Wed, 24 May 2000

Freeport agrees to cut production

JAKARTA (JP): State Minister of Environment Sonny Keraf said on Tuesday that giant gold and copper mining company PT Freeport Indonesia had agreed to cut its production following an incident at the Wanagong dumping site.

Sonny said that Freeport was still calculating how much it would reduce its production from the present level of about 230,000 tons of ore per day.

"But there is no need to suspend operation," he said on the sidelines of an national conference on the management of natural resources.

Sonny has suggested earlier to suspend Freeport's operation in response to the Wanagong lake incident earlier this month.

Mining waste material some 400 meters high at the lake, collapsed, causing a massive wave that swept away four employees of Freeports' contractors.

The company admitted that it was the third time the waste pile had collapsed, though it previously never led to any casualties.

The last incident prompted the government to bar Freeport from dumping the mining waste material -- called overburden -- into Wanagong lake until it could improve safety measures at the site.

Sonny said that reducing Freeport's production would not violate its contract, which allowed the company to produce at a level of 300,000 tons of ore per day.

He said a geological team would assess whether it would be possible for the company to continue using the Wanagong lake without further risking erosion of the overburden.

"If the assessment says that this will be impossible, then Freeport may no longer dump the overburden into the lake," he said.

He further urged Freeport to build a giant basin to treat its tailing in order to avoid environmental damage.

Tailing is mining waste material after it has been processed, which mining companies dump into rivers and lakes.

Director general of general mining at the Ministry of Mines and Energy Surna Tjahja Djadjadiningrat said that Freeport did not object to the government's call to reduce its production levels.

However, he said, the company had to inform its New Orleans based parent company Freeport McMoran about the reduction.

"Whether they actually reduce their production level is up to them," he said.

But Surna said that Freeport dumped most of its overburden into Wanagong lake.

"So how long can you survive?" he quoted Minister of Mines and Energy Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono asking Freeport.

The company had earlier said it was using the Qartenz dumping site to store the overburden while the ban was in effect.

However, Surna assured that Freeport was unable to sustain its production levels without dumping the overburden into Wanagong lake. (bkm/08)