Tuesday, September 8, 2009

dial M for misinformation?!

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 director - and former federal Labor Senator - Chris Schacht has an 'interesting' take on the Arkaroola dumping scandal, and one that's surprisingly easy to contradict, even by taking a quick glance at the the company's own 'Waste in the Wilderness' document, a mea culpa they issued in response to it!

But, nevertheless, here he is on local ABC Radio 891 on the morning of Monday the 7th of September -
It was true we made a mistake on the disposal of waste material, none of which was radioactive … I just simply say to Nicky [a phone-in caller - BJD] what happened was instead of tipping the waste out of the bags into a trench and covering it over, which was legal, we left it in the bags and that was illegal...
Firstly; not radioactive? What are they looking for, treacle? As Greens MLC Mark Parnell responded (see below) "Well, they're wasting their time drilling there then!"

To quote the Primary Industries and Environmental Protection Authority joint investigation..
The inspection of sample bags uncovered in the test pits confirmed that a number of the bags containing sample drill material exhibit radioactivity levels consistent with that of ore grade material.

The investigation confirmed that Marathon Resources did not undertake to advise or request approval from any SA Government regulatory authorities (EPA and PIRSA) in relation to disposal of potentially radioactively contaminated sample bags/waste.

just a little light littering?

One does wonder how Schacht can have felt confident making these claims in public; but with the ABC's Abraham and Bevan at the helm it seems he hardly need have worried overly much! David Bevan even persisted in trying to tease out the notion that the company was merely 'done' for littering! -
Bevan: Yeah, so your offence is you left some plastic bags there?

Schacht: Absolutely and that is a breach of the regulation of which we admit our mistake and have changed.

Bevan: It was littering.

Schacht: Yes, of course.

Let's take a look at the relevant documentation, shall we?

Firstly, here's how the PIRSA / EPA report described the waste:

Test pits excavated under EPA supervision confirmed the presence of 2 large trenches and the extensive burial of drill samples contained within plastic and calico bags.

The excavation of test pits confirmed the burial of general waste including, cardboard, plastic jars, pvc pipe, paper, packing material, a food container and wrapper within the two trenches.

The full extent of burial of sample bags and general waste was not investigated on 16 January 2008 but has subsequently been confirmed by Marathon. Marathon advises that the number of sample bags is likely to be around 22,800.
and further -
Marathon representatives admitted on-site and in other documents subsequently supplied to PIRSA by Marathon that:

Two trenches were excavated with approximate dimensions of 35m (length) x 4m (width) x 2.7m (depth) by declared equipment and filled with approximately 22800 sample filled bags together with general waste.

Marathons disposal of plastic and calico bags containing sample material does not comply with the following PIRSA approval conditions for the use of Declared Equipment dated 1 November 2006 [this is about using large bulldozers to excavate big holes when you're not supposed to- BJD ]:

Condition 2 - The work is undertaken in accordance with that described in your DEF (received 20 October 2006) and subsequent memorandum of 31 October 2006. Where there is a variation between your proposal and this approval, the conditions of this approval will take precedence.

Condition 6 - Due care is taken to prevent unnecessary environmental damage.

Condition 9 - Exploration contractors and field staff be advised of the environmental objectives of the program, and have a clear understanding of their environmental management responsibilities.
PIRSA also issued the following instructions to Marathon -
PIRSA directs that all unauthorised buried drill sample material [NOTE: NOT just plastic bags - emphasis mine] and general waste at this site must be safely excavated and removed from EL 3258. The site must be rehabilitated back to as close as possible to original conditions [NOTE: because they were never entitled to excavate these trenches in the first place].

leave it out!

In other words, Schacht's claim that it would all have been OK if they'd shaken the rubbish out of the bags is as absurd as it appears.

Marathon was not entitled to excavate 2 very large trenches in the heart of the Sanctuary and conceal all the waste in it, bagged or otherwise. They were supposed to have promptly returned the drilling waste to the original drill holes or associated sumps and mud-pits, and to have taken the PPE and other materials off-site altogether for proper disposal.

The whole idea was to minimise your impact on the local environment, guys! As the PIRSA / EPA report makes clear.

And you don't have to look far to confirm this. Here's the relevant excerpt from the company's own publication,'Learning From Waste in the Wilderness'

Appreciating the risks associated with uranium exploration and mining

Marathon’s DEF specifies how its drilling program is to be managed. The DEF also specifies safety measures for planning and managing work at the Mt Gee drill sites and for managing the disposal of low-level radioactive materials and mining samples. The DEF specifies measures for the bagging and burial of drilling samples, noting that these were ‘developed and approved by the EPA’ and ‘will be implemented’. Under these safety measures Marathon was to:

Have staff dispose of used filter cartridges, and personal protective equipment (PPE) in sealed plastic bags placed in steel drums to be then removed from the site and disposed of through the general waste system away from the Arkaroola site; and

Have excess bulk drill cuttings returned principally to the drilling hole...

The DEF specifies that the bulk of material will be returned to the drill hole. [emphasis mine] It also specifies that all sampling (assay, archive and PIRSA representative samples) and down hole logging would be completed within 2 weeks of drilling, to allow rehabilitation of drilling sites to be concluded preferably within 4 weeks of drilling...

Marathon’s Radiation Safety Plan, Environmental Program and its operational procedures were not focused sufficiently on the need to exercise care with the disposal of uranium-related drilling and assay samples as well as clothing and other materials used when drilling for and handling these materials...

