Wednesday, December 17, 2008

arkaroola - crunch time

magnificent mount painter is right next door to the target area - link to my Arkaroola Sanctuary - would U mine it? set on flickr A critical time has been reached in the fight to protect the Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary.

Almost a year after the waste pits were first discovered near Mount Gee, in the heart of the Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary, Marathon Resources has completed the process of removing the thousands of tonnes of waste, some of it radioactive, it had illegally dumped.

The company has stated clearly and repeatedly that it will now apply to lift the suspension that was placed upon it by the state government after the discovery of these pits. It claims to have turned over a new leaf.

If you click the link immediately above you'll see what I think of these claims - based on the company's own words. And I'm not the only one who simply doesn't believe them - as Marg Sprigg, the Sanctuary's owner told the ABC today -

"We don't want mining... We don't trust them and we don't believe they should be allowed back, we don't believe leopards change their spots."

No-one who cares for the future of the Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary, or of high-conservation areas in general, will believe this, or be content to watch the 'dozers and drilling rigs roll back into the Sanctuary.

It's the responsibility of the state government that foolishly allowed exploration in such a sensitive region in the first place not to compound its original error.

It is vital that Labor understands that to support it by allowing the resumption of drilling will be to saddle themselves with an electoral millstone around their necks. Particularly given that former Labor Senator Chris Schacht has been a proponent of this project.

The way they will know that is from you. It's a great opportunity: the future of the Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary is in your hands.

After all, if this egregious breach of regulations does not result in the permanent removal of the right to mine, what on earth would?

Mike Rann, already electorally over-ripe, cannot afford to alienate those who care deeply about South Australia's wild places. He needs to understand that that is exactly what he will be doing should his government allow Marathon to return.

So please contact him.
And please encourage all your friends to do so. If his office is swamped by messages from concerned South Australians he'll get the message loud and clear.

The Hon. Mike Rann
Premier of South Australia

Postal Address
GPO Box 2343
Ph. 8463 3166

As usual, correspondence doesn't have to be long and detailed, it just has to be on his desk, his screen, or his phone logs. The only real necessity is to keep it polite. I've added the text of my letter as a comment below for an example. Please add yours ( I'm certainly sure that after her long ordeal Marg Sprigg would be glad to see it.)

This is your chance to make a vital contribution to the future of South Australian wilderness.

The ABC news article is attached below -

The clean-up of mining waste illegally dumped in the Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary is now over.

It has been almost a year since exploration company Marathon Resources was caught dumping the waste in the sanctuary.

A spokesman for the Department of Primary Industries says it will now focus on tidying up the areas where the waste was buried.

Marathon must now receive State Government approval before it can recommence drilling in the sanctuary.

The manager of the sanctuary, Marg Sprigg, says she is pleased all the waste is finally gone.

"It is a great relief to have it done, it's been almost 12 months since we discovered that the trenches had been filled with rubbish from Marathon so it's nice to have the job almost complete," she said.

Ms Sprigg says they want assurances this will never happen again.

"We don't want mining, we know that Marathon have done a very good job cleaning up but they should never have buried the stuff in the first place," she said.

"We don't trust them and we don't believe they should be allowed back, we don't believe leopards change their spots."

ABC online 17-12-08


Tuesday, December 16, 2008

the further misadventures of mister 5 percent

mister five percent - link to my 'another world is possible' set on flickrHe knows better.

I'll leave it to the many eminent scientists who are already pointing out the inadequacy of this pathetic target to review the science. But they won't be telling the Prime Minister something he doesn't already know. It's not a lack of information or understanding that brought about this craven mis-step.

For it would take a brave man - a genuine visionary - to stand up to the vested-interest elites that really run this country, and to say 'we are going to embark on a new course, and you will have to come along'.

Kevin Rudd is clearly not that man.

Which leaves us where? The performance in office of Mr. 5%, Captain Bathos in his very-nearly-the-Environment portfolio, and Penny (Just Plain) Wong has been far from inspiring, and we are left only with the usual, wretched, consolation that the other side would be worse!

We suffered more than a decade in which our Prime Minister worked boldly and assiduously to further the interests of those who hold real power in Australia. John Howard and his 'mentor' George Bush - if such a cerebral term can be held to apply to such a smug, preppy chimpanzee - will be judged extremely harshly by future generations as climate wreckers. As ecological wreckers. And, ultimately, as economic wreckers.

Their resolute failures to act, and systematic, bloody-minded sabotage of any other attempts to do so, make them directly responsible for all the human misery that inevitably ensues.

(Isn't it ironic than a bourgeois xenophobe like John Howard will be remember as one of the great catalysts of mass human migration in the 21st century?)

Many of us heaved a sigh of relief when the blinkered old warhorse went too far - even for the grasping, self-deluded, Australian Aspirationals - and was thrown unceremoniously out of office.

But, as for his following act - well, instead of the much needed (and much promised) breath of fresh air, the winds of change, we got fitful tepid gusts and mild directionless turbulence. One hopes the replacement in the US does a lot better...

And now we've simply hit the doldrums.

There's really only one question for this limp dishrag triumvirate (Mr. 5, Bathos and Just Plain Wong, that is) - if not now, when? (Plus, of course, if not you, who?)

In fact, I've written to the man himself as follows. You can too. Because he needs to remember that history does not look kindly upon cowards, particularly those who are far too smart not to know better.

The Prime Minister Kevin Rudd.

Dear Kevin Rudd (Mister Five Percent),

You will have received a lot of correspondence on the matter of your dismal, risible greenhouse reduction target. The media is full of eminent scientists, persons far better qualified than I, stating the obvious; that this falls far, far short of what is required.

I don't plan to rehash any of these arguments, not least because you know those arguments as well as I do. If not better.

In fact, you're far too intelligent not to know what your little failure of nerve will likely have cost this nation - and future generations across the world - in the long term.

You must have asked yourself: If not now, when? And if not me, who?

I write to tell you that you are in grave danger of being remembered as one who just could not grasp a place in history. You had the rare chance to lead the nation - and the world - in the true sense of the word. And you, and your government, have chosen to renounce that opportunity.

But you know that too. I'm sure you won't really be surprised if, in the future, you have to acknowledge, with a sigh, that this was the point the slide began...

Yours Sincerely,

Bill Doyle

If you'd like to tell Mister 5 Percent what you think, he can be contacted as follows -

The Hon Kevin Rudd MP
Prime Minister
Parliament House

or simply send an e-mail via his parliamentary web page -


Wednesday, December 10, 2008

a human rights act for australia

these days might these activists be courting extraordinary rendition? anti-nuclear activists on a US warship in Adelaide in the '80s - link to my 'another world is possible' set on flickrUp until quite recently I had found it surprisingly easy to imagine a person like myself being the subject of an extraordinary-rendition.

It wasn't just a matter of watching it happen overseas to citizens of other countries (the 'they' that would do such things while 'we' of course wouldn't) - this notion lodged in my head while watching 100% Aussie concentration camps being created in the Pacific in order to conveniently disappear those whose only 'crime' had often been to attempt to escape from the clutches of this country's professed enemies.

And when watching in horror as our smug, repugnant Foreign Minister gave a nod and a wink to the disappearance of the rights of Habeus Corpus, due-process, and even humane treatment to an Australian national in the form of David Hicks.

All this was all surrounded by the carnival atmosphere of a turbulent public, sadly largely transformed into the kind of gleefully bloodthirsty mob that must once have populated the Roman Coliseum.

This was scary. Many of Australia's most thoughtful citizens - and its best and brightest - have never fully recovered from the distinctly uneasy feeling that if this was 'Australia', they wanted no part of it - and, further more, that they wouldn't be wanted anyway. They might even find themselves vigilantly, vigorously unwanted...

Now there's a chance to ensure that Australia reinstates itself as a land of principle, rather than one that might collapse under stress into a lightly-glossed mob-rule. Particularly given the now near-universal disdain following the collapse of the Bushite model of belligerent arrogance combined with a cavalier disregarded for the law and principle, and recognition of the need to move beyond it into true justice.

GetUp is now inviting submissions to the Australian Government on the need for a Human Rights Act that ensures a genuine fair-deal for all, and that the nation cannot be manipulated or panicked into surrendering its highest principles.

I invite you to make a submission. The next few decades are likely to be tumultuous, and we need to know that opponents of power, whether that power is endorsed by a majority or otherwise, will have unfettered access to a just right to be heard, whether this is in the public domain or the courts.

