Nickel Mining Deforestation



Nur Haryanto


February 1, 2022

Nickel Mining Deforestation 

“Don’t bother the nickel (mining).” The message was sent to Erwan Hermawan’s mobile phone. The forwarded message was received by the Investigation desk reporter on December 21, a week after he arrived in Morowali, Central Sulawesi. He was investigating nickel mining activities in that province that had caused massive damage to the beautiful nature of Sulawesi. 

Before leaving, Erwan had gathered a large amount of data on the suspected manipulation of nickel mining permits in Central Sulawesi, as well as in Southeast Sulawesi. Total nickel reserves in that island stand at almost 3 billion tons. It is these gigantic nickel reserves that have turned Sulawesi into the world nickel center. 

Changes in the regulations for obtaining permits have made it easier to mine nickel there. Erwan wanted to investigate nickel permits after 2018, when the rules were relaxed allowing for the application of mining licenses through the courts, Attorney General’s Office and Ombudsman. All the central government has to do now is to validate these permits by including companies that have obtained recommendations from any of those three bodies into the Minerba One Data Indonesia (MODI) application.

These nickel companies call it a legal loophole. In one week, Erwan obtained confirmation that there was manipulation of legal opinions as a prerequisite for the mining licenses. This of course involved bribes. Grease money was used at every stage. It totaled billions of rupiah. However, one tycoon said that these billions they pay in bribes was trivial compared to the tempting profits to be made from mining nickel. 

The government is in the process of developing an ecosystem based on electric vehicles, which have become increasingly popular as a result of the climate crisis. They need batteries to run, and these batteries need nickel. Therefore, President Joko Widodo banned the export of nickel. The ore has to be processed in a smelter before being sold overseas. However, while this ban has remained in force, we obtained information that raw nickel continues to be exported. 

Given the ease of obtaining permits and then conduction mining operations, it is not surprising that people involved in this gigantic business would be disturbed if information around it was exposed. Those include national political figures, members of the House of Representatives, government officials from regencies all the way to Jakarta, and even former environmental activists. 

The message that Erwan received was because we made a mistake in deciding how to investigate those involved in nickel mining, that his presence in Morowali became known before all the information had been gathered. Erwan decided to continue directly investigate in the field at locations under dispute between nickel mining companies, which are officially prohibited for nickel mining activities. 

His report becomes the cover story of Tempo’s latest edition. From satellite images and aerial photos, we estimated the scope of the area damaged by nickel mining. We analyzed the data together with the Mining Advocacy Network, Auriga Nusantara Foundation and Komiu. Our coverage is also supported by the Rainforest Investigations Network Pulitzer Center because it is part of a series of investigations into deforestation of tropical forests in the Amazon, Congo, and Southeast Asia, together with 13 other media around the world. 

Enjoy the magazine, 

Bagja Hidayat

Executive Editor

The Tentacle of the Nickel Mine

Entrepreneurs, government officials, law enforcement officers and former environmental activists are all involved in the process of obtaining nickel mining permits in Sulawesi. How do they exploit legal loopholes? 

Half a Million Hectares Deforested because of Nickel

Thousands of mining companies ignore the obligation of reclamation. Others conduct mining operations without forest use lease permits.

Nasdem Deputy Chairman’s Nickel Mining

A nickel company is in dispute with another, but mining activities continue to take place. He claims that it is legal.


Interview with Haji Karlan

He owns four companies legally mining nickel. But the regent reported him to the police for alleged falsification of documents.


Editorial: Legalizing Illegal Nickel

The chaotic management of nickel mining will put an end to Indonesia’s plan to set up an environmentally-friendly electric vehicle ecosystem.


Food Estate Deforestation

Long before President Joko Widodo announced the plan to develop food estates to prevent a food crisis, the agricultural ministry established a company to implement it. Without an environmental assessment, even the Gunung Mas Forest in Central Kalimantan will disappear to be replaced with floodwaters.

The Planned Deforestation of Papua

Dozens of companies in Papua are felling trees in violation of the rules and are not paying taxes. Native people are being sidelined.

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