MAC/20: Mines and Communities

Freeport-Rio Tinto: between the devil and the deep blue sea

Published by MAC on 2003-06-11

Freeport-Rio Tinto: between the devil and the deep blue sea

The Indonesian Minister of the Environment is getting exasperated with the failure of Freeport-Rio Tinto to limit the vast pollution caused by their Grasberg gold-copper mine in West Papua. He has now presented the companies with an ultimatum: Either they adopt STD (submarine tailings disposal); or else they "improve" current land-based disposal - which could mean almost anything. Freeport is quoted as preferring the latter, saying STD would involve greater risk and cost. Ironically Rio Tinto has argued the exact opposite in the context of its Lihir gold mine in Papua New Guinea. Moreover, although a former Environment Minister rejected new STD ventures in Indonesia, in May the current minister approved the practice at the Newmont gold mine in Nusa Tenggara. (This despite recent evidence of pollution at the site). At another Rio Tinto mine - the Panguna copper-gold mine on Bougainville - opposition mounted during the eighties to Rio Tinto's continued dumping of mine wastes into the Jaba river system. The company then approved plans to build a pipeline for oceanic disposal. But this helped spark the Panguna landowners' revolt against the mine, leading to a conflict in which perhaps 20,000 lost their lives.

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