A copy of my letter is appended below -

Dear Fellow Australian,

As a person who has frequently found himself acting outside the 'safe' margins of Australian society I am greatly concerned that our commitment to Human Rights is shallow; rooted in notions that while we extend our benevolent notion of Human Rights to all, there are those others whose ideas are clearly beyond the pale to right-thinking persons, and who are therefore not entitled to the full suite of rights afforded to the respectable.

I immediately recall the grotesque David Hicks case - the smug, unprincipled actions of the Federal Government in refusing to take any steps that would ensure that this Australian Citizen was subject to humane treatment and swift due-process served as a signal warning to all those who did not meld with the National Groupthink of the day; you may well become a sacrifice to pseudo-populist political expediency!

That other first-world nations managed to successfully secure the rights of their nationals (without sustaining any of the supposedly terminal harm to their alliance with the US that we were told would inevitably result) is a sad indicator of the extent to which the Australian Polity had degenerated to the status of a rabble!

Indeed, the Howard years should serve as a general warning to all Australians capable of independent thought.

The treatment of Asylum Seekers, for example, was disgraceful, and absolutely in breach of our international obligations, and yet it only served to strengthen the Government's grip on power by pandering to the irrational hatreds of the majority (the infamous 77%).

Need I point out that a strong corporate state continually ratcheting its hold on power by reference to threats (perhaps real, perhaps imagined; certainly always exaggerated) and catering to the prejudices and vanities of a blinkered and self-satisfied majority is the origin, and basic condition, of Fascism? Didn't the world just breathe a vast collective sigh of relief that a regressive period strongly matching the conditions described may finally be coming to a close in the US after 8 years?

Democracies must not be allowed to degenerate into a series of elected dictatorships, and yet I believe our own Constitution would place no obstacle in the way of, say, a law that sought to place all Arab-Australians in concentrations camps ['for their protection and our own'], if that law had been formally passed by Parliament.

There are principles that must transcend whatever popular tyrannies the majority - or its representatives - may be manipulated and/or panicked into embracing.

This century is set to be a time of immense turmoil, and we need the solid protection of a fail-safe guarantee of our rights in order to ensure that we do not simply trade freedom and dignity [for all] for convenience and security [for some].

It is not hard to envisage escalating conflicts over the coming decades between environmental/social activists and entrenched authority - that tight nexus of corporate and state power that characterises all the current 'liberal' democracies. It is also not hard to envisage - particularly after Howard and his US mentor Bush - a scenario in which many such activists are characterised as 'Terrorists' and refused admission to the political arena, or even disappeared under various emergency statutes to 'protect the common good'?

With the collusion of a media designed to systematically serve corporate ends non-conforming citizens may easily be recast as UnPersons, 'beyond the pale' of respectability.

We need a Bill of Rights that ensures that there can be no UnPersons - that all are subject to a fair and transparent due process. All 'anti-Terror' law that allows for assignment of anyone to 'black holes' - beyond the reach of friends, relatives, the law and simple inquiry - for any period must not only be repealed forthwith, it must be permanently rendered unconstitutional.

Nor should laws be able to drafted that allow outrageous violations of basic rights to be cast as due process (the farcical Bushite Military Tribunal system, for example.)

The Israeli High Court has recently decreed that 'Democracies must fight with one hand tied behind their backs'. I agree; retaining this moral high-ground has been the essential success and allure of Democracy for centuries.

And for the results of a failure to do so we need only look to the massively successful, if inadvertent, recruiting campaign for anti-Western, anti-democratic ideology and violence undertaken by the Bush Administration at Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib.

Think of it as enlightened self-interest: Democracy itself, the 40 hour-week, universal suffrage, the end of slavery and child labour; once these ideas were all the deluded ravings of the unrespectable, who were often persecuted by 'enlightened' governments, and held in contempt by the majority, for their trouble.

No one has the right to break just laws, but it just might be that, as in the past, it's the ideas of the UnPeople that hold the key to our future.

Yours Sincerely,

Bill Doyle

Monday, October 27, 2008

it's the end of the end of history!

bring on the regulators! - link to the 'the end of the end of history' set on flickrSo, Alan Greenspan has admitted he was wrong.

But why stop there?

Bush and Cheney are wrong. Tony Blair was wrong. John Howard was wrong. Ronald Reagan was wrong. Francis Fukuyama was wrong. Margaret Thatcher was wrong. Milton Friedman was wrong. Ayn Rand was wrong. Friedrich Hayek was wrong.

The entire neoliberal program is melting down around us, and taking our prosperity with it.

But the economic collapse is nothing!

The damage this noxious coterie and their toxic theory have wrought on our environment is literally catastrophic, and we've barely even to begun to see the deadly fruits of their labours.

What this planet now needs is leaders who aren't crippled by the paradigm that has dominated western thought since the 70s.

We need far-sighted regulators. To stabilise our economies and get them working for the benefit of the whole community again, not just making the ultrarich ultraricher.

And to ensure our economies don't continue to systematically wreck the very living systems without which neither they nor we can conceivably exist.

it's the end of the end of history - link to the set on flickrBill Clinton's famous line needs one simple - but profound - modification for our times: It's the (mixed) economy, stupid!

With banks and the finance sector being frantically nationalised (or renationalised!) across the globe, and with major industries looking set to follow suit, turbo-capitalism has reached its "Fall of the Berlin Wall" moment. Less than 20 years after hubristically proclaiming its ultimate triumph!

Neolberalism is as dead as Communism, and the sooner we face up to that the better we'll be able to rebuild our lives. And our planet!

the starbucks theory

There's a notion doing the rounds that the more Starbucks a country has, the more it's reeling in midst of the economic meltdown. Because the more Starbucks a country has, the more it's swallowed the globalised neoliberal agenda, and the more it gets sucked under into the vortex created by CEOs, CDOs, and CFDs!

I'd go further, and argue instead that the more commentators a country had profoundly pontificating over Fukuyama's famously risible notion of 'the end of history' the more it's in trouble right now!

We've just reached the end of the end of history - and it's a scary place to be. But there are opportunities, too.

The 'sophisticated' west has functioned as an effective one party state blinded by a triumphalist, utopian 'free market' ideology for the last 3 decades. As a result there is a tremendous dearth of both ideas and leaders actually capable of properly conceiving, let alone dealing with, either the economic, or the (much more serious) environmental, crisis.

Notably it's the 'backward' South American nations that are now showing us the way. Only by restoring government to it's proper function - securing the livelihoods of populations and the natural systems they depend on - will we emerge from this morass...

Government must once again intervene to ensure that markets bring about a sustainable prosperity for all citizens. Deregulation and privatisation of key strategic services and industries has been trialled for 30 years and has failed miserably. Enough is enough. Wherever it makes sense to rigorously reregulate or renationalise governments must not be afraid to do so.

The corporate press and its 'insider' journalists and commentators - who did so much to sell us all this noxious package of ideas - may disapprove, but they are now only the relic mouthpieces of a moribund system.

It's whats genuinely good for people - that's all the people, not just the executives - and the planet that counts.

We have a lot of work to do - and so very little time in which to do it! Wasting more time attempting to revive palpably failed notions - for neoliberalism has been the real political correctness of the modern era - is simply a route to more disaster...

Thursday, October 23, 2008

mark parnell calls for complete exploration ban at arkaroola

euro at a waterhole in the mawson plateau section of arkaroola  - link to my 'Arkaroola Sanctuary - would U mine it?' set on flickrGreens member of the State Legislative Council (upper house) Mark Parnell has just issued a press release calling on the state government to halt any return by Marathon Resources to exploration activities of any type in the Arkaroola sanctuary.

Mark has also introduced a bill into parliament designed specifically to ban mining in the Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary (with minor excisions on the eastern margin allowing for Alliance's Beverley 4-mile project).

The company is still suspended from drilling, and any other 'invasive' activities, pending its approved clean-up program - which has not actually begun as yet! (You will probably remember the controversy surrounding finding a dump willing to accept the waste.) Yet the company has announced a gravity survey in Arkaroola commencing today -

Work at Marathon continues on all non-drilling parts of our exploration activities and we are pleased to announce that the Company will tomorrow commence a gravity survey program at our Mt Gee uranium deposit in South Australia.

As mentioned in our resource upgrade announcement released in September, we believe there is potential for further mineralisation in the region of the Mt Gee deposit in EL3258 and this gravity survey will add to the evidence base of the uranium resource.

