Category Archives: Indonesia

Companies leave communities to grapple with mining’s persistent legacy

John C. Cannon | Mongabay | 28 February 2020

  • The destructive legacy of mining often lingers for communities and ecosystems long after the operating companies leave.
  • Several large, multinational mining corporations have scrubbed their images — touting their commitments to sustainability, community development and action on climate change — but continue to deny accountability for the persistent impacts of mining that took place on their watch.
  • A new report from the London Mining Network, an alliance of environmental and human rights organizations, contends that these companies should be held responsible for restoring ecosystems and the services that once supported communities.

The scale of excavation for copper and gold in the 1970s and 1980s at the Panguna mine, then one of the world’s largest open-pit mines, was massive: It swallowed up surrounding tracts of forest and farmland and wiped out wildlife populations on the island of Bougainville off the coast of Papua New Guinea. The company that operated Panguna, a predecessor of London-based mining giant Rio Tinto, dumped the mine’s contaminant-loaded wastewater into local streams for more than a decade and a half, killing off fish and rendering them too polluted for human use.

A mill at the Panguna mine, Bougainville. Image by Robert Owen Winkler

Neither the Papua New Guinea government nor the company stepped in to protect the environment, even after local communities, reeling from the impacts, sounded the alarm on the mine’s effects on their health, lives and livelihoods. Those tensions festered, and soon a war for Bougainville’s independence began. Fighting throughout the 1990s killed some 20,000 Bougainvilleans, and though a 2001 peace treaty granted Bougainville a measure of autonomy, the effects of the conflict and the mine still linger.

The company abandoned the mine in 1990, leaving it under the control of the Bougainville Revolutionary Army, and in 2016, Rio Tinto officially handed over its shares in the mine to Papua New Guinea and Bougainville.

“There is, in my personal view, an obligation of Rio Tinto to come back and to contribute to cleaning up the mess they left behind,” Volker Boege, who has studied the conflict and co-directs the Peace and Conflict Studies Institute Australia in Brisbane, said in an interview. “The effects of mining will be with the people on the ground long after [the] mining ceased.”

Holding Rio Tinto and other corporations accountable once they’ve relinquished their control of mines remains a difficult task, according to a new report published Feb. 19 by the London Mining Network, a consortium of environmental and human rights groups.

Equipment at the Panguna mine in the early 1970s. Image by Robert Owen Winkler

Rio Tinto said in a 2016 letter written by a company executive that the operation of the Panguna mine “was fully compliant with all regulatory requirements and applicable standards at the time.” But for Boege, who wrote the case study on the Panguna mine included in the London Mining Network report, that assertion doesn’t address the company’s ethical responsibility.

“I think it’s not good enough to just say, ‘We followed the legal obligations of the early 1970s or late 1960s,’” Boege said, “because everybody knows that this enables this kind of environmental destruction that people are suffering from even today.”

The report details lays out similar stories throughout Oceania and Southeast Asia. In western Papua New Guinea, BHP, a mining company with headquarters in Melbourne and London, elected to go with riverine tailings disposal — the same waste management strategy that polluted waterways around Panguna — for the Ok Tedi mine, a gold and copper deposit that BHP excavated until 2002. Situated amid forested mountains, the mine has been blamed for a 95% drop in fish numbers in the Ok Tedi River and degrading 2,000 square kilometers (772 square miles) of forest. Researchers figure that Ok Tedi has affected the livelihoods of around 40,000 people who depend on fishing, hunting and gardening.

Hannibal Rhoades, head of communications for the London-based NGO Gaia Foundation, said that companies like BHP often lobby governments for less stringent regulations. In Ok Tedi’s case, BHP persuaded the government to go along with riverine tailings disposal in the early 1980s.

The Ok Tedi mine in western Papua New Guinea. Image by Ok Tedi Mine CMCA Review

Papua New Guinea, like many resource-rich countries, has struggled to develop economically. As a result, leaders are often amenable to legal conditions favored by the company so they don’t lose a possible source of revenue.

While that’s a familiar pattern, said Rhoades, who wrote the Ok Tedi case study, it shows that governments too must be held accountable for protecting their citizens and the environment.

In addition to the companies’ role, he said, “It’s a game of power influence at the state level.”

