how to implement them. Remember that we share and work for a common objective, that is, to continually improve Freeport's environmental performance.

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