Tue, 23 May 2000

Bambang tells Freeport to cut production for safety

JAKARTA (JP): Minister of Mines and Energy Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said on Monday copper and gold mining company PT Freeport Indonesia must reduce output at its Grasberg mine in Irian Jaya to prevent another landslide at its dumping site.

Bambang said the company's dumping site at Wanagon Lake was obviously no longer capable of accommodating the waste rock dumped by the company.

Speaking to reporters on the sidelines of a Cabinet meeting at Bina Graha presidential office, Bambang warned there could be a repeat of the fatal accident earlier this month unless output was reduced.

He said detailed guidelines for the production cutback would be determined by both his ministry and the Office of the State Minister of Environment and the Environmental Impact Management Agency (Bapedal).

Bambang said the government did not plan to suspend Freeport's operation or review its contract in response to the landslide accident.

"But Freeport Indonesia must do something about it. They may continue their operation only if they reduce the volume of their production," he said.

Earlier this month, a pile of overburden slid from Freeport's dumping site into Lake Wanagon, causing a massive wave that swept away four workers from the firm's subcontractors, PT Petrosea and PT Graha Buana Jaya, who were working near the lake. The workers' bodies have not been recovered. Overburden is the waste rock removed by mining companies from the surface of mines to access the mining products underneath.

Freeport, which currently operates at its normal production rate of 230,000 metric tons of ore per day, has blamed the collapse of the overburden pile on recent heavy rainfall, which reached on average of 40 millimeters last week.

State Minister of Environment Sonny Keraf said it was the third such accident at Freeport in recent years. In 1998, heavy rain triggered a slide, and last March one occurred following an earthquake. In both cases, Freeport reported no deaths or injuries.

The government has ordered Freeport to temporarily halt dumping its overburden into Lake Wanagon until it improves safety measures at the site. Freeport was told to optimize its use of its second dumping site, Qartenz, which is located southeast of Wanagon.

Freeport has been dumping 95 percent of some 420 million tons of solid waste it produced since 1995 in Lake Wanagon, according to the Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi).

Separately, the director general of general mining at the Ministry of Mines and Energy, Surna Tjahja Djajadiningrat, warned on Monday that another landslide could take place at Lake Wanagon due to the forecast of continuing heavy rainfall in the area.

"There will be global warming or natural changes that can result in a similar landslide in the area," he said.

He called on Freeport to study whether Lake Wanago was still suitable to be used as its dumping site given the three recent accidents.

PT Freeport Indonesia is 81.28 percent owned by United States mining company Freeport McMoRan Copper & Gold. The Indonesian government and PT Indocopper Investama Corporation each hold a 9.36 percent share.

Indocopper is 49 percent owned by Freeport McMoran and 50.48 percent by Nusamba Mineral Industries, a company linked to former president Soeharto, while the investing public holds a 0.52 percent share. (cst)