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...


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thanks for your contribution - bill - i'm genuinely sorry about having to switch on the 'moderation' process but comment spammers have really been cluttering up this journal!