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.


Minister: Freeport to improve tailings management or face legal action

June 11, 2003

Miningindo.com

Indonesia's Ministry of Environment has called on PT Freeport Indonesia (FI), the operator of the giant Grasberg copper-gold mine in West Papua province, to completely improve the system of its tailing disposal by the year 2004 or face legal proceedings.

The ministry urged the management of FI to immediately solve the current problem of tailing disposal. If the environmental problem continues to emerge, the ministry will bring the case to court.

Freeport Indonesia has two options to improve the management of its tailings. Firstly, to install a pipeline to the sea and use the controversial submarine tailings disposal system, or secondly, to improve the condition of its current tailings disposal area. The company has said it prefers the latter because of lower cost and risk.

Environment Minister, Nabiel Makarim said that the construction of a tailings disposal pipeline into the sea would be very costly. The cost will be as much as US$3 billion since the pipeline has to reach a depth of 80 meters into the sea. Whatever the option, the disposal of tailings has to meet an environmental standard on waste disposal as ruled by the environment ministry.

"The environment ministry would ponder on the environmental viability of Freeport's management of tailings. The rate of disposal should be tolerable and the company has to meet an environmental standard of waste disposal," he reminded.

He warned that all activities of oil/gas and mineral extractive industries in Indonesia have to be in compliance with the environmental rules and regulations in the country.

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