Across the border in Indonesia’s half of New Guinea Island, the massive Grasberg gold and copper mine sidles up to the flanks of some of the region’s tallest mountains. Nearby, rare (and shrinking) equatorial glaciers cling to the summit of Puncak Jaya, towering 4,884 meters (16,024 feet) above sea level.

Still in operation today, the mine pumps an estimated 200,000 metric tons of waste into the Ajkwa River every day, contaminating a source of drinking water for local communities. Rio Tinto had been involved in the mine from 1996 until 2018, when it sold its stake to Indonesia’s state mining company, PT Indonesia Asahan Aluminium.

The Grasberg mine as seen from space. Image by ISS Crew Earth Observations Experiment and the Image Science & Analysis Group, Johnson Space Center

An investigation by The New York Times in 2005 found that Rio Tinto’s partner, U.S.-based mining company Freeport-McMoRan, had been paying tens of millions of dollars for Indonesian military and police to protect the operation’s employees. Local residents, such as Yosepha Alomang of the indigenous Amungme people, say that these government security forces in fact were there to deter local communities through intimidation from voicing their concerns.

But Rio Tinto says that when it sold its stake for $3.5 billion in 2018, its responsibility to address the problems for the local environment and communities that the mine has created ended as well, according to a case study written by Andrew Hickman, a researcher with the London Mining Network.

Hickman, Boege and Rhoades agree that challenging such contentions by companies that were once involved is an uphill battle. The success of using the courts varies. Several lawsuits against BHP for its operations of Ok Tedi yielded a settlement with the company, but BHP didn’t stop dumping waste in the river. In 1996, Alomang and other leaders sued Freeport unsuccessfully in the United States.

The London Mining Network advocates for the continued development of a United Nations treaty on transnational corporations that would codify protections for human rights.

Boege said that such “globally applicable guidelines” were necessary. But “they are not a panacea,” he said. “The problems can only be solved in the specific local context.”

Another tactic has been to bring local leaders like Alomang to the annual general meetings of companies such as BHP and Rio Tinto so they can speak with executives and shareholders about the problems their communities face.

Requests for comment from Mongabay to BHP and Rio Tinto went unanswered.

The Grasberg mine in 2007. Image by Alfindra Primaldhi

Companies have responded in their approach, however — at least as far as changing the narrative around the impacts of resource extraction. Rio Tinto, for example, says that a future “low-carbon economy” will rely on the minerals it produces, and touts its moves toward carbon neutrality in its operations.

Hickman calls such moves to scrub a company’s image “window dressing.” He also said that, when confronted with the testimony of leaders such as Alomang, these companies “have learned to be polite, but underneath the politeness is a fist of steel.”

That’s because the changes to operations, whether to make them more environmentally friendly or to ensure that communities are better informed, often lag behind the rhetoric put forth, the Gaia Foundation’s Rhoades said.

“It’s great that there’s that narrative and the investors are more active,” he said. But across much of their operations, he said, “their PR still far outstrips the genuine efforts on the ground to change practices.”

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Freeport Seals Pact With Indonesia on Giant Grasberg Mine

Eko Listiyorini and Viriya Singgih | Bloomberg | September 27, 2018

  •  Definitive agreement to allow Inalum to raise stake to 51%
  •  Accord is culmination of more than a year of negotiations

Freeport-McMoRan and Indonesia signed a binding landmark agreement for the U.S. miner to hand over majority control of the giant Grasberg copper and gold mine to a local state-owned firm, in the country’s biggest ever divestment by a foreign resources company.

Freeport Chief Executive Officer Richard Adkerson and PT Indonesia Asahan Aluminium President Director Budi Gunadi Sadikin signed a divestment deal and two other pacts in Jakarta on Thursday. The transfer of majority shares to Asahan Aluminium will happen once the company makes a payment of $3.85 billion to Rio Tinto Group and Freeport, Sadikin said.

The U.S. producer will continue to operate the mine under the agreement, which culminates more than a year of talks. The accord will allow Indonesia to issue a special mining license for Freeport to run the world’s second-largest copper mine through 2041. Freeport and Asahan Aluminium, known as Inalum, will complete the transaction before the year-end, Sadikin said.