As announced in August, our Rectification Plan for the clean up at Mt Gee has been approved and we are awaiting instructions from PIRSA on a commencement date.

MARATHON RESOURCES Update to Shareholders 22-10-08

The company issued this statement in the light of a recent collapse in their share price which has seen the stock fall to a low of 21.5c - down from a historic high of $6.98 and a high of $3.28 in the last 12 months. The company puts this down to 'external market volatility'.

So, we're to understand that this year's persistently negative publicity surrounding the unauthorised waste dumping and still-pending clean-up has nothing to do with it, then?

Mark's press release -

Greens MLC Mark Parnell says Marathon must not be allowed to resume exploration of any kind in the Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary.

The call comes as Marathon has announced it will start more non-drilling exploration in the Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary from today, despite not even commencing rehabilitation of their old dump sites.

“How can Marathon be let back in to do more damage when they haven’t even started cleaning up their old mess?” asked Greens MLC Mark Parnell.

“As any parent knows: allowing more mess to be created before old mess is cleaned up is a recipe for disaster.

“The whole mining industry is watching the Government’s response to Marathon extremely closely. So far, all they are seeing is minor consequences for major breaches of environmental standards. To blithely continue exploration before completing any sort of basic clean up of past mistakes shows this company has still not realised how wrong their previous actions were,” he said.

Mark Parnell has introduced a Bill into State Parliament to ban all mining activity in the Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary. Cross-party support for such a ban is growing with prominent Liberals including Senator Nick Minchin and Iain Evans vocal in their opposition to mining in Arkaroola.

“Marathon behaved appallingly, were caught out and now the Government must show them the door for good. They must not be allowed to re-commence exploration of any kind.

“It’s time, once and for all, for the majestic and magnificent Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary to be preserved for future generations without risk of future damage from mining cowboys,” he said.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

the case of the missing minerals

mount gee fluorite photo courtesy of Tim Baier- link to the image on flickr[Mount Gee Fluorite image courtesy Tim Baier - copyright Tim Baier 2008 - click the photo for more information]

Last Thursday, Greens MLC Mark Parnell asked a series of interesting questions of Mineral Resources Development Minister Paul Holloway in the state's upper house -

...[A]ccording to the final investigation report, on 19 December 2007, Marathon requested the use of two new drill rigs in the sanctuary at Mount Gee so it could fast track its drilling program. In late December (one or two weeks later), PIRSA received the allegations of the inappropriate disposal of waste in pits at Mount Gee from the Leigh Creek police.

The new drill rig request was granted by PIRSA on 10 January 2008, in spite of these outstanding allegations and in spite of the fact that its own team of three, and an EPA team of two inspectors, were due to travel to Arkaroola only five days later on 15 January 2008.

My questions are:

1. Why, given the seriousness of the allegations, was the company granted an opportunity to actually accelerate its drilling program whilst those allegations were unresolved?

2. I refer to the unique fluorite occurrence which was damaged and removed by Marathon employees. I did inspect that site and the remaining fluorite is, in fact, incredibly beautiful. I also understand that it is very rare and very valuable. Where is the fluorite now that was taken, and what actions has PIRSA taken to find that fluorite and to return it to the Arkaroola sanctuary?

3. Will the Minister once and for all confirm that, when the clean up by the company is complete, the Government will finally cancel Marathon's exploration licence?

Let's have a look at the minister's responses -

ANSWER:The Hon. P. HOLLOWAY (Minister for Mineral Resources Development): In relation to the fluorite occurrence, that is referred to in the investigation. If the honourable member has a copy of the report, as he said, I would suggest that he read the detail there. As I understand it, and it is some time since I have read the report, there was obviously some dispute over who had taken this particular fluorite.

Clearly, the expectation would be that it was someone within the company, but who exactly had done it and what had happened to it, of course, was somewhat indeterminate. It would be very difficult to track down exactly what had happened in relation to that, because there are also other people on the Arkaroola site who —

An honourable member interjecting:

The Hon. P. HOLLOWAY: Well, it may have been disturbed, but who actually took it is, of course, another matter. However, I believe that that matter is adequately covered in the report that the honourable member says he has in his possession.

You'll have noticed that the Minister had simply ignored the first question. It remains a very interesting one.

But his reply to the second doesn't leave us much the wiser than his ignoring the first did!

the case of the missing minerals

This PIRSA report that Mark refers to notably begs the question of exactly what happened to the missing chunks of the unique fluorite outcrop, a core of the nationally significant Mount Gee geological monument. This was, of course, the reason he asked the question in the first place!

Geology students all over the country will be keen to know the answer. As PIRSA's final report itself notes'[t]his unique mineral occurrence is well known to Australian geologists and mineralogists.' But in order to further beg the question the minister simply refers back to this same report that doesn't tell us!

He then alludes to the notion that 'other people', presumably with access to the site, might have been responsible for its ultimate disappearance.

This is remarkable! We're not exactly talking a handful of gemstones someone scooped into a lunchbox here! Here's what the report actually says -

Identifiable machinery tracks to the site and an excavated area of approximately 2.5 by 2m at the edge of a creek were recorded and photographed. From the track and excavation impact, it appears that a small excavator had been used to remove a substantial part of this unique fluorite vein occurrence, Mr Newell [from Marathon - BD ] was informed of this matter by PIRSA officers and he subsequently visited the site and confirmed verbally that the site had been accessed by a small excavator. There is no DEF authorisation for Marathon staff to excavate or remove material from this site.

At the site, numerous tracks were observed immediately north and west of the investigation area, outside of designated zones used to access approved drill sites...

The report the goes on to state in its summary of investigation findings -

A Marathon representative inspected the fluorite vein and confirmed that the site had been damaged and had been accessed by mechanical digging equipment. The Marathon representative could not advise as to who damaged the site. Marathon's exploration operations are the only operations within Arkaroola that have this type of equipment available [emphasis mine - BD]. The evidence indicates that the following PIRSA approval conditions for the use of Declared Equipment dated 1 November 2006 have been breached:

A geological monument has been identified as an environmentally sensitive site within your proposed drilling area. The DEF has been circulated to the Geological Monument Subcommittee for comment/information. Comments received are attached below.

(i) The Subcommittee has no objections to the work as outlined in the Marathon Mt Gee DEF. The drilling project should not affect the Mt Gee geological monument FR1.2, as the track maintenance and drill pad work outlined in the DEF are on the east and west slopes of Mt Gee, whereas the quartz sinter, the subject of the monument nomination, is on the upper parts of the hill. [emphasis mine] They should be reminded, however, of the need to avoid any damage to the sinter area, as well as unnecessary damage to other natural outcrops closer to their operations.

The minister's notion that while a Marathon employee may have actually used machinery - which, as the report notes, was only locally available to Marathon's employees, and this excavation was subsequently admitted by the company anyway - to remove a large chunk of a rare mineral, but that 'other people' wandering around in this remote region may have made off with it I leave to the reader to contemplate...

So where exactly is the missing fluorite?

marathon's statement

While the report - which, we must remember, 'adequately covers' the issue according to the minister - doesn't detail Marathon's response to PIRSA, it's left to the company to tell us what they told them, via their own 'Learning from Waste in the Wilderness' document (how sweet and reassuring; the audacity of this would-be-innocuous, saccharine title - given the circumstances of its publication - never ceases to amaze me!) -

Marathon had management at the Mt Gee site that did not properly appreciate the appropriate sustainable development standards. This is exemplified by the damage an employee of Marathon Resources did to a fluorite vein located within the Mt Gee geological monument area. [emphasis mine] He used declared equipment within EL 3258 without written authorisation from PIRSA.

The region in general has a long history of gem and mineral fossicking, however, the actions of one of Marathon’s employees in causing damage to this significant Mt Gee fluorite occurrence was unacceptable. The occurrence is an important educational and research tool for tertiary geology students and a unique Australian environmental monument for Arkaroola Sanctuary’s international tourists.

