The irony of nickel mining in Sulawesi: A raw material for a renewable source of energy comes through illegal exploitation that damages the forest.
The abundance of nickel reserves in North Konawe in Southeast Sulawesi has driven many companies to compete to excavate it. Dozens of nickel mining companies operating in North Konawe operate without permits, alias illegal.
At the Mandiodo Block, for instance, there are over a dozen companies that excavate nickel without the proper documents. The concession holder for this block is Aneka Tambang (Antam), a state-owned company that has had an exploration license since 2003. Overlapping nickel mining activity has grown worse due to weak law enforcement.
The efforts to put things in order attempted by the Southeast Sulawesi Police Department, the Directorate-General of Law Enforcement at the Environment and Forestry Ministry, and the National Police’s Criminal Investigation Department, have been ineffective. Illegal nickel miners are interspersed among individual and company mining operators.
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With the quiet backing of authorities, companies owned by politicians and state officials have engaged in nickel mining that has harmed the forests, rivers and waters of Southeast Sulawesi, seemingly out of the reach of the law. This illegal mining is a part of the nickel production chain, and this supply becomes a legal commodity once it is run through a smelter.
According to Energy and Mineral Resources (ESDM) Minister Arifin Tasrif, this interest in nickel mining is due to the price rise on the world market. High demand from the battery industry in line with the increased use of renewable energy sources has made nickel a popular commodity.
How can a renewable energy ecosystem be developed to mitigate global warming without damaging the environment and causing a climate crisis? Minister Arifin answered questions from Tempo in writing on Tuesday, January 10.
Why has illegal nickel mining become widespread in North Konawe?
Because of the large potential for nickel. It has created public desire to optimize that natural resource to raise the level of public welfare. The high price of nickel has driven the public to seek instant profits by mining without going through the licensing process.
How is the government supervising this illegal nickel mining?
In the area of Aneka Tambang, supervision is done in line with North Konawe Regent Decree No. 158/2010, namely routine supervision in terms of technical, operational, and administrative aspects, through the work program and budget (RKAB) documents and quarterly reports. We also send supervision teams to the field through mining inspectors. The ESDM ministry is coordinating with Aneka Tambang to supervise unlicensed mining.
So you know that illegal mining is taking place in Antam’s concession area?
We know of it from a report Aneka Tambang of North Konawe made to the police.
What are you doing to prevent that?
Unlicensed mining outside of licensed mining business areas can actually be made formal through a public mining license. The activity in question in a mining business license area can be changed to become alternative economic activity through public development and empowerment programs or other mechanisms of cooperation with the license holder. The ministry is currently preparing the formation of a law enforcement unit to tackle violations of the law in the ESDM sector, including for unlicensed mining.
Does Antam have a RKAB?
The RKAB is given to every mining business license holder every year. For 2022, Aneka Tambang conveyed it and received approval.
For how much (land)?
For two mining business licenses in North Konawe. They are for 6,213 hectares and 16,920 hectares, respectively.
Is Antam conducting activities according to the RKAB?
All of the activities carried out by mining businesses, including Aneka Tambang, are required to refer to the RKAB that has been approved by the government.
What are the penalties if mining done by Antam is not in line with the RKAB?
During supervision a mining inspector can temporarily halt some or all activity until the administrative obligations are met, in this case obtaining an approval for a revision to the RKAB.
We have found that a lot of mining activity taking place in the Antam area is not in line with the RKAB.
We routinely guide and supervise all mining business license holders, including Aneka Tambang. If there is a discrepancy between mining activity and the RKAB document, we follow up the matter in accordance with the current laws and regulations.