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Papuan authorities shut mine over labour hiring dispute

Photo: Mark Agnor 2014

Radio New Zealand | 14 August 2018

Authorities have closed a gold mine in Korowai in the southern part of Indonesia’s Papua province, following uproar over the company hiring newcomers ahead of local tribe members.

The Jakarta Post reports the mine was closed on Friday by the Papua Governor Soedarmo, along with the police and military chiefs.

Two helicopters that were to be used to transport workers to the mine site, were sealed at the Tanah Merah airport in Boven Digoel regency.

The mine is understood to employ about 3000 workers..

Separately a Papua councillor, John Jose Gobay, said the mine should be managed by the local residents of Korowai, as stipulated in the 2014 law on local administrations.

He urged the Papua governor to propose to the Energy and Mineral Resources Ministry to hand the mining site over to the local tribe.

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Indonesia government asked to recalculate Freeport mine damage

FILE PHOTO: Trucks operate in the open-pit mine of PT Freeport’s Grasberg copper and gold mine complex near Timika, in the eastern region of Papua, Indonesia on September 19, 2015 in this photo taken by Antara Foto. REUTERS/Muhammad Adimaja/Antara Foto/File Photo

Reuters | 26 July, 2018

Indonesia’s parliament has asked the government to recalculate damage to the environment from the giant Grasberg copper mine operated by the local unit of Freeport McMoRan Inc, the environment ministry said.

A 2017 report by Indonesia’s Supreme Audit Agency (BPK) calculated that Freeport’s decades-long operations at the mine in Indonesia’s remote easternmost province of Papua had caused environmental damage worth $13.25 billion.

That damage, it said, was largely a result of tailings from the mine that had extended beyond previously agreed limits and which had polluted coastal areas.

The audit also said Freeport Indonesia (PT FI) had missed royalty payments, cleared thousands of hectares of protected forest and began mining underground without environmental clearance.

The environmental issues have presented problems for Freeport and Indonesia, whose state-owned mining holding company, PT Inalum, hopes to finalize a $3.9 billion deal to acquire a majority stake in Grasberg this year.

In a meeting with Environment Minister Siti Nurbaya on Tuesday, parliament urged the minister to “ensure that PT FI fulfils governmental administrative penalties” in accordance with the law, the ministry said in a statement late on Tuesday.

“Commission VII asks the Environment Minister to calculate the value of environmental losses resulting from damage and pollution from PT FI operations, as per the findings of the BPK,” Commission VII chairman Gus Irawan Pasaribu said, according to the statement.

Jakarta-based spokesmen for PTFI and Inalum did not immediately respond to a written request for comment.

Freeport CEO Richard Adkerson said on a call with analysts on July 12 the company had been “working very closely” with the environment ministry and had “received assurance that we will find a resolution of the environmental issues that will be acceptable for all parties. So we’re very encouraged by that.”

Since then he said Freeport had “entered into very productive discussions with the ministry and are making progress with the ministry in addressing these issues and working toward a resolution that we do not expect and the ministry does not expect to adversely affect our operations.”

Parliament also urged the ministry to “conduct environmental risk analysis and environmental audits on a regular basis”, and plans to hold meetings with the ministries of mining and the environment on the matter.

A spokesman for the environment ministry declined to comment further on the parliament request or provide and estimate on how long this process could take.

Indonesia’s mining minister said earlier this month the environmental matters must be resolved before his office could issue a new mining permit for PT-FI up to 2031.

Inalum CEO Budi Gunadi Sadikin told parliament on Monday that “regarding the environment, we told Freeport ‘the past problems are your sins’. In future we will take responsibility together.”

Sadikin added the environmental damage from Grasberg was a shared responsibility as the government already held a 9.36 percent stake in the mine.

Sadikin said a forestry permit for the mine still needed to be issued, and “the 185 trillion rupiah ($12.80 billion) from tailings damage still needs to be cleared up” although he was confident that all the environmental problems could be resolved.

There are 13 of 48 sanctions related to the environmental audit that have not been met yet, according to the environment ministry.

In April, Freeport shares fell to a four-month low after the environment ministry announced tough new rules intended to comply with the BPK audit, just before the company announced its first quarter earnings.

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Indonesia beefing up disputed Papua border force in bid for minerals

Papua’s disputed border with Papua New Guinea … hunt on for mineral riches. Image: PNG Blogs

Albert Agua | Asia Pacific Report | June 29, 2018

Indonesia is driving towards the Papua New Guinea border because of a recent discovery of huge mineral deposits in the Star Mountain regency just at the back of Tabubil Ok Tedi mine.

