US miner Freeport McMoRan Copper & Gold, one of the largest producers of copper and gold in the world, will re-enter into open-pit operations in Western Papua, Deputy Energy and Mineral Resources Minister Susilo Siswo Utomo told media on May 27.
Operations at Freeport’s Grasberg mine, the world’s largest gold mine, were suspended on May 15 after a training tunnel collapsed on 38 workers, killing 28 and resulting in a government probe. The investigation could take up to two months.
However, a union official representing miners in the affected area said that 35 and 40 per cent of workers at Freeport Indonesia, Freeport’s local subsidiary, returned to the mine to carry out maintenance. The mine employs about 19,500 people, mostly through Freeport.
The Grasberg mine has a recorded production of approximately 220,000 tonnes of concentrated ore per day, with around 140,000 tonnes coming from open pit mining and the remainder from underground operations.
During its lifespan, Grasberg has produced over 2 million ounces of gold, according to an annual report by its partner, Australian mining giant Rio Tinto.
The open-pit mine has also proved to be as controversial as it is productive. Environmental damage created by the mine includes landslides, flooding and earthquakes. The mine is located on the site of a now-gone equatorial mountain glacier.