MAC: Mines and Communities

Protected? Not in Indonesia!

Published by MAC on 2008-10-07

BHP Billiton seems to be becoming more recalitrant overextracting nickel from on Gag Island, in West Papua.

This is not the only recently-protected forest area in Indonesia which might be sacrificed to mining. Local traditional leaders in South Sulawesi are also keen to hand out licences in the province's forests.

Regents: What to do about Mining Operations in Protected Forests?

TEMPO Interactive

24th September, 2008

Makassar: Some regents in South Sulawesi province voiced their concern over the many mining potential located inside protected forest areas, at a mining prospects exposé at the South Sulawesi governor office yesterday.

Gowa regent, Ichsan Yasin Limpo said that his area has much mining potential, such as marble, granite and gold. Around 6.000 hectares of land potentially containing gold is situated inside protected forest areas.

At the end of the year, he said, his officials plan to go to China to sign an MoU to start a mining operation in Gowa. However, he claims to have issued operating license to only three companies.

A similar complaint was expressed by Pangkep regent Safrudin Nur, who said, "We are getting a lot of proposals from investors but the problem is that much of the mining potential is inside protected forest areas."

Gold mine explorations in Pangkep are currently operated by the Sinar Mas Group, which have been allowed to operate under a one-year permit. Other mining operations involve steel and oil in Sapanjang block, 14 marble quarries at the border between West Nusa Tenggara and East Nusa Tenggara provinces.

South Sulawesi governor, Syahrul Yasin Limpo cautioned the regents to be careful when issuing mining permits, especially to companies operating inside protected forests.

Although mining exploration permits are issued by the regents, "the provincial government must still oversee the process," Syahrul said during the exposé which was attended by 11 regents, a Malaysian national mining consultant, Datuk Aziz Chemir, and an Australian geologist, Edward Brennan. The South Sulawesi provincial government is currently forming a team to discuss these issues.

BHP plan controversial West Papua nickel mine

Geoff Thompson and Tony Jones

Australian Broadcasting Corporation

29th August 2008

BHP Billiton is on the verge of starting one of the most sensitive mining operations it has ever planned.

TONY JONES: In West Papua, and after evading questions about the project for years, BHP Billiton is on the verge of starting one of the most sensitive mining operations it has ever planned. Gag Island in West Papua holds one of the world's richest nickel deposits. But it, and the islands around it, are ringed by what UNESCO and many marine scientists believe is the richest and most diverse coral reef system in the world.

Conservationists say BHP's disastrous environmental record at Papua New Guinea's Ol Tedi mine should rule out any gamble with Gag Island's riches. And it's not just the potential for environmental damage that makes the gag project controversial. The island lies in West Papua, formerly Irian Jaya. The disputed Indonesian province where previous mining concessions like Freeport have become the focus for pro-independence guerrilla attacks and Indonesian human rights abuses.

Indonesia correspondent Geoff Thompson made the difficult journey to Gag Island to file this exclusive report for Lateline.

GEOFF THOMPSON: Off the remote coast of West Papua in eastern Indonesia sprawls the Raja Ampat archipelago. 610 islands spread across 50,000 square kilometres, covering an area 10 times the size of Bali. But its surface beauty simply cannot compete with the untold treasures below.

CHARLIE VERON, MARINE BIOLOGIST: There was once a time when all scientists in fact it was general knowledge, thought that the Great Barrier Reef was the centre of marine diversity. It was a very special place, but it is not the centre of marine diversity. The Raja Ampat islands of eastern Indonesia are.

JAN STEFFEN, UNESCO, JAKARTA OFFICE: If you look at it from the point of view of marine biodiversity it is what people call the bullseye on the planet. There's no richer place in terms of marine biodiversity.

GEOFF THOMPSON: The Raja Ampat archipelago sits atop the planetary short list of marine sites most deserving of World Heritage listing.

JAN STEFFEN: I think now it is basically a technical matter to get everything sorted out and to fulfil all the requirements but personally, I am quite optimistic that will happen.

GEOFF THOMPSON: But marine life isn't the only resource rich in abundance here. The other is nickel. In fact, one of the world's biggest deposits of that crucial stainless steel ingredient is locked inside Gag Island. A 56-square-kilometre land mass smack in the middle of the Raja Ampat archipelago.

And it's here that BHP Billiton has set up base, and is preparing to mine, after signing a 50-50 joint venture agreement in June with the Indonesian-owned company, PT Antam. For years BHP Billiton has been sitting on the controversial concession. Environmental protests saw the island reclassified as protected forest in 1999. Temporarily shelving BHP's mining plans. A regulatory shift in 2004 again cleared the way for Gag's exploitation. BHP's board has not yet approved the deal, but the company is already the best employer in Gag's only village, Gambia.

WAJU HUSEIN, COMMUNITY LEADER (translated): With the company here, even though they're still exploring, there's a huge difference in income already. When the producing starts, the company promises there'll be some sort of share of the production they get out of Gag Island, like in Freeport and such. There'll be money for the village, as well. They promised us that.

GEOFF THOMPSON: Nearly all of Gambia's point are migrants from nearby ma Luku and welcome the economic benefits they think the mine will bring. But Johanes Goram is an activist and among the Papuans disputing traditional ownership of Gag Island. He used to walk for Freeport's giant gold and copper mine, which for decades has been the flashpoint of conflict between pro-independence guerrillas and Indonesia's military.

Johanes Goram thinks stirring up of jealousies will haunt Gag Island, too.

JOHANES GORAM, NAZARETH FOUNDATION PAPUA: I do believe it is a human rights issue, because when the migrant and the local Papuan will fight or will conflict because of the issue, we are afraid that military intervention can be used to stop, to protect the company, to protect the land, to support the government.

GEOFF THOMPSON: It's extremely unlikely that BHP's nickel mine here will somehow sidestep the minefield of Papuan politics. Loud voices on the Papuan Traditional Council are already saying they are happy for the operation to proceed, but only in a Papua independent of Indonesia. But BHP can count on Indonesian Government support says the head of the country's investment board.

MUHAMMAD LUTFI, INVESTMENT BOARD CHIEF: We want to do it responsibly, but my board at least will make sure that it will happen in the near future.

GEOFF THOMPSON: BHP has refused to discuss which options are being considered to minimise the mine's impact on the surrounding reefs. The company first considered pumping hundred of thousands of tonnes of tailings onto the ocean floor, but BHP now says that option has been ruled out.

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