“Reportedly, there is gold, copper, coal, and thorium – a safer radioactive chemical than uranium,” says president-director of PT Antam Tato Miraza, who was then Director of Development, reports Pusaka.

“Geological Survey shows its potential is good and promising.”

The core of the deposit is, however, found in the disputed area of the border between PNG and Indonesia.

The claimed Papua border “shift” – the red zone near Ok Tedi mine. Source: PNG Blogs

Recently, Indonesian troops patrolled to Korkit and surveyed the land just around 40km from Ok Tedi, less than 10km from the border marker in the Korkit village to build another military base.

The citizens from Korkit village who are PNG citizens are moving into the new Indonesian village.

This is just 20km from the mineral deposit area.

Thorium, a weakly radioactive element that can be used as fuel in a nuclear power reactor, has been discovered in the disputed area and this has been the sole driver for Indonesians to force themselves into the disputed territory.

Also the “explorers” are actually the military carrying out the exploration.

The Indonesians have been transporting mining supplies to the area and the locals are prepared to wage war if the exploration continues under heavy military security.

Wutung border improvements

Meanwhile, major improvements in infrastructure and capacity are planned for the PNG-Papua border at Wutung, reports Loop PNG.

The improvements are planned as part of the PNG government’s West Sepik Special Economic Zone (SEZ).

National Planning Minister Richard Maru and delegates of a fact-finding mission to West Sepik visited the border area last week.

Loop PNG also reports that an international bus service and terminal are planned for the Wutung border post.

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For two global miners, ‘profitable production’ has meant devastation

The Yanacocha gold mine

Ellen Moore | Earthworks  | June 27, 2018

Since 2000, the Batu Hijau copper-gold mine on Sumbawa Island in Indonesia has dumped 720 million tonnes of toxic tailings into the Senunu Bay in the Indian Ocean. Until 2016, the mine was majority owned and operated by the US company, Newmont Mining Corp, which controlled 48.5% of the economic interests. Together with Japan’s Sumitomo Corporation, they held over 70% of shares in the project.

After 16 years of mine waste dumping, both Newmont and Sumitomo sold their ownership stakesin Batu Hijau in November 2016, simply walking away from an environmental disaster of massive proportions. Now Newmont and Sumitomo are teaming up again; this time, at the Yanacocha mine in Cajamarca, Peru.

On June 20th, Newmont announced that Sumitomo had purchased a 5% stake in the controversial Yanaococha mining company for US $48 million. The stake was previously held by International Finance Corporation (IFC), the private sector branch of the World Bank. The IFC announced it had ended its 24 year relationship with Minera Yanacocha in December 2017.

The new arrangement means Newmont continues to hold a 51.35% a majority share in Yanaococha mining, together with Peruvian company, Buenaventura (43.65%) and Sumitomo (5%).

Yanacocha and Batu Hijau: Dominating and Destructive

The massive Yanacocha gold mine in the arid Andean Highlands of Cajamarca, Peru, has contaminated critical water sources in the region and had devastating impacts on local sustainable livelihoods. The mine’s unpopularity has sparked broad based resistance to Newmont’s plans to expand operations, first to Cerro Quilish and later at the proposed Conga project. The mining company and state’s attempts to quell opposition have resulted in allegations of human rights abuses and violence. Subsistence farmer, Máxima Acuña de Chaupe, has refused to cede her land to Newmont for the Conga mine, and has faced nearly a decade of harassment, abuse and legal persecution. Despite the hold on development of the Conga project for now, the addition of Sumitomo suggests Newmont isn’t planning on leaving Cajamarca any time soon.

Like Yanacocha, the Batu Hijau mine is also known for the litany of documented environmental harms starting almost at the outset of operations in 2000. Just over one year into operations, a pipeline that transported mine waste from the production site to the ocean broke, dumping tailings into an area of fragile coral reefs. Indonesian environmental group, WALHI, reported reduced fish populations, water pollution, and impacts on local fisheries and livelihoods. The project has also been criticized for destroying rainforest, protected bird habitat and key biodiversity areas. In May 2011, the local West Sumbawa government appealed to the Indonesian government to not renew the mine’s permit to dump, but they were ignored. That same year, Newmont secured financingfrom a consortium of banks including Goldman Sachs Lending Partners LLC and BNP Paribas SA to expand the polluting mine.

