MAC: Mines and Communities

Environmentalists urge STD ban

Published by MAC on 2004-12-20

Environmentalists urge STD ban

Tony Hotland, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

20th December 2004

Environmentalists have renewed calls for the government to completely ban submarine tailings disposal (STD) in the country, for fear of further pollution, such as that blamed on mining firm PT Newmont Minahasa Raya in Buyat Bay.

STD is one of the core problems exacerbating the condition of Buyat Bay in North Sulawesi, and the waters off Sumbawa island, West Nusa Tenggara, which is home to another Newmont mining site, they argued.

"But even without the Buyat case, STD remains a controversial issue worldwide. And, as I've said before, the method should be banned for a number of reasons, particularly the control factor," former environment minister Sonny Keraf told The Jakarta Post.

STD is the disposal of mine waste in the form of tailings in the ocean, which consist of crushed rock, ore and substances, after most of the sought metals have been extracted.

Sonny, who was the environment minister when Newmont was operating in Buyat, said that both on-land disposal and submarine disposal were acceptable methods so long as the tailings were completely detoxified so that they were under the environmentally safe limit.

"However, there are reasons why it would be better if we used only on-land disposal. For example, control would be much easier, because, on land, we can directly see the effect," he said.

He added that such things as strong currents or winds could spread the tailings and pollute the water, despite the presence of the thermocline.

Masnellyarti Hilman, a member of a joint government team investigating the Buyat Bay pollution case, said one of the reasons why the government was reluctant to ban STD was that it believes the thermocline is able to separate the oxygen under the ocean and prevent the tailings from resurfacing.

But, various studies have shown that tailings could break through the thermocline when upwelling and turbulence occur, particularly in a tropical climate like Indonesia's, she added.

Masnellyarti, from the Office of the State Minister of the Environment, said that in Indonesia, the thermocline is usually located 200 meters to 300 meters below sea level.

"It's safest when the tailings -- if you must use STD -- are disposed of 300 meters below sea level. I don't know why Newmont claimed the layer was 80 meters below sea level (in Buyat Bay)," she said.

Concurring with Sonny, Masnellyarti said the monitoring of STD could cost up to Rp 1 billion (US$111.23 million) for one monitoring expedition using a submarine vessel.

The United States-based Newmont was the first firm to use STD in Indonesia and will soon be followed by five other companies: Australia's Asia Pacific Nickel/BHP in Papua, Canada's Weda Bay Nikel and Ingold in Maluku, Australia's PT Meares Soputan Mining in North Sulawesi and PT Jember Metal and Banyuwangi Minerals in East Java.

STD has been effectively banned in the United States, Canada, and Australia.

Newmont's environmental manager Imelda Adisaputra said it would be unfair to totally ban the use of STD because Indonesia has very complex topographic conditions.

"We chose STD in Buyat because the area is prone to earthquakes and landslides, and located near villages. We were afraid that if we used on-land disposal, we would have to build waste dams on higher ground... What would happen if an earthquake occurred?" she told the Post.

She agreed, however, that tighter monitoring and examinations were necessary before permitting an STD venture, but a total ban would be unrealistic as STD suited certain mining sites more than other methods

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