MAC/20: Mines and Communities

Newmont fights waste charges - Gold mining firm dumps in ocean, Indonesia alleges

Published by MAC on 2004-09-08

Newmont fights waste charges - Gold mining firm dumps in ocean, Indonesia alleges

By Gargi Chakrabarty, Rocky Mountain News

September 8, 2004

Denver's high-profile gold company, Newmont Mining Corp., is fighting allegations on four continents that it is polluting with mining waste.

In the latest case, the company is facing charges in Indonesia that it dumped waste in the ocean near a coastal mining site, polluting the waters. Indonesian police are questioning two Newmont executives.

Newmont, the world's biggest gold producer, also is fighting environment-related charges at its mining sites in Nevada, and in Peru, Ghana and Turkey.

The company argues that it is a target because of its size and that most charges are political and have little to do with environmental issues.

"When you are the biggest in an industry, critic groups put their -focus on the big dog, and that's how it is," said Newmont spokesman Doug Hock.

Since last Thursday, more than 1,000 activists have been blocking the roads and highways to Yanacocha - the world's largest gold mine - in Peru. They are protesting Newmont's plan to expand the mine to Cerro Quilish, which they say could contaminate the drinking water supply to the town of Cajamarca.

The company is "not stepping up to the plate in terms of environmental and social responsibility," said Payal Sampat, international campaign director of Earthworks, an activist group based in Washington. "I don't think it is a coincidence that so many stories are cropping up in different parts of the world.

"In terms of its size, standing and finances, Newmont could be a leader in the mining industry by being receptive to community issues.

"But from the cases in Indonesia, Peru and other regions, it is evident that the company is lagging behind in playing that role," Sampat said.

In Ghana, for instance, Newmont is planning to open a gold mine in Akyem, which is home to rare plant and animal species, Sampat said.

But Newmont's Hock pointed to discrepancies in tests at the Indonesia operation.

Water samples taken by the Indonesian police from the Buyat Bay where Newmont disposed waste from the Minahasa Raya mine showed a mercury level of 4.668 micrograms per liter.

In contrast, simultaneous samples taken by a laboratory in Indonesia hired by Newmont showed 0.055 micrograms per liter. Samples by Australia's Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research organization - also hired by Newmont - averaged only 0.005 micrograms per liter.

"The police tests showed . . . higher levels of mercury than the other tests," Hock said. "This discrepancy in the test results certainly raises many questions."

Referring to the roadblocks near Cajamarca in Peru, Hock said Newmont is in favor of a dialogue with concerned parties to resolve the outstanding issues.

"We followed all the rules that were outlined for us and have been a good corporate citizen. But now our rights are being jeopardized," Hock said.

Newmont's troubles around the world

MINAHASA RAYA

. Location: North Sulawesi, Indonesia

. At issue: Newmont disposed of its tailings or waste in the waters of Buyat Bay, a method permitted by the government. An investigation alleges heavy metal pollution.

. Newmont's position: The Indonesian government has asked the World Health Organization to look into the allegations.

YANACOCHA

. Location: Cajamarca, Peru

. At issue: Newmont's plans to expand its mine at Cerro Quilish. Activists say that will contaminate the drinking water.

. Newmont's position: Hydrological tests performed to date indicate the impact is minimal.

OVACIK

. Location: Bergama district, Turkey

. At issue: The mine, which was closed, was operating under a government decree that the Turkish high court deemed illegal.

. Newmont's position: The Turkish Ministry of Environment and Forest approved the permits.

GOLD QUARRY

. Location: near Carlin, Nev.

. Status: Opened in 1984.

. At issue: A Nevada district judge recently ruled that the state illegally allowed Newmont to relax the water-quality standards.

. Newmont's position: The company is reviewing the court's decision.

ROSIA MONTANA

. Location: Rosia Montana, Romania

. At issue: Newmont is buying a 10 percent stake in Gabriel Resources. Activists say people would be displaced by this project.

. Newmont's position: The company conducted due diligence before making its investment.

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