Ocean Dumping

The practice of dumping mine waste into the ocean was outdated when Batu Hijau began operating back in 2000. Today it is one of just seven mines still dumping mine waste into the sea. Earthworks and the Ditch Ocean Dumping coalition is leading a  growing movement demanding the practice be phased out once and for all.  

In its statement announcing the sale, Newmont executive vice president for strategic development, Randy Engle said, “We had a long and productive partnership with Sumitomo at Batu Hijau in Indonesia, and we look forward to working with them and Buenaventura to advance the next generation of profitable production at Yanacocha.” Unfortunately, when it comes to Newmont and Sumitomo, ‘profitable production’ has meant devastating consequences for ecosystems and the people that depend on them. Communities and civil society groups are watching closely to see if Sumitomo and Newmont will finally take responsibility in Peru by respecting human rights and communities’ right to say no to Conga or other mining projects, ending pollution of scarce water supplies, and ensuring fully funded closure and reclamation for the Yanacocha mine.

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Giant Waste-Spewing Mine Turns Into a Battleground in Indonesia

Grasberg mine tailings Source: Freeport-McMoRan

Danielle Bochove and David Stringer | Bloomberg | June 5, 2018

Every year, Freeport-McMoRan Inc. dumps tens of millions of tons of mining waste into the Ajkwa River system in Indonesia. The company has been doing it for decades, and is demanding the right to keep at it for decades to come.

The discharge of what are called tailings, the leftovers of mineral extraction, is perfectly legal under Freeport’s current contract with the government. But recently, after more than a year of tense negotiations over the terms of a new deal, Indonesia suddenly changed the rules: The Grasberg mine in the highlands of Papua province would have to operate by heightened standards. It shouldn’t have been a surprise, really, considering most every other miner in the world has been forced or has elected to stop discarding tailings in rivers.

Freeport, though, has said that won’t happen at Grasberg. Chief Executive Officer Richard Adkerson has been blunt about it. “You can’t put the genie back in the bottle,” he said in April. “You simply can’t say 20 years later ‘we’re going to change the whole structure’.” Grasberg’s waste management, he added, has “always been controversial.”

The tailings tussle is the latest twist in the complicated relationship between the mining giant and the Southeast Asian republic. How it plays out will have far-reaching consequences in Indonesia. Freeport is a major taxpayer and job provider and has built homes, schools and hospitals in one of the poorest provinces. But Grasberg has also long been a target for environmentalists, indigenous and separatist groups and human-rights watchdogs.

At stake for Freeport are reserves that Bloomberg Intelligence estimates to be worth $14 billion at the world’s biggest gold deposit and second-largest copper mine. Grasberg accounted for 47 percent of Freeport’s operating income in 2017, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

“What happens at Grasberg has global significance,” said Payal Sampat, the mining program director at the mining watchdog-group Earthworks. “It involves some of the largest global players in the mining industry and one of the leading mining economies.”

Most countries have banned tailings deposits in waterways over concerns they can be toxic, destroying habitats, suffocating vegetation and changing the topography of rivers, causing floods. Most miners have said they’re against the practice regardless of local rules. The industry’s biggest, BHP Billiton Ltd., won’t “dispose of mined waste rock or tailings into a river or marine environment,” as the company put it in a statement.

‘Environmental Burden’

Only two other industrial-scale mines — and a third, small operation — are known to get rid of tailings as Grasberg does, and they’re in Papua New Guinea, which occupies half of the island of New Guinea; Indonesia owns the rest, which is home to the Freeport-run mine. In recognition of risks that could leave “a massive environmental burden for future generations,” the practice has been phased out everywhere else, according to the United Nations’ International Maritime Organization.

Freeport sees things differently. “As we have stated before, the tailings are benign,” said Eric E. Kinneberg, a spokesman, referring to the corporate website for a detailed explanation.

Tailings deposition area in the Ajkwa River system.Source: : Action for Ecology and People’s Emancipation

The Phoenix-based company maintains that much of the sediment in the Ajkwa River system downstream from Grasberg is caused by natural erosion, and that tailings pose no significant — or at least unexpected — threats. “There have been no human health issues or impact on the environment that wasn’t anticipated,” Adkerson said on a quarterly earnings call in April.

