Tag Archives: Grasberg

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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Filed under Corruption, Environmental impact, Human rights, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea

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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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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Rio Tinto about to offload stake in Grasberg mine for $3.5 billion

Grasberg mine on the island of New Guinea, one of the world’s biggest sources of copper and gold. (Image: Google Earth)

Commentary from SkyTruth: “News that Rio Tinto is negotiating to sell out its stake in the massive Grasberg Mine in West Papua (Irian Jaya). We’ve written about this mine before: uncontrolled dumping of tailings into rivers flowing past the mine has caused the deposition of tailings across a broad swath of former rainforest downstream, creating a moonscape 30 miles long and up to 2-1/2 miles wide. By selling out, Rio Tinto might be able to dodge any liability for that damage — although their partner Freeport McMoRan may still be on the hook, and apparently the “tailings issue” is holding up the sale”

Cecilia Jamasmie | Mining.com | 23 May 2018

World’s No.2 miner Rio Tinto confirmed Wednesday is ready to sell its stake in the giant Grasberg mine, the world’s second largest copper operation, to Indonesia’s state mining holding company Inalum for $3.5 billion.

The move could mark the end to a long-drawn-out, three-way dispute over the mine, which has been centered on bringing local ownership of Grasberg up to 51%, a main requisite set by the Indonesian government to allow Freeport-McMoRan to keep operating in the country.

Discussions with  PT Indonesia Asahan Aluminium, known as Inalum, and Freeport — the other two companies engaged in talks — were ongoing, Rio said, “including as to price,” noting that no agreement had been reached.

Rio’s deal with Freeport was struck in 1995 and entitles it to a 40% share of production when certain output levels are hit. But as a result of strikes and other disruptions and as the open pit at Grasberg nears the end of its life, the Melbourne-based miner hasn’t seen any benefit since 2014.

Chief executive Jean-Sebastien Jacques publicly questioned Grasberg’s place in Rio’s future back in February 2017. He followed in June with a remark about the mine being a world-class copper deposit, which might not be a world-class mining investment.

“There is a fundamental difference between a world-class resource and a world-class business,” he said again last week at the Bank of America Merrill Lynch Global Mining, Metals & Steel Conference.

Indonesia and Freeport have been negotiating the terms for the company to give the government a majority ownership in Grasberg for over a year. But until today, it wasn’t clear what would happen to Rio’s interest in the mine.

Grasberg, the world’s second-largest copper mine and fourth largest gold operation, has transitioned to a fully underground operation, set to reach full capacity by 2022, when it will produce 160,000 tonnes per day of ore.

The additional Deep Mill Level Zone block cave mine, currently under construction, is projected to contribute an additional 80,000 tonnes per day of ore once at full capacity, expected in 2021.

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Three dead since Sunday in renewed fighting in Papua

Members of the Indonesian Army in Papua. Photo: AFP

Radio New Zealand | 6 April 2018

Gunfire exchanges between Indonesian military forces and West Papuan guerillas in Mimika regency have left three people dead since Sunday.

The death of a soldier with the Indonesian army, or TNI, prompted renewed fighting in the mountainous area around the Freeport mine in Papua province.

TNI and police forces had gone into a remote part of the area to reclaim villages controlled by the West Papua Liberation Army, or TPN.

TPN guerilla forces have declared war on the Indonesian state and the operations of the Freeport mine.

An NGO worker in Mimika’s capital Timika, Demi Picoalu, said the TNI killed two Papuans in an intense sweep operation sparked by the killing of one of their troops on Sunday.

“After that, massive sweeping opertaion in (local) villages, and they (joint TNI and police troops) shoot everyone, because the TPN is hiding in the community village, so TNI used rockets.”

Earier, according to the Jakarta Post, the TPN said that over 1,000 civilian lives were at risk due to the TNI’s operation.

TPN spokesperson Hendrik Wanmang said they had gathered civilians in Kampung Opitawak and TPN fighters had retreated and left the kampung to avoid civilians being mistaken for armed fighters.

However, Demi Picoalu said that according to reports he had recieved from Banti village, the TNI’s sweep operation had stopped.

Local villagers had been evacuated to the relative calm of a village named Banti 2 where they were consideed safe lest fightnig break out again.

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Major quake cuts communications, halts oil and gas operations in Papua New Guinea

Landslide and damage to a road located near the Ok Tedi mine township of Tabubil after an earthquake that struck Papua New Guinea’s Southern Highlands, February 26, 2018. Jerome Kay/Handout via REUTERS

Charlotte GreenfieldSonali Paul | Reuters | 26 February 2018

At least one company began evacuating non-essential personnel after a powerful 7.5 magnitude earthquake hit Papua New Guinea’s energy-rich interior on Monday, causing landslides, damaging buildings and closing oil and gas operations.

The tremor hit in the rugged, heavily forested Southern Highlands about 560 km (350 miles) northwest of the capital, Port Moresby, at around 3.45 a.m. local time (1545 GMT Sunday), according to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS).

