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.