Adkerson’s comments come a month after a Brazilian tailings dam controlled by rival Vale collapsed, killing more than 300.
Investors have grown anxious in the wake of that disaster about the rising risk of tailings dams, which are effectively depositories for the muddy detritus of the mining process. Of the three main types of tailings dams, Vale was using one considered the least safe at the operation in Brazil that collapsed.
“Early on, we recognized this as a major risk area for our company,” Adkerson said at an industry conference in Florida. “Fundamentally, we’re comfortable with the system that we have been putting in place in managing this risk.”
Phoenix-based Freeport controls 19 active tailings dams in the United States and Peru, and monitors 55 inactive dams, including some first built in the 19th century. None are in Brazil.
“We’ve invested significantly in reclaiming” those old sites, Adkerson said, without providing specific dollar amounts.
Freeport uses a mix of tailings dam designs, including the one used by Vale in the Brazilian disaster.
Adkerson stressed he feels that Freeport, the world’s largest publicly traded copper producer, has a superior inspection system. German firm TÜV SÜD has been faulted by Brazilian officials for faulty inspections of Vale facilities.
“The use of the system that we have designed mitigates the risk of catastrophic tailings failures,” Adkerson said.
Elsewhere, Adkerson, 72, repeated recent claims that he is not interested in a large-scale acquisition and has no immediate plans to retire.
“I’m enjoying work now a lot more than in recent years,” said Adkerson, who signed a deal late last year for Freeport to relinquish majority control of the world’s second-largest copper mine under pressure from the Indonesian government, even though the company will remain the project’s operator. That deal took years to close and had become a major impediment to Freeport’s growth options.
“I’m younger than Donald Trump and he’s talking about a second term,” he said.