A spokesman at Papua New Guinea’s National Disaster Centre said by telephone the affected area was very remote and the agency could not properly assess damage until communication was re-established.

He said there were no confirmed casualties, although the International Red Cross (IRC) in Papua New Guinea said some reports indicated there were “fears of human casualties”.

“It’s very serious all across the Southern Highlands and also all over the western highlands. People are definitely very frightened,” Udaya Regmi, the head of the IRC in Papua New Guinea, said by telephone from Port Moresby.

The PNG government also said it had sent disaster assessment teams. At least 13 aftershocks with a magnitude of 5.0 or more rattled the area throughout the day, according to USGS data, but no tsunami warnings were issued.

Early on Tuesday, USGS reported that another quake with a magnitude of 6.4 had hit 142 km (88 miles) from the city of Mount Hagen at a depth of about 10 km.

“The Papua New Guinea Defense Force has also been mobilized to assist with the assessment and the delivery of assistance to affected people as well as the restoration of services and infrastructure,” Isaac Lupari, the chief secretary to the government, said in a statement after Monday’s tremor.

ExxonMobil said it had shut its Hides gas conditioning plant and that it believed administration buildings, living quarters and a mess hall had been damaged. It also said it had suspended flights into the nearby Komo airfield until the runway could be surveyed.

“Due to the damage to the Hides camp quarters and continuing aftershocks, ExxonMobil PNG is putting plans in place to evacuate non-essential staff,” the company said in an emailed statement.

Gas is processed at Hides and transported along a 700 km (435 miles) line that feeds a liquefied natural gas plant near Port Moresby for shipping.

PAPUA PANIC

PNG oil and gas explorer Oil Search said in a statement it had also shut production in the quake-affected area.

The giant Grasberg copper mine operated by the Indonesian unit of Freeport McMoRan in neighboring Papua province was not affected, a Jakarta-based spokesman said.

However, the quake and several aftershocks caused panic in Jayapura, the capital of Indonesian Papua, Indonesia’s disaster mitigation agency said in a statement, but there were no reports of casualties or damage there.

The IRC’s Regmi said communications were “completely down” in Tari, one of the larger settlements near the quake’s epicenter, and that landslides had cut roads.

Several other aid and missionary agencies said poor communications in the area made damage and injury assessment difficult.

“The bush structures that they build tend to handle earthquakes extremely well,” Christian missionary Brandon Buser told Reuters after contacting several remote villages by shortwave radio.

Earthquakes are common in Papua New Guinea, which sits on the Pacific’s “Ring of Fire”, a hotspot for seismic activity due to friction between tectonic plates.

“This is the Papuan fold-and-thrust belt, so it’s a typical movement of faults in that region, but it’s big,” said Chris McKee, acting director of the Geohazards Management Division in Port Moresby.

Part of PNG’s northern coast was devastated in 1998 by a tsunami, generated by a 7.0 quake, which killed about 2,200 people.

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Indonesia police kill Papua woman, clash claim disputed

Police claim arrested youth was stealing ore concentrate from the Grasberg mine cargo dock

Niniek Karmini | Associated Press | 5 February 2018

Indonesian paramilitary police fatally shot a woman in what they said was a clash with stone-throwing villagers in the troubled Papua region, but a relative of the victim disputed their account of events.

Police said in a statement Monday that the 61-year-old woman was among villagers who intervened to help an 18-year-old man who jumped out of a boat to escape custody after being detained on suspicion of theft.

The statement said police fired warning shots during the clash with villagers on Saturday. The woman died from a gunshot to the head, police said. A cousin of the dead woman said that there was no clash and that she was shot as an innocent bystander when police fired on the escaping suspect.

In a separate statement, Papua police spokesman Ahmad Kamal said seven officers were being questioned by the police internal affairs unit in connection with the incident.

Conflicts between indigenous Papuans and Indonesian security forces are common in the impoverished region, which Indonesia annexed more than half a century ago.

Police said the 18-year-old was one of three people suspected of stealing ore concentrate in Mimika district from the cargo dock of U.S. mining company Freeport-McMoRan, which operates the giant Grasberg gold and copper mine in Papua, and was captured after a hunt by police, security guards and navy officers.

The handcuffed man jumped out of the speedboat he was being transported in on Saturday evening and villagers from a nearby island came to his aid and prevented him from being apprehended again, according to police.

Cornelia Emakefaro, the cousin of the victim, said the woman and her husband were in a small boat on an errand to fetch fresh water when the woman was hit by police gunfire after the theft suspect jumped into the water.

“Based on information from my cousin’s husband as the only witness and the village head, there was no attack from villagers to the officers,” Emakefaro said. “We understand they are carrying out the task of catching suspects who may have been involved in the theft, but they are not entitled to shoot people like chasing game animals.”

In September, Indonesian police demoted two officers who fired at a crowd of protesting Papuan villagers, killing one man, in a decision that rights groups said was too lenient and showed a chronic lack of accountability for abuses in Papua.

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