Indonesia’s Mining Industry Through Young Eyes
Abdul Qowi Bastian
A major challenge facing mining companies is to turn obstacles into opportunities. One of Indonesia’s biggest miners PT Newmont Nusa Tenggara knows it too well.
PT Newmont Nusa Tenggara (NNT) is the Indonesian unit of Newmont Mining. It operates the Batu Hijau gold and copper mine in Sumbawa island, West Nusa Tenggara.
Newmont Nusa Tenggara, through its corporate social responsibility program, set up an annual Sustainable Mining Bootcamp to introduce sustainable mining operations through a hands-on experience. Now in its second year, the company invited seventeen participants from various backgrounds (engineering, business, travel, journalism) to get involved in various activities at the Batu Hijau mining site.
Within a week, participants were given the opportunity to observe how the company run their mining, processing, environmental maintenance, as well as corporate social responsibility projects.
The Jakarta Globe Blogs spoke to Andhyta Firselly Utami, a university student majoring in international relations and participant of this year’s program about how mining operations affect local people and their environment, and why young Indonesians need to care about the issue.
Andhyta, why did you decide to join the bootcamp?
The debates surrounding the morality of mining — not to mention additional sentiments sparked by nationalism — has always tickled me. I wanted to take a closer look upon how everything was done. How can these mining companies heartlessly disrupt the balance of nature for the sake of mere profit? Do they really calculate the harm that they’re creating in order to dig some minerals from the ground? These questions — including the problem of what benefits Indonesian people can gain from their business — were what encouraged me to participate in the event.
By the end of the camp, were your questions answered?
Yes. I learned that it is somehow ridiculous to completely oppose mining because we cannot deny the benefits that come from it. What we should do, then, is not as simple as campaigning against it, but instead ensuring that it is done responsibly and sustainably i.e. taking the environment into consideration while contributing in programs that will accelerate the society’s progress.
In your own words, what impacts do mining operations have on surrounding areas?
Environmentally, mining operations will leave tailing — the residue of ore — in the form of mud with unworthy minerals in the end of their processing scheme. There are several ways to dump this waste; among others, PT NNT chose to channel it off to the sea through a pipe line streaming down 250 meters underneath the surface. This was proclaimed as the safest, possible way to dump the waste, especially because it is far from the area of water where oceanic creatures live.
Socially, I am quite concerned with how the society of West Sumbawa are still very dependent on the business. Receiving frequent benefits from various social projects by PT NNT, the local people seem to be slow in developing their own ventures. This issue becomes very important, especially because the possibility that mining process will stop eventually — 10, 20 years tops.
Additionally, there is also an apparent economic gap between people who work in PT NNT and those who don’t. It is to nobody’s surprise that most of the people in their productive age also seek to work in PT NNT — further affirming their dependency.
But environmental activists argue that waste-dumping activities in the sea are dangerous and concern about the damage to the marine ecosystem.
Adding a significant amount of minerals to the sea water, however, the risks are still there. In order to overcome this, PT NNT regularly check the quality of the water as their control mechanism.
What were your analysis and recommendations for PT NNT to better their mining operations in the country?
Most of the participants highly appreciated the quality of PT NNT’s management in regards with its mining, processing as well as environmental operations. Not only PT NNT has portrayed before us its long term plan to achieve sustainability, they also took us around the mining area to witness directly how things get done and risks are anticipated. In order to enhance the effectiveness and efficiency of their projects, some of the participants suggested a better enactment of periodical monitoring and evaluation system.
Additionally, we also suggested PT NNT to not stop at establishing strong relationship with the government, but also partnership with non-profit organizations in carrying out their programs.
What lessons have you learned after participating in the camp?
First of all, ‘sustainability’ is not something ascribed — human beings have to put extra efforts and sacrifice some of their resources to achieve it. Although PT NNT has a lot of room for improvements in their CSR practice, they have demonstrated one of the best practices in terms of maintaining the quality of their mining operations. The principles of sustainability were not only carried on through their comprehensive geological analysis before and during the mining process, but also how they ambitiously plan to have a holistic reclamation to restore back the nature in the long term.
Of course, a large part of the land has been significantly affected and it requires magic to completely rehabilitate what used to be a green hill, but the engineers of PT NNT ensure that at least they preserve what is possible. One of them opened my eyes when he said, “What can’t be grown has to be mined, but all of us are obliged to be responsible in doing so.”
Second, the blame for all mining-related problems should go equally to both the company and government. Well-implemented regulations play a pivotal role in establishing the foundation that can later control both social and environmental impacts of mining operations. In the case where a corporation has met all regulations set by the government but still create issues and complaints from the people, the bureaucrats should also be proactive in taking measures to manage particular crises.
Why do you feel young Indonesians need to care about this issue?
Indonesia is one of the few countries that is bestowed with so much natural resources. It is such a big loss that at this point we have to let foreign hands handle what actually belongs to our nation because we’re barely able to do it on our own. The awareness about mining-related issues, therefore, is by all means important for youth as our country’s future decision-makers, entrepreneurs, as well as engineers.