Following damage to the Fluorite occurrence, Marathon conveyed to PIRSA the following:

‘In relation to Marathon’s involvement at this site, we have found that at some time during February 2007 a quantity of surface material was pulled from a badly eroded watercourse onto the bank with a small backhoe by a Marathon employee. The water course which is up to 1.0m deep and 1.5m wide at an inclination of +/- 14o has been eroded by water flow from a site excavated for exploration purposes by a party prior to Marathon Resources’ involvement on Mt Gee. The quantity of material pulled from the eroded gully is estimated by us as a result of a visit to the site on 12 February 2008 as less than 0.5m2 [sic - and note the variance with PIRSA's 'excavated area of approximately 2.5 by 2m' - BD] or no more than 250kg [! - emphasis mine]. We are advised that when the material was moved from the gully, no sampling took place. The Marathon Resources employee who removed the surface material... was on an activity not authorised by the Company... His action was not in accord with our environmental policy. We are assured that he did not then subsequently remove any samples and has not returned to the location since February 2007. It is evident from ...photographs that subsequent to the event of February 2007 a person or persons (and unknown to Marathon Resources) has/have made a further excavation of approximately 80 litres (4 standard buckets)(letter to PIRSA dated 27 February 2008).

The geological significance of the fluorite occurrence was not explicitly detailed in Marathon’s environmental control documentation. In order to ensure there is no further damage to this, or any other monument, Marathon’s employees need to be aware of the geological significance of the area and how their actions might directly impact on sensitive sites. Further, they need to be accountable for their actions at site level at all times.

So, are we to to assume, then, that this was an instance of 'fossicking'? If Marathon employees are indeed to be held accountable what disciplinary actions have been taken against the one responsible?

And PIRSA is satisfied? Is one admitted excavation by a Marathon employee and a remarkable follow-up effort by 'person or persons... unknown' really as far as investigating this matter can go? And, leaving aside whodunits, where's the stones? We aren't told.

How can Paul Holloway - the responsible minister overseeing a well-known, nationally significant mineral occurrence in a national Geological Monument - rest content with 'but who exactly had done it and what had happened to it, of course, was somewhat indeterminate...'?

Come to think of it, when gems go missing, isn't it usually regarded as a matter for police involvement?

it's OK - they have a plan!

And what's to be done about the damage. PIRSA is on the case -

In relation to the unauthorised sampling and damage to the fluorite occurrence at Mt Gee, the company is requested to consult with the landholders, PIRSA and other stakeholders in the development of a remediation plan for the damaged fluorite occurrence in the Mt Gee Geological Monument Area.

How, precisely, does one 'remediate' the removal of a large chunk of a rare mineral? Particularly given its mysterious apparent absence from the site. Buy some more on EBay? Then use Blu-tac? Superglue? Of course, my suggestions are absurd; but of late, sadly, farce just seems to pile upon farce when it comes to Mount Gee...

a bleak future for miners?

But, what of the overall question? What does the future hold for Mount Gee and the Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary? Paul Holloway does have something to say about that -

In relation to the future of drilling at Mount Gee, I have already answered that in an earlier question today, in that the exploration licence remains live until the exploration is finished. As to the future of it, that is something that will have to await until the clean up is finished. When I made my statement I think I mentioned a number of other conditions that Marathon Resources will have to meet before any further exploration will be permitted in that area. One of the obvious ones is its relationship with the landholders. The view I have expressed to any mineral explorer is that, if they do not have good relations with the landholders, the future of mining within those areas is likely to be bleak. [emphasis mine]

Well, it's not exactly the kind of definitive statement we'd all appreciate, but it has substantially more content than the other responses.

I scarcely need to reiterate how fervently the landholders in this instance simply wish the company would pack up all its 'Declared Equipment' and go home!

It's the state government's own legislative deficiencies that have forced the Spriggs into the absurd position of having to countenance this farce in the heart of their sanctuary. This same state government would surely not dare to attempt to pass off Marathon's employing a public relations consultant to deal with the Spriggs (in negotiations they don't want to have in the first place) as 'good' relations?

So this last response cannot bode well for the future for those who hope to mine in the heart of the Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary! But Paul Holloway must eventually stop shilly-shallying and publicly declare mining access ended.


Saturday, August 16, 2008

fox to henhouse - 'this time it'll all be different'

leigh creek police make a preliminary excavation into the mount gee east waste pit - photo: ABC online - link to my Arkaroola Sanctuary - would U mine it? set on flickrIn the absence of an active drilling program, would-be Wilderness Sanctuary miner Marathon Resources seem to have elected to mine a seam of black humour instead.

How else can one explain the recent spate of hand-wringing mea culpas they've been issuing to their shareholders and the public in general?

Marathon's Chairman Peter Williams - who has been with the company since 2004 - tells us, in his open letter to Shareholders of August 15th;

I have led Marathon's review process to understand how this Mt Gee incident occurred and what we needed to learn. The results of this review, "Marathon Resources: Learning from Waste in the Wilderness", is being made public so that our key stakeholders can hear from us about our understanding of what happened and what we plan to do to ensure that these types of incidents do not recur.

Throughout the review process, I came to the difficult realisation that this incident may in fact have been symptomatic of our culture and Marathon's overall approach...

Our conclusion after the Mt Gee issue was that these incidents indicated we had not instilled the appropriate level of awareness about the importance of our social licence to operate. When the company formed in 2004, we should have worked harder to instil a culture, capability and systems for managing exploration in a way that was sensitive to the community and the environment. We needed management and communication that were up to delivering us this culture and approach.

Of course, one can scarcely argue with this admission that they certainly haven't made the grade in Arkaroola.

(As for 'Learning from Waste in the Wilderness'!? Give me a break!...)

But, equally obviously, this is all part of a strategy aimed at convincing us that they're reformed characters now, and that if the state government and community would only be prepared to let them back into the Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary to drill again they'd be the bestest little environment and community friendly mining company ever -

To win the right back to drill, we must first change our understanding of the priorities for an exploration company in a sensitive environment. We must be able to rebuild support with key stakeholders through better management and communication. We must ensure our standards of behaviour are exemplary and that we deliver our exploration program to the highest safety, environmental and community standards.

'Delivering the highest safety, environmental and community standards'. Haven't I heard this somewhere before? Haven't they been saying that's what they were doing all the way along? And look what happened!

But now they're back, and this time they're really, really on the wagon!

Frankly, I don't buy it, and I doubt that anyone else will either. Can they really expect to be taken seriously if they more-or-less say "Oh, we've suddenly realised we really had to not screw up if we were going to be allowed to prospect for Uranium in the heart of a Wilderness Sanctuary and one of the state's major tourist drawcards!"?

"Well, duh!"

The company knew perfectly well what it was getting into in Arkaroola. They knew that prospecting to establish a mine, and a Uranium mine in particular, was always going to be highly controversial, and that the state government - already under intense community scrutiny for allowing them access in the first place - would have no choice but to rigorously hold them to account.

the lessons of 'wild dog'

They'd already been through the whole 'Wild Dog' experience: Marathon had attempted to prospect for Uranium in the Myponga Reservoir catchment on the Fleurieu Peninsula near Adelaide. The local community were not at all impressed, and the Premier himself intervened directly - as he has conspicuously failed to do in this instance - making it quite clear that there would be no Uranium mine on the Fleurieu Peninsula.

How could they not have 'got' that Uranium prospecting is unpopular, and that prospecting in areas that the public have a great attachment to is doubly so?

The answer is that they did get it. And they also knew perfectly well that as they shifted their focus to the Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary the rigorous scrutiny would only increase. They even quoted Minerals Minister Paul Holloway in their own press release of November 2006 acknowledging that they wouldn't be pursuing the Wild Dog prospect at Myponga -

However, it needs to be understood that any new mines across the State will be developed within South Australia’s stringent regulatory framework of best practice environmental management and community consultation.

Now, that's pretty clear, isn't it? And they've published it themselves.

the company, in its own words

In fact, a quick spin through their own website reveals a continual litany of claims to adherence to the highest standards with regard to the environment and the community from that point on. I've included a number of examples below -

29th January 2007, Quarterly Activity Report

Marathon is acutely aware of its environmental and social responsibilities and this part of the scoping study is recognised as crucial and requiring attention at the earliest possible stage of the project. The Company is committed to exploration and mining with minimal environmental and social impact, recognising that its social license to operate depends from the outset on maintaining an environmental and social balance that is as close to original as practicable.

13th March 2007; CEO John Santich delivers a presentation to InvestorTV -

Obviously we’ll be going through the normal processes, and there’s going to be a lot of attention on Mount Gee. We’re going to be looking at the political, social, environmental considerations, but we’ll just have to pay a lot of attention to them.

3rd of April 2007; Mt Gee Uranium Project Update -

Dr Santich said that the Company was committed to environmentally sustainable mining at Mt Gee and to thorough exploration of the Paralana Mineral System. “Indications are that we already have a viable mine,”he said, “but we believe that we have only scratched the surface.”

