Amahl S. Azwar, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta | Business | Fri, May 24 2013, 12:22 PM
New York-listed Freeport-McMoran Copper & Gold Inc., is sticking to its target to expand into an underground mine in Grasberg, Papua, despite a recent fatal incident at its training facility at another location.
Freeport-McMoran president and CEO Richard C. Adkerson told reporters on Thursday that the Phoenix, Arizona-based mining giant would complete its operations at the Grasberg open-pit mine in 2016 and would then start going into the new underground mine, which is still under development.
The company each day produces 140,000 tons of ore from the Grasberg open-pit mine, the largest one it operates, and 80,000 tons of ore from the firm’s Deep Ore Zone (DOZ) mine, an underground block cave located a few kilometers from Grasberg.
“We will complete works at the Grasberg open-pit mine at about the end of 2016, after which we will be mining totally through an underground facility that will be the world’s largest underground mining operations,” he said in Jakarta.
Adkerson was on a nine-day visit in Indonesia following a tunnel collapse at the firm’s underground training facility located 2.7 kilometers away from the Grasberg mine.
The training facility is also located 500 meters (not kilometers as earlier reported) away from another Freeport site, the Big Gossan mine, which was established in 1998 in conjunction with construction of the training facility.
Of the 38 workers trapped in the tunnel that collapsed on May 14, 28 died while 10 suffered minor to major injuries. The evacuation process concluded on Tuesday evening.
Adkerson, who flew back to Phoenix after the Jakarta press conference, said Freeport would move forward with its plan to allocate US$15 billion of investment for operations at the future underground mine, which will be known as the Grasberg block cave mine.
The new mine is expected to begin producing 160,000 tons of ore per day in 2017, bringing total daily output to 240,000 tons of ore with the existing DOZ mine.
Adkerson said he was optimistic that the expansion plan would meet its target despite the recent incident, which he considered “unexpected and unforeseen” in the company’s 30 years of operations.
“I am very confident about the safety [of the future underground mining operations]. We have a good track-record in operations safety in Indonesia,” he said, adding that the incident was not caused by Freeport’s mining activities, despite the fact that no official statement about the cause of the incident has been released by either the government or the company.
Freeport has ceased operations while a government-led investigation into the accident is underway.
While it is unclear on when that would conclude, Adkerson said Freeport would resume its operations in Papua shortly afterward.
The May 14 incident was not the first for Freeport.
In December 2009, a worker died and four others were injured in a landslide, while in May 2008, at least 20 Papuan gold miners were buried in a landslide at Freeport’s tailing area following two days of heavy rain.
A landslide in November 2007 injured 13 workers and in March 2006, two people were killed after a landslide buried an employee cafeteria at the Grasberg Mine.