The company’s partner in the Grasberg complex, Rio Tinto Group, recently addressed concerns about waste removal. “Riverine tailings disposal is very, very far from best practice,” Chairman Simon Thompson told a meeting in London in April, perhaps highlighting one of the reasons Rio may be willing to sell its 40 percent interest to a state-owned company for $3.5 billion. A spokesman for the company declined to comment for this story.

Rio shares were up 1.5 percent in U.S. trade at 2:54 p.m. while Freeport gained 2.8 percent. Copper and gold prices were also higher.

‘No Realistic Alternative’

“If you think about it from Rio Tinto’s perspective, one of the biggest problems with this mine is the environmental issues. I think that’s an incentive for Rio to get out,” said Christopher LaFemina, an analyst at Jefferies LLC. “This is a critically important part of Freeport’s overall value. For Rio Tinto, it’s not.”

The problem for Freeport and Indonesia is that there’s no easy solution. “There has been no realistic alternative identified,” Thompson said. Freeport’s local unit studied 14 alternatives for tailings disposal — including dams and pipelines — and concluded all were too risky in a mountainous terrain prone to earthquakes and heavy rainfall.

As it is, the heavy ooze wends its way through glacier-capped valleys, descending almost 4 kilometers (2.5 miles) to tropical lowlands and a 230 square kilometer deposition zone, where roughly half the tailings are parked. The rest flows on to a river estuary and the Arafura Sea.

“The company has sacrificed not just the river, but also the coastal area,” said Pius Ginting, coordinator of Action for Ecology and People’s Emancipation, an Indonesian environmental group.

50 Million Tons

According to Earthworks, Freeport sends more than 76 million metric tons of tailings and waste rock into Indonesian rivers every year. The company puts the 2017 figure at 50 million tons. Without spelling out precisely how the requirement should be met, Indonesia told Freeport that it would boost to 95 percent from half the amount of tailings that must be recovered from the river system, according to Adkerson.

That was a shock that sent Freeport’s stock tumbling after Adkerson revealed it on April 24. Shares have largely recovered as investors bet the government will fail to follow through.

The negotiations to secure the right to keep mining Grasberg until 2041 had already been complicated by an edict that foreign miners sell majority stakes in their assets to local interests. Rio’s apparent interest in divesting would ease that problem for Freeport, reducing how much it would need to unload.

Stunning Asset

Even if its share dropped below 50 percent, Freeport as an operator could still win big — Grasberg is a stunning asset, expected to produce more than 520,000 tons of copper in 2018 and more gold than any other mine. Of course, Indonesia’s tailings mandate may be a negotiating tactic, as some Freeport investors said they suspect. Ilyas Asaad, inspector general at Indonesia’s Environment & Forestry Ministry, didn’t respond to a request for comment.

The company is holding its position: The discharge of tailings into the river system is an inescapable consequence of keeping the mine in operation. If the government backs down, it will be “a political decision,” said David Chambers, a geophysicist who runs the U.S. nonprofit Center for Science in Public Participation. “There aren’t many governments that are willing to sacrifice those kinds of environmental resources for the financial resources.”

Few investors have publicly seized on the tailings mess as a reason to shun Freeport. One was Norway’s $1 trillion sovereign wealth fund, which in 2006 excluded Freeport from its investment universe and in 2008 sold its holding of about $850 million of Rio shares, citing Grasberg’s use of the river system to dispose of tailings.

“The spotlight has shone on these issues a lot more brightly in the last couple of years,” said Andrew Preston, head of corporate governance in Australia for Aberdeen Standard Investments, which owns shares in Rio and BHP. The “wake-up call,” Preston said, was the 2015 failure of a tailings dam at BHP’s Samarco iron-ore joint venture with Vale SA in Brazil. Billions of gallons of sludge escaped to travel hundreds of kilometers down the Doce river, killing at least 19 people and leaving hundreds homeless.

Jefferies’ LaFemina said investors are betting on the status quo in Indonesia. “In negotiations, different sides are trying to get leverage.” In the end, “I am not expecting there to be a significant change to how this asset operates”.

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