“We consider the Paralana Mineral System has the potential to be one of the great uranium systems in Australia,”said Dr Santich. “We are committed to both the environment in the Flinders Ranges and to adding shareholder value through best practice mining,”he said.

31st August 2007; Update on mount Gee, announcing the formation of their new Community Consultation Committee -
A visit was recently undertaken by the CEO, Stuart Hall, to meet local community members in the vicinity of Mt Gee in preparation for the formation of a North Flinders Community Consultative Committee (NFCCC).

The NFCCC comprises local members from the State and Federal Government (or their alternates) and representatives of local landowners, graziers, tourism operators and the indigenous community. The aim of the Committee is to act as a forum for the company and the local community to regularly meet and discuss progress at Mt Gee and any issues of concerns that may arise.

walking the talk

25th of September 2007; in the Company's Annual Report we find the Chief Executive Officer's Report, which is worth quoting at some length -

We are confident in our ability to develop and operate the Mt Gee project in a safe and environmentally benign manner with careful consideration of the social, cultural and financial impact on local stakeholders.

Our vision is to make the operation a strong positive influence on the local community. We have adopted a four-pronged approach to ensure that this occurs:

1. Community
The principles of our approach to the community are:
• Engagement
• Openness
• Honesty
• Acknowledgement of alternative views
• Contribution to the community
• Earned respect

We believe that it is vital that the local community hear first-hand from Marathon about our plans and our progress. It is equally important that people have an open and transparent mechanism to air any concerns.

For this reason we have established the North Flinders Community Consultative Committee [ see above ]...

2. Environment

The principles of our approach to the environment are:
• To strive for best practice
• To be proactive in planning
• To stay ahead of community standards

As the proponents for the development of a uranium mine, we recognise that the community and the Federal and State Governments expect Marathon to consistently achieve the highest levels of environmental excellence.

Accordingly, our approach to environmental issues is reflected as a priority in our corporate values, in our recruitment and in our selection of consultants and contractors.

Marathon has offered to prepare a full Environmental Impact Statement of Mt Gee and to allow full public scrutiny of this document. This will lay the groundwork in establishing our environmental credentials and ensuring the highest standards are maintained throughout project development.

4. People

The principles of our approach to people are:
• Technical excellence and experience.
• To build a team of like-minded people.
• To ‘Walk the talk’.
• To develop suitable induction and training for our contractors and new staff.

Marathon will successfully implement our strategy with the full engagement of our staff. We intend to provide them with the appropriate training and tools to inculcate a culture of excellence in community liaison and environmental and safety standards.

So, all the same bases as those now being sold as the 'new improved' version of the operation are already specifically covered.

'Best Practice' in the environment, listening to the community, ensuring staff and contractors know exactly what its all about, acknowledging the legitimate intense scrutiny and highest expectations from both state and federal governments.

It could hardly be clearer. They had their chance - a chance many of us, after all, feel no company should ever have been given in Arkaroola in the first place - they knew exactly what was at stake... and they blew it, and got themselves suspended from drilling

environmental issues

Interestingly, the Directors Report section of this same Annual Report Document, signed by Peter Williams himself, contains the following

Environmental issues

The Group’s operations are subject to environmental regulation. The Group is satisfied that no breaches of environmental regulation have occurred.

Let's move on, shall we?...

15th of November 2007; Chairman's address to the Annual General Meeting, delivered by Peter Williams -

Marathon is also conscious of its need to gain a social “licence to operate”. We are confident in our ability to develop and operate the Mt Gee project in a safe and environmentally benign manner with due consideration of the social, cultural and financial impact on local stakeholders...

We have taken a four-pronged approach encompassing the community, environment, safety and human resources to ensure we gain stakeholder confidence and acceptance.

Building a world-class project with world-class environmental and safety standards is a challenging task, but we believe we have the right systems in place to achieve our goals.

Then, in December, Leigh Creek Police and the Sanctuary's owners make a first foray into the vast piles of material, including radioactive waste and left over laboratory personal protective equipment[!], buried in blatant contravention of the terms of the company's Exploration Lease, right in the heart of the Wilderness Sanctuary! And the rest is history...

It is abundantly clear that despite being fully aware of the inescapable centrality of maintaining their 'social licence to operate' from the first, and despite constant assurances that they were meeting the highest standards, the company couldn't, or wouldn't, in fact rise to either.

It is also abundantly clear in the light of this that the state government's policy of allowing mineral exploration in a Wilderness Sanctuary in the first place was irrevocably flawed. One cannot put foxes in charge of henhouses and claim to have the welfare of chickens at heart! There can be no 'second chances' - the Arkaroola Sanctuary must be fully protected now and for ever.


Thursday, August 14, 2008

of pulps, polystyrene, and PPE - what's in the pits, Marathon?

leigh creek police make a preliminary excavation into the mount gee east waste pit - photo: ABC online - link to my Arkaroola Sanctuary - would U mine it? set on flickrMarathon Resources has been bruiting about the notion that the acceptance by the South Australian Government of their Rectification Plan - designed to remove the considerable volume of waste they had buried in the middle of the Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary in blatant contravention of the terms of their exploration lease - indicates that a return to drilling may be just around the corner for them.

I wouldn't be so sure.

As they note themselves in the Background section of their Rectification Plan "Following the joint investigation of exploration activities, PIRSA issued formal instructions to Marathon... as the result of identification of specific breaches of lease conditions. These breaches must be completely addressed by Marathon before drilling can re-commence at EL 3258."

Can there really be any comeback for a company whose activities were expressly described by the state Premier as 'cowboy'? There are serious questions as to whether the government should ever have allowed exploration in the heart of the Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary in the first place (for me, certainly not!). But there are also serious questions as to whether they should countenance these specific operators to return to such a region given the serious and sustained nature of their breaches. Surely these have only confirmed that it was never appropriate for miners to be given access to this fragile area in the first place?

Let's start by looking again at the extent of the dumping scandal, in the company's own words. Here is an extract from their EL 3258 Rectification Plan, dated 4th of August 2008 and now approved - and published online - by Primary Industries and Resources SA (PIRSA):

The material presently stored underground at Hodgkinson is in fact sample pulps returned from the laboratory and not drill cuttings. To that end, Marathon wishes to store this material post excavation for their potential future QA/QC requirements.
Twenty drums/barrels are presently stored at Hodgkinson, where they have been temporarily buried in an unused drill hole sump. These comprise 16 steel 205 L steel and 4 x 200L plastic screw top pickle barrels present containing sample pulps stored in Kraft packets contained in cardboard boxes. Their location has been marked with a star picket; therefore locating the pit should not be difficult.

So, it's not waste after all? That must be alright then! Are we to understand that this was some sort of 'temporary' storage system, given that it was 'marked with a star picket' and so shouldn't be 'difficult' to find?

Here's what PIRSA's own Field Investigation Final Report of May 2008 has to say about Hodgkinsons:
On 5 March 2008 PIRSA officers inspected the Hodgkinson disposal site, confirming the location provided by Marathon Resources. The site was marked by a star dropper with "Pulps 2006" welded onto the side. The area disturbed at the disposal site is approximately 10-12m long by 4-5m wide. The site is located approximately 35-45m from the major creek bank in the Yudanamutana George and approximately 3-4m from a small 1.5-2m deep incised drainage channel eroded by water flow off the hill directly to the north of the site.

The disposal site is located within the Yudanamutana Gorge, one of the main catchment areas in the Northern Flinders Ranges. The potential risk for the steel/plastic drums containing the sample material to become exposed during flooding events is high. [ emphasis mine ] Prior to PIRSA confirming the location of the site, Arkaroola management raised concerns about the location and potential for sample material becoming exposure during flooding events.

It's truly remarkable how much of the material buried in these pits has actually travelled all the way to Adelaide, and then found its way back to the middle of the Wilderness Sanctuary in the northern Flinders Ranges, there only to be dumped in blatant contravention to the company's Exploration Licence. (See Mount Gee East below)

It's also worth noting in light of attempts to hold previous Marathon CEO Stuart Hall responsible for the dumping scandal (see the 'pure black comedy' posting below) that his brief tenure in mid to late 2007 began well after the Hodgkinson's operations were completed; this was in October 2006 according to PIRSA.
Mt Gee West:
A small amount of burned plastic material and other miscellaneous food wastes are present in the small (approximately 2 m (long) x 1.2 m (wide) x 1.8 m (deep)) burial pit at Mt Gee West. Marathon believes that the total volume of general waste at Mt Gee West should not exceed 1 m3. Marathon does not believe that any drill cuttings have been buried at Mt Gee West.

