Freeport McMoRan: A Timeline

1936 Dutch explorer-geologist Jean Jaques Dozy discovers Ertsberg (Dutch for "ore mountain") in Papua New Guinea. His discovery is recounted in a paper which was promptly ignored.

1959 Forbes Wilson, exploration chief for Freeport Sulphur Co., learns of Ertsberg from Dozy's report, visits site.

1961 Jim Bob Moffett graduates from UT with a bachelors degree in geology.

1965 Suharto seizes power in Indonesia. At least half a million are killed.

1967 Freeport becomes first company to sign a contract under Indonesia's new foreign investment law.

1968 Moffett, along with UT boosters Ken McWilliams and Mac Rankin, Jr., form McMoRan Oil & Gas Co. The three later strike it rich in South Texas oil fields.

1972 After years of building infrastructure, Freeport Sulphur begins mining at Ertsberg, immediately has problems with weather and problems of mining at 13,000 feet above sea level. Wilson writes that the company was "deeply in the red" due to low copper prices.

1975 Indonesian military invades East Timor. An estimated 200,000 Timorese die in conflict with Indonesian military. Suharto regime later prevents journalists from entering the former Portuguese colony.

1977 Amungme tribal people steal dynamite, blow up slurry pipeline at the mine. Military crackdown kills as many as 900 local villagers.

1980 Freeport and Indonesian government start relocating local tribal people in the lowlands.

1980 Moffett becomes CEO of McMoRan Oil.

1981 McMoRan merges with Freeport Minerals -- a company twice as big as McMoRan.

1987 UT President William Cunningham begins serving on Freeport's board of directors.

1988 Freeport named top corporate polluter by EPA.

1989 UT Geology Department signs $1 million agreement with Freeport to do exploratory work at the Indonesia mine.

1990 Moffett earns $8.82 million from Freeport. Compensation expert Graef Crystal names him the fifth most overpaid CEO in the U.S.

June 7, 1990 The PUD rebellion. Austin City Council votes against Freeport subsidiary FM Properties' 4,000-acre real estate project on Barton Creek.

October 17, 1990 Officials from half a dozen environmental groups send letter to Freeport, asking about problems with mine tailings. Letter cites findings from a United Nations Development Report that says company has "continuously dumped untreated copper mine tailings" into a tributary of the Ajkwa River. Freeport responds, saying that "environmental concerns are certainly a significant part of our operations considerations."

Sept. 17, 1991 New discoveries of ore at the Grasberg deposit cause Freeport to double estimates of mine reserves. Value of gold, copper and silver in mine estimated at $50 billion.

Nov. 1991 Some 200 civilians are shot to death in a cemetery by Indonesian military while attending the funeral of another citizen who died at the hands of the Indonesian military. American journalists are present and stories are run in the NY Times, Christian Science Monitor and elsewhere. CBS News runs footage of shooting. The Austin Chronicle faxes press reports to Cunningham. He refuses to comment.

Feb. 1992 National Wildlife Federation spanks Freeport, after company runs TV ads claiming that it had won an award from NWF. Freeport cancels ad. After flap, Moffett refuses to give interview to a local TV reporter, saying that she doesn't "understand the way corporate America works."

June 1994 Suharto closes down four opposition publications, including Tempo, an influential newsweekly.

June 1994 Scientists from Overseas Private Investment Corporation, a federal agency, visit Freeport mine, take water samples, investigate environmental problems at mine.

Dec. 1, 1994 UT Board of Regents decides to name new building on the Forty Acres after Moffett.

Dec 25, 1994 Demonstration by local tribal people near the mine. Military attacks, at least three civilians are killed.

Feb 23, 1995 "Son of PUD" deal proposed by Freeport is voted down by the Austin City Council. Freeport lobbyists begin pushing Austin-bashing legislation at the Legislature.

April, 1995 Australian Council for Overseas Aid (ACFOA) releases a report detailing dozens of human rights abuses at Indonesian mine, implicates Freeport security personnel in the attacks.

Apr. 17, 1995 New York Times reports that several Indonesian journalists are arrested on charges of "insulting the government," a crime punishable by up to seven years in prison.

May, 1995 Freeport suit against City of Austin, asking for $75 million in damages, goes to federal court. Six-member jury finds for Freeport, but awards them only $113,000.

August, 1995 Catholic Church of Jayapura releases report on abuses at the mine, corroborates many of ACFOA's findings.

Sept. 11, 1995 Dr. Steven Feld resigns his position as an ethnomusicologist at UT in protest of Chancellor William Cunningham's association with Freeport.

Sept. 22, 1995 Indonesian Commission on Human Rights releases report confirming human rights abuses, and asking that "the scope of operation activities between the provincial government and the armed forces with PT Freeport Indonesia be defined clearly."

Sept. 26, 1995 The Texas Observer sends a list of questions to all of the members of the UT Board of Regents regarding Cunningham's association with Freeport. It includes copies of the ACFOA and Catholic Church reports. Chairman Bernard Rapaport responds for the entire board, saying "I do not believe further review is in order."

Oct. 10, 1995 OPIC sends letter to Freeport, explaining that the company's $100 million insurance policy is being cancelled. Letter says mine poses "unreasonable or major environmental, health or safety hazards."

Oct. 20, 1995 Austin Chronicle files Freedom of Information Act request with OPIC. Agency refuses to comment on insurance issue.

Midnight, Halloween 1995 OPIC coverage of Freeport mine expires.

Nov. 1, 1995 OPIC confirms that insurance has been cancelled.

Nov. 1, 1995 UT Geological Society cancels dinner planned to honor Moffett, citing Moffett's "scheduling conflict."

Nov. 2, 1995 LA Times and NY Times run stories on cancellation. Freeport says it will take issue to arbitration. Austin American-Statesman buries four inch story on page A6. In New Orleans, where the Times-Picayune runs the wire story on front page, Moffett storms into the newspaper offices, demanding that it run a correction. "He denied that OPIC had cited environmental reasons for cancelling their insurance," said a source at the paper.

Nov. 3, 1995 Times-Picayune runs excerpts from the OPIC letter on the front page. Feld calls for Cunningham to resign immediately from Freeport's board and to cancel the UT Geology Department contract with the company.

Nov. 6, 1995 Austin Chronicle requests interview with Cunningham. Again, he refuses.

Nov. 8, 1995 Daily Texan reports that Freeport has withdrawn a $600,000 grant from Loyola University, following "anti-Moffett protests."

Got something to say? The Chronicle welcomes opinion pieces on any topic from the community. Submit yours now at

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Keep up with happenings around town

Kevin Curtin's bimonthly cannabis musings

Austin's queerest news and events

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle