Freeport set to resume operations amid probe

Amahl S. Azwar, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta | Headlines | Thu, May 30 2013, 10:25 AM

Mining giant PT Freeport Indonesia, a subsidiary of Arizona-based Freeport-McMoran, is set to resume operations on Thursday amid ongoing investigation into an accident at its facility in Grasberg, Papua, that killed 28 workers.

Freeport Indonesia president director Rozik B. Soetjipto said in Jakarta on Wednesday that the company — one of the country’s biggest taxpayers — would begin production activities at its open mine site as of Thursday although it would not produce at maximum capacity.

“We have started the preparations already. Maybe tomorrow [Thursday] we may start, but we must do it slowly before going to the normal production,” he said.

The Grasberg open mine produces on average 140,000 tons of ore per day. However, activities at the site were temporarily halted following the cave-in at its underground training facility on May 14.

The facility is located 2.7 kilometers from Grasberg open mine.

Of the 38 workers trapped in the tunnel, 28 died and 10 suffered injuries. The evacuation process concluded on Tuesday evening.

A team from the Energy and Mineral Resources Ministry was dispatched to Papua to review the safety operations at Freeport’s underground mine. Another government team is currently investigating the incident simultaneously assisted by the police.

Last week, Energy and Mineral Resources Ministry’s director general for minerals and coal Thamrin Sihite said the government prohibited Freeport from conducting “any production activities” until investigations were concluded.

Rozik said on Wednesday that Freeport had only been prohibited from restarting activities at its underground mine, not at its open mine.

Currently, Freeport ships concentrates to its customers from its stockpile that, according to Freeport-McMoran president and CEO Richard C. Adkerson in his visit last week, would be sufficient to serve the firm’s customers for several days.

Contacted separately, Deputy Energy and Mineral Resources Minister Susilo Siswoutomo said in a text-message that Freeport’s plan to resume operations at its open-mine site on Thursday had been communicated with the officials of the ministry’s mining bureau.

Irwandy Arif, a mining expert from the Bandung Institute of Technology, said while he urged the government to review the safety of mining operations in Indonesia, he recommended Freeport to go on with their operations in Papua.

“I would not recommend Freeport cease production at the open mine site because halting operations could harm the maintenance of the facility and further risk the future safety of the workers,” said Irwandy, who currently chairs newly formed Jakarta-based mining think tank, Indonesia Mining Institute.

Freeport planned to invest US$15 billion to develop the underground mining operations at the Grasberg mine.

The new site, which would be called the Grasberg block cave mine, is expected to begin production in 2017 with an estimated production of 160,000 tons of ore per day as the open-mine activity would be ended.

The combined production of the planned Grasberg block cave mine and the existing DOZ mine would bring Freeport’s production in Papua to be about 240,000 tons of ore per day or 9 percent higher from the current output capacity, as previously reported.


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