Mt Gee East:
Approximately 22,800 calico bags containing exploration drill cuttings and 1,500 (empty) green plastic bags are located in two burial pits at the Frypan area. Marathon also believes that an unknown quantity of general personal protection equipment (PPE) and other waste from Amdel Laboratory in Adelaide (including used gloves, masks and disposable overalls, plus a few loose items of food wrappings), 2 historic Exoil 44 gallon drums, and some extraneous waste from Marathon's Mt Painter camp including polystyrene tubing, cardboard waste and similar are also buried in the two pits.

Marathon considers that the integrity of a percentage of the calico bags buried at Mt Gee East may have been damaged during burial and subsequent exposure in investigative excavation. Notwithstanding this belief, Marathon propose to maintain an inventory of all items removed from the two Mt Gee East pits, the Mt Gee West pit and the Hodgkinson pit, along with a photographic record of the differing types of waste (mineral and general) at each site.

This inventory - as required by PIRSA - will indeed make fascinating reading! I, for one, look forward to it...

Next posting we'll look at the interesting case of the mysterious damage to the unique fluorite deposit in the national geological monument.


Sunday, June 22, 2008

Tunneling in for some pure black comedy...

'minimal impact'? exploration scarring on the flanks of mount gee - link to my Arkaroola Sanctuary - would U mine it? set on flickrIn the light of the suit and counter-suit between our old friends Marathon Resources and their former CEO Stuart Hall several interesting points arise.

Firstly one might question how a person who was brought in with much fanfare to run the company in mid 2007 - prior to an unceremonious departure only 3 months later - might be solely responsible for a dumping scandal that includes the improper disposal of waste at several sites that goes back well over 2 years.

Not only are Marathon apparently holding that this is indeed the case, they are even suggesting that the dumping scandal justifies their dismissal of Mr. Hall, even though they claim to have been unaware of the issue at the time of his sacking.

To quote directly from a recent article in the business section of the Advertiser (Cameron England, June 5 2008);

Marathon, in a statement of defence and counter-claim lodged with the court, said Mr Hall is "not entitled to any compensation whatsoever'' because he:

"HAS caused Marathon to be the subject of a material penalty or serious reprimand imposed by regulatory authorities'', and:

WAS "negligent'' and "incompetent'' in the performance of his duties.

These claims relate in part to the unauthorised burial of uranium drilling samples on the Mt Gee drilling site, which caused Marathon to have its drilling activities suspended and for it to become liable for cleaning up the site to the satisfaction of the State Government.

While Marathon did not know about these alleged breaches of contract at the time it terminated Mr Hall's employment, it is understood that such breaches can still be claimed as justification for termination.

One can perhaps see how this might get Mr. Hall's goat!

seeing the dark at the end of the tunnel...

Board room shenanigans aside, a rather more interesting counter-suit response from the company bears more examination, and should ring alarm bells for all those who value the integrity of the Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary (ibid.);

Marathon further claimed Mr Hall made comments in a radio interview which indicated it would spend $500 million constructing an underground tunnel to mine the uranium deposit in the Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary, and that there would be no need for surface disturbance at all.

Marathon said the statements came ``without authority from Marathon's board of directors'', and at a time when the firm was assessing the feasibility of various options for mining Mt Gee.

Marathon said the statements did not reflect Marathon's then current intentions, and Mr Hall should have known the statements would have ``a material adverse impact on Marathon's capacity to procure debt''.

Hang on, hang on! So, Marathon are now saying that they are (or, at least, were) not necessarily going to tunnel into the deposit at Mount Gee, and their former CEO should never have said that they were?! Because the market wouldn't countenance such an expensive and problematic feat of engineering, and hence nobody would bankroll their project?!

So the centrepiece of the proclaimed low-impact of the proposed mine at Mount Gee - the very big, very long tunnel that leaves the surface (relatively) undisturbed - isn't necessarily going to happen?

Wow, have they told the state government yet? Because the state government keeps telling us that this mine could only go ahead precisely if it doesn't involve significant surface disturbance. As Mineral Resources Development Minister Paul Holloway told state parliament in February of this year;

This government has made it clear that, although we have continued past policy in allowing exploration in the area—and, as I have said, we have allowed something like 40 years of continuous exploration—we have also made it clear to companies that we will not allow any mining involving significant surface disturbance; in other words, there would be absolutely no chance of getting any sort of open-cut mining or anything like that in the area.(Emphasis mine)

So, what are the 'various options for mining Mt Gee' that Marathon 'was assessing the feasibility of'? Would they amount to 'open-cut mining or anything like that'? Its pretty hard to imagine anything that wouldn't be 'anything like that', isn't it?

It's interesting that Stuart Hall did indeed tell ABC Radio's 'Bush Telegraph' last year that the company were considering putting a shaft in "the head of one of the gorges" in the Sanctuary, and creating trucking routes, slurry pipelines, or conveyors to shift ore to a processing plant. (And this about a week after telling The Wilderness Society and me the 'not to worry, it's all going to be underground' story!)

Now, this alternative strikes me as being about as 'anything like that' as a mining proposal can possibly be!

Meanwhile the company still has to rectify the damage done by their previous exploration efforts, which historically both the company and state government have assured us were to be of 'minimal impact'. The state government appears to have become a little more sceptical of late - now, whyever could that be? - and they're currently requiring more information on the contractors to be used to uncover and dispose of the 35 tonnes of waste previously buried in breach of exploration licence conditions prior to approving the company's finally removing it.

Marathon's General Manager Ian McRae told ABC Radio that they're keen to get on with the proper disposal of waste in order to get on with their exploration program (ABC 891 18th June);

Interviewer: This is obviously a major halt in operations for you

Ian McRae: Well we haven’t been drilling. I mean we finished drilling on the 17th of February … we had intended to continue drilling for another four of five weeks after that … so that drilling at the end of February and through March has not been done … and that is not able to be done until we resubmit a proposal for PIRSA …

Whether those who value the Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary for what it is are impatient for the company's return is another matter...


Sunday, April 20, 2008

latest edition of 'from the ark'

page 8 of the summer edition of the 'from the ark' newsletter - click to download the newsletter from the arkaroola website
Read the latest - summer 2008 - edition of 'From the Ark', the newsletter of the Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary

Along with the usual great information and photographs this newsletter highlights the discovery by the Spriggs, owners of the sanctuary's owners, of the 22 800 bags dumped - in blatant contravention of exploration lease conditions - at Mount Gee by exploration crews working for Marathon Resources.

Marathon is the company that is attempting to establish a uranium mine right in the heart of Arkaroola, against the wishes of the sanctuary's owners, environmentalists, and wilderness-lovers everywhere - see the newsletter, the Arkaroola website proper, and most of the postings on this blog for more information.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Holloway - we have a problem!

creek and waterfall below the eastern flank or mount gee - link to my Arkaroola Sanctuary - would U mine it? set on flickr There was some interesting discussion if the upper house of the state's parliament in early March at the time of the defeat of Mark Parnell's bill proposing a ban on mining in sanctuaries across South Australia.

Of most interest are the comments of Paul Holloway. He now seems to be, at least in the vital area of the impact of the mining boom on our surviving wild places, the acting Minister for the Environment - as well as the Minister for Mineral Resource Development - in the absence of anyone else who appears to be willing to take on the role.

Despite the usual spin that some sectors have attempted to put on this debate and its outcome, the government and opposition both opposed this bill because: A - it was always something of an ambit claim, designed to highlight the risk to these private conservation areas; B- there's a mare's nest of due-process complications specifically to do with the Arkaroola sanctuary and Marathon's exploration lease where formal resolution in the wake of the 22 800 bag dumping scandal is still ongoing; and C - it would appear that part of the proposed Beverley 4-Mile ISL (which both parties support) is within the outer boundaries of the Arkaroola Sanctuary, though not in its scenic core. So this was not a vote in favour of Marathon's mine at Arkaroola.

In fact, during the debate, Paul Holloway openly admitted that there is a problem across the state with high-conservation areas that are not protected by the reserve system being impacted by the mining industry, and that he has taken this up with the state Chamber of Mines and Energy (SACOME);

I think what needs to be remembered here is that we have a system of national parks where we try to assess values and set the ground rules where mining, which includes exploration, can and cannot take place. Clearly, that system is imperfect. There are some regions of the state, for tourism and other values, that probably are not in national parks but where we still would want to restrict mining. I have certainly been talking to representatives of the Chamber of Mines and Energy, and I think we also need to involve some of the conservation groups, about identifying them so that we can manage it better.

Clearly the definitive example of the imperfection of the system to date is the very existence of exploration crews at Mount Gee, in the heart of Arkaroola. If Holloway is serious this is the first problem that needs to be decisively rectified.

So what would SACOME think of the issue? Well, they've already issued a condemnation of the dumping breaches at Arkaroola, around the same time as the Premier was describing Marathon's activities as 'cowboy'. This kind of activity does not make mining look good, and there are plenty of projects across the state that do not impinge on such vulnerable habitats that would not wish, surely, to be tarred with the same brush as those that do(?)

So what does the Minister reckon they'd think? -

a grand proposal

By and large, the mining industry as a whole does not want to be involved in mining and issues which create public controversy and which create conditions that are to the detriment of the mining industry as a whole. They would rather avoid such issues. So, where there are areas of high conservation value or other aesthetic value that are not within national parks or are not within a classification of park that prohibits mining, we need to assess them. I know that my colleague the Minister for Environment and Conservation is aware of that, and we are trying to develop a system where we can ensure that we do not have these issues arise. [Emphasis mine]

A grand proposal! I completely agree that relevant Ministers, SACOME, and the conservation groups referred to in the first quote should develop just such a system, and one where the environment is the recipient of the benefit of the doubt, rather than industry. I propose that we hold him to this!

( I also note in this passage that Holloway refers to a 'Minister for Environment', so I guess one must exist - I just haven't seem much evidence of it of late! )

tedious debating tactics 101

On the subject of disagreeing with Holloway, might I cite this example of the cheapest of point-scoring from the same debate? With regard specifically to Arkaroola he said the following in reply to Mark Parnell;

I know that this is an emotional issue and I know that the Greens are committed to stopping uranium mining in any form anywhere and they will attack it wherever it occurs using whatever arguments are convenient at the time.

Offensive bullshit, Mr. Holloway, and you know it!

The trite label 'emotional issue' is a cheap debating tactic and tediously smug. (It also has overtones of Asperger's Syndrome, I've always thought. It's like all human feelings are a rather threatening mystery, best contemptuously dismissed at the outset). The Greens, and all greens, will oppose all mining at the heart of the Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary whether it be for U3O8, tin, copper, or clotted-cream. In fact, they'll oppose any project that threatens to permanently scar it - try whacking a series of wind turbines or a geothermal power-plant at Mount Gee and see what happens!

And as for 'using whatever arguments are convenient'? Pots and kettles, Paul Holloway - pots and kettles!

One thing I have to agree with from the debate is Mark Parnell's observation that 'it seems that any person of prominence who has ever been up to Arkaroola for a holiday is now coming out, on the record, and saying that this place is too precious to mine.'

I urge all readers of this journal - who are thereby automatically 'persons of prominence' - to do just that. Travel to Arkaroola, if you haven't already, and tell the world ( and particularly the Rann government ) just how important it is to you in its wild state.


Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Marathon to push on - Parnell and Evans to push back!

richly-coloured rock of a small waterfall by mount gee - link to my Arkaroola Sanctuary - would U mine it? set on flickr Despite what you may have understood from the media it seems to me that Marathon Resources did not make a stunning new announcement yesterday with regard to either the purported Uranium resource at Mount Gee or their intention to mine it.

Yesterday's Australian Securities Exchange (ASX) release was made because the company is obliged to post promptly when any new information that may affect shareholdings becomes available. The company has obtained the results from their recent drilling program, which was prematurely terminated by the State Government in February as a direct consequence of breaches of their exploration lease (see several posts below). Their conclusion reads as follows: 'The Mount Gee project remains one of the largest undeveloped Uranium deposits in Australia, with excellent exploration potential and good prospects for upgrades/additions to the resource figure.' The resource figure refers to the announcement they had made in September 2007.

In other words, Marathon's recent drilling program tells them they can say they were on the right track with the last announcement, but they can't actually announce any new upgrades (from 'indicated' to the far more solid 'inferred') or additions. We can only speculate what being halted at drill hole 23 out of 50 has meant for the company's ability to sell itself to investors, but it can't have been a welcome development!

And, as any regular reader of this blog would be aware, that the company has never stated that it was going to pack up and go home, even at the height of the embarrassing and damaging revelations about waste-dumping. The planned Pre-Feasibility Study and other non-drilling field-assessment work was always going to be continued with.

But the company needs to return to exploration.

Consider what Marathon's chairman Peter Williams told ABC radio today...

ABC interviewer: And have you had any word on when drilling is likely to resume?

Marathon chairman Peter Williams:
That's up to PIRSA and the company to negotiate a method of dealing with the problem that's been uncovered at Mt Gee ... we're working assiduously with PIRSA to work out all the alternatives and resolve how we're going to deal with the problem. Until such time as that's done there won't be a new declaration of environmental factors prepared and that's what would enable us to continue drilling ... that's some time away yet.

Marathon are indefinitely suspended from drilling in the Arkaroola Sanctuary. For very good reason. The State Govt. has said that they're not going to let them back unless they've consulted key stakeholders, particularly Marg and Doug Sprigg, owners of Arkaroola.

Now, the company can 'consult' Marg and Doug 'til the cows come home - but the Spriggs don't want them back. They never will.

The company can also turn up at various regional forums and be nice and polite and neighbourly to the locals. But the State Government cannot pass this off as sufficient 'consultation' or 'community support' to allow a return to exploration for a company whose activities the Premier himself has described as 'cowboy' - not 'neighbourly'! Not in SA's premier Wilderness Sanctuary.

The other key stakeholders are the people of South Australia, and all Australians who love this wild area. We must make it clear that we do not want to see a return of mineral exploration to Arkaroola, by this company, or any other. As former Liberal Environment Minister Iain Evans said today 'there are some areas in South Australia that are simply too special to mine, I put Arkaroola in that category'. Echoing Greens MLC Mark Parnell's 'Arkaroola is one of the most important nature conservation areas in this State and it is too important to mine.'

New call for Arkaroola mining ban
ABC online news South Australia 02/04/08

There is another call for a ban on mining exploration in the Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary in South Australia's Flinders Ranges.

Marathon Resources says it is pushing ahead with plans for a uranium mine in the sanctuary, based on positive drilling results.

Liberal Opposition MP Iain Evans says that is another reason to protect an area he says is too special to disturb.

"The community do want areas put aside that are going to be there for the public to enjoy long term and I put Arkaroola in that category," he said.

"I think the high country of Arkaroola, the Mount Gee area, Mount Paynter[sis] area need to be protected."

SA Liberal Senator Nick Minchin is another opponent of mining plans for the area and has argued that the SA Government should never have granted an exploration license over land in the wilderness sanctuary.


Thursday, March 27, 2008

Roxby to require 'half the state's power'

what you probably WON'T be seeing, wind turbines at starfish hill on the fleurieu peninsual - link to my 'an activ[ist] life' set on flickr BHP Billiton has announced an astonishing projected requirement of electricity to power the expanded Roxby Downs mine - about half of the energy used by the entire state of South Australia!

Does anyone, outside the small arena of industry spruikers and anti-green zealots, still really believe that nuclear power is going to save us from the ravages of the global warming?

Roxby is easily the world's largest uranium mine, and to make it even bigger is going to require pushing unimaginable tonnages of CO2 into the atmosphere. Not to mention the establishment of a controversial desalination plant to cull water from the head of Spencer Gulf!

This demand is going to skew the economy of electricity production in South Australia for the remainder of the 21st Century. Where will energy investment now be focussed? The state government has set no requirement on BHP that it sources any of this massive increase from renewable sources. Our state leads Australia in the establishment of wind-farm projects. Adelaide is the only capital city participating in the current Solar Cities project. Left to our own devices who knows where we may have ended up as we made piecemeal progess to carbon-neutrality?

another dirty great power station?

But this huge surge in required production will predictably lead to a push to invest in another mega fossil-fuel power station - the state's third. Effectively squeezing out vital renewable technologies in the process.

Wind turbines and solar panels simply won't be able to provide such a huge volume of baseload power. While we have hot rocks aplenty this is still an unproven technology. This leaves only two options; firstly the state's gas fields in the far north-east as a dirty, but not perhaps filthy, fuel source to run the turbines. Or, scarily, we do just happen to have a lot of coal nearby! Dear old dirty, dirty coal freight-trained down from the demolition of a large swathe of the northern Flinders Ranges at Leigh Creek already powers the Playford power station at Port Augusta, current power provider to Roxby Downs.

So, in order to provide the allegedly 'clean, green' fuel that will power the future of the world we may be asked to build a giant coal-fired station! Or gas. Or both. This is before we even consider the carbon resources expended by the various massive machines required in the physical creation of what will be one of the world's largest holes in the ground.

Nuclear power is out, I might add. Not only is it politically unpalatable, as the previous federal government discovered to its cost, it's just too expensive and the stations take far too long to come on line.

And anyone suggesting that much-vaunted 'clean coal' technology may save the day is faced with admitting that this technology is also unproven, and may require a breathtaking 40% of the increased power demand again to run its own scrubbing operations.

an absurd addiction to the gigantic

The expansion of Roxby Downs is a great snapshot of the absurdity of our 'globalised' addiction to giantism. A gigantic economy with titanic power demands can only conceive of more super-scale solutions to the very problems that bloated excess and massive over-subscription to natural services has spawned in the first place. And all of the super-scale solutions happen to involved massive increases in carbon output that will allegedly facilitate a decrease one or two decades down the road. Despite growth forecasts making it highly unlikely the fossil fuels won't simply be burned anyway.

But do we even have one or two decades? Today I watched a video of a whole new chunk of Antarctic ice breaking off into the ocean and floating away, well ahead of any greenhouse schedule. I've just sweltered through the longest hot spell in my state's recorded history here in Adelaide - 15 days above 35°C (95°F), easily the hottest period ever recorded for an Australian capital. The nation's one major river system - the Murray/Darling - is in collapse, with drinkers, graziers and irrigators 'entitled' to more than double the actual amount of water that exists, and the lower lakes of my home state now likely to be dammed out of the freshwater system and then flooded with sea-water to allow resort residents to be able to step straight from their marinas and onto the decks of their cabin cruisers.

Forget the DotComs and the dodgily mortgaged US housing market - the globalised mega-market has been the greatest bubble in human history and is collapsing around us as we speak, at an economic cost that's yet to be determined, and a cost in natural capital that can only be compared to the impact of a comet strike. Mega-capitalism is functionally unable to conceive of any solution that does not perpetuate its own growth, and its media organs will never concede that such a possibility even exists. It's up to us to do that.

BHP to use half of state's electricity

Jeremy Roberts - Business, The Australian, March 27th 2008

BHP Billiton will need nearly half of South Australia's current electricity supply to power its vastly expanded Olympic Dam copper and uranium mine.

The mining company wrote to potential suppliers this month revealing that power demand for the mine was expected to top 690megawatts when it reaches full production in 10 years.

This 30 per cent increase on previous forecasts for the mine 600km northwest of Adelaide is equivalent to nearly 42 per cent of South Australia's total electricity consumption and nearly half of Adelaide's power supply.

An industry insider yesterday described as "staggering" BHP's new power needs, which exceed previous forecasts by 170mW.

It would require the building of new power stations in the state at a time when incentives for business to invest in traditional power generation are clouded by efforts to combat global warming.

The new BHP forecast comes a week after the Rudd Government's Garnaut report on greenhouse emissions recommended power generators not be compensated in a carbon trading scheme.

South Australia has been an importer of electricity for several years, and its power distribution system was stretched to capacity to meet demand during the record heatwave earlier this month.

BHP is the state's largest single power consumer, taking 120mW. The company will use the aditional 570mW to power on-site mineral processing to separate uranium, copper and gold, as well as for the expanded Roxby Downs township, a larger airport and the new open-cut mining operation.

The instability in the power generation sector adds to the challenges BHP faces in developing Olympic Dam.

A company spokeswoman yesterday described the request for 690mW of power as an estimate. "The expansion project remains in pre-feasibility and is yet to be approved," she said. But in correspondence to the state's power suppliers, dated March 5 and marked "commercial in confidence", BHP calls for expressions of interest to supply the power.

The correspondence was followed by in-person briefings on March 12, and asks suppliers to address three supply options: power generation at the Olympic Dam site, elsewhere in the state, or a combination of both.

The company says 60mW of the power would be used to run a desalination plant planned for the coast of the Upper Spencer Gulf, and to pump the water 320km north to Olympic Dam.

Providing the additional power within a 10-year timeframe will challenge South Australia's energy planners.

Gas-fired power stations normally take up to three years to build, industry sources said. Queensland's largest coal-fired power station, Kogan Creek in the western Darling Downs, which was opened last December, took four years to build.

Sourcing base-load renewable energy from "hot rocks" geothermal sources in the north of the state may become an option, but the technology has not yet been proved viable.

The South Australian Government has not imposed any mandatory requirements on BHP to source renewable energy.

South Australian Greens MP Mark Parnell said the lack of renewable energy sources for Olympic Dam would make the state a "greenhouse pariah".

"Our state risks being left with a huge carbon black hole as we become the greenhouse dump for one of the world's richest companies," Mr Parnell said.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Iain Evans pushes for mining ban - ABC news

on the flanks of mount painter - link to my Arkaroola Sanctuary - would U mine it? set on flickr New push for wilderness mining ban

ABC news South Australia online 25th March 2008

MP Iain Evans is pushing for a mining ban at Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary.

A former environment minister in South Australia is urging a federal ban on mining in Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary in the Flinders Ranges, but is also making his own efforts to achieve a ban.

There was alleged environmental contamination of the area recently by mining company Marathon Resources during uranium exploration work.

MP Iain Evans wants a mining ban.

He says there is federal power to protect the area, but the Government has been inconsistent in its approach to wilderness areas.

"In Western Australia they've announced a major study into protecting the Kimberley region from overdevelopment through mining while at the same time, here in South Australia, the Rann Government are looking at mining the Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary and the Rudd Government remains silent," he said.

Private member's bill

Evans is drafting state legislation to end mining in the sanctuary, despite his party voting against similar legislation this month.

The Liberal Opposition joined the SA Government to defeat a Greens bill to end mining in all sanctuaries.

Mr Evans hopes his colleagues will support a private member's bill to ban mining at Arkaroola and says his party has not yet declared a position on mining there.

"They're waiting to see the final detail of my legislation so at this stage the party has not taken a firm view," he said.

"But they have certainly agreed that I should get the private member's bill drafted up so that can be further looked at.

"My view is that Arkaroola shouldn't be mined."

Friday, March 7, 2008

sanctuaries to remain unprotected

ridgetop tour vehicles on the flanks of mount painter opposite mount gee in the arkaroola wilderness sanctuary - link to the 'arkaroola - would U mine it?' set on flickr Mike Rann's Labor government, and the Liberal opposition, have joined forces to block a bill proposed by Greens MLC Mark Parnell in the state's upper house that would have placed an outright ban on mineral exploration and mining in the state's private sanctuaries

Govt rejects mining ban

ABC news online 6th March 2008

The South Australian Government and the Opposition have voted together to reject a Greens bid to stop mining in the state's sanctuaries.

Greens MP Mark Parnell says he will reintroduce the bill in another form, to stop mining specifically in the Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary in the northern Flinders Ranges.

A mining company was investigated last month over the way drilling samples were disposed of in the area.

Mr Parnell says the Government needs to support his amended bill.

"I'll come back with a specific bill just to prevent mining in Arkaroola," he said.

"It's the biggest sanctuary in SA, it's the most important and that's what we need to protect.

"Sanctuaries comprise only one tenth of one per cent of our state and if those areas aren't too precious to mine then where is?"

As Mark points out, sanctuaries are a tiny proportion of the area of the state - but it seems that nothing is too precious to be excluded from the reach of the all-powerful mining industry - not even these private reserves their owners have attempted to establish solely as conservation areas!

And it's also to be noted that despite recent rhetoric from the Liberal Party at both the state and federal level decrying the absurdity of Labor's having ever allowed mineral exploration in the state's premier sanctuary - Arkaroola - in the first place, when it comes to a test they appear to lack the courage to support the principle that some areas simply should not be mined.

One awaits their response to Mark's revised bill with interest.

I believe that former Liberal environment minister Iain Evans - the man who blocked mining in the Weetootla Gorge and had miners completely excluded from the Gammon Ranges National Park (the sanctuary's southern neighbour) - is also drafting his own bill to fully-protect Arkaroola. One hopes that this is a sign that his party will eventually stand behind its own rhetoric.