There were also operational and technical failures that contributed to bringing about allegations of site contamination, investigation by PIRSA and EPA and the consequent suspension of further drilling, namely:

The bagged materials associated with the drill site were not returned to the main drilling hole and adjacent drill sump at the completion of drilling (as prescribed in the DEF and EPA guidance documents)[my emphasis]. This was because of delays of up to 6 months in receiving samples back from the laboratory. Marathon’s DEF states that ‘…rehabilitation of an individual drill site should be commenced and preferably completed within 4 weeks of drilling, all reasonable effort will be made to keep to this time frame’. Due to increased industry activity, there were lengthy delays in the return of assay results and materials. However, Marathon was obliged to store the materials until each drill hole was signed-off by PIRSA and its error in practice was subsequently to dispose of the materials without PIRSA/EPA approval.[my emphasis]

The used PPE was not bagged and placed in steel cans to be taken away for disposal through the normal refuse system away from the Arkaroola site. They were instead disposed of at the Arkaroola site.


Now, the company's done a lot of hand-wringing of late, and makes vociferous claims to have turned over a new leaf after they had strayed so far from the righteous path by illegally disposing of the waste.

And yet here's one of their directors and spokespeople making claims that appear to be an attempt to belittle the scale of their own previous transgressions! How will that affect the public perception of their credibility?

Which leads us to, on a lighter note, well, I can only say... wow! Now it's the second biggest uranium deposit in Australia!

I seem to remember the heady days only a few weeks back when it was the 5th! It's amazing what you can discover when you're not actually drilling!

But I'll let Mark Parnell tease out this discussion in the transcript of the 891 discussion, printed in full below.

ABC 891 discussion part II
Tuesday 8th September 2009

David Bevan [ABC Announcer]: The debate over Arkaroola is set to generate more heat than a nuclear power station. We’ve got an unusual alliance of people wanting to preserve the Arkaroola Station forever, no mining there at all. We had Mark Parnell on the program last week along with conservative MP, Nick Minchin and Iain Evans getting together and saying … leave Arkaroola alone, no mining in Arkaroola. Yesterday on this program Chris Schacht … a Director of Marathon Resources, a mining company that’s exploring that region. He was arguing for the case … for allowing Marathon to get in there and explore and provided they meet all of the environmental requirements that the authorities impose on them be allowed to dig the stuff up, that is uranium. Now, Mark Parnell wants to challenge some of the things that Chris Schacht said to our listeners yesterday … let’s just play you a small portion of what Chris Schacht said yesterday...

Chris Schacht, former Labor Senator, Marathon Board member and lobbyist [speaking [07-09-09]:… this is at least a $5 billion deposit.

Bevan: How do you know?

Schacht: Because already what we’ve explored and what we’ve declared to the stock exchange in both inferred and indicative resource and at roughly the present price it’d be around $5 billion...

Bevan: What, uranium?

Schacht: Uranium. It’s the second biggest single deposit of uranium after Roxby Downs …

Phone -in Caller Nicky: … I wanted to ask Chris why on earth we should allow a company anywhere near Arkaroola, that in your exploration was caught red-handed illegally dumping waste? It’s a disgrace and if you think there’s any credibility for this company after that, you can’t even get the exploration part right, what makes you think that we should believe you about a full-scale mine?

Schacht: It was true we made a mistake on the disposal of waste material, none of which was radioactive … I just simply say to Nicky what happened was instead of tipping the waste out of the bags into a trench and covering it over, which was legal, we left it in the bags and that was illegal and we accept that, we made a mistake. We have restructured the company, there’s been changes to the board, we’ve issued a major policy statement on what we’ve done to change the company as a result …

Bevan: Are you saying Marathon was guilty of nothing more than littering with some plastic bags?

Schacht: No, no we broke the regulation.

Bevan: … is that effectively what you did, you left some plastic bags?…

Schacht: No, no, we left the stuff in the plastic bag and buried it.

Bevan: Yeah, but you could have just tipped it out and it would have been fine.

Schacht: But that’s what the rules allow.

Bevan: Yeah, so your offence is you left some plastic bags there?

Schacht: Absolutely and that is a breach of the regulation of which we admit our mistake and have changed.

Bevan: It was littering.

Schacht: Yes, of course. [End excerpt]

Bevan: Okay, that’s Chris Schacht yesterday … Mark Parnell … why do you take issue with what Chris Schacht was saying?

Mark Parnell: There were two main things but I’ll start by saying Chris said none of it was radioactive. They’re wasting their time, they’re looking for uranium, if it wasn’t radioactive what they’ve pulled out of the ground then what on earth are they doing there?

But really the two things that I take issue with, the first of all is it is $5b. Now, people who hang around the stock market and mining companies understand that there are a number of scales of confidence that you can have when you’re looking for minerals. You’ve got things called indicated resources and you’ve got inferred. Inferred is not much more than a guess. Now, Marathon reported to the stock exchange in July this year and then had to put a correction in because they got their figures wrong. Their latest figures are four mega tonnes indicated, 47 inferred. So that 47 is not much more than guess work based on people sitting at computers screens imagining what the resource might be. So it is a long way away from saying this is a $5b resource.

The other thing I take exception to is this idea of waste, that it was just a few plastic bags … the littering. Well, goodness, there were drums, there were bags, there was a backhoe which was taken to part of the national estate. There was plenty of –

Abraham: What, they buried a backhoe or they used a backhoe?

Parnell: … they basically dug their trenches –

Abraham: Well it was 35 tonnes according to ABC News.

Parnell: - 22,000 bags of waste and it’s not just a question of it being the bags that were the pollution, the core samples are supposed to be put back down the core sample poles.

But the backhoe I referred to was referred to in the EPA and the Primary Industries report, basically it was vandalism of a national estate listed geological monument. And this is the so called fluorite deposit. They’ve never found where the material ended up, it’s worth an awful lot of money. [see the Case of the Missing Minerals]

So it wasn’t just a simple matter of littering, there was incident after incident of illegal behaviour and for Chris Schacht to just say … ‘It was just a minor thing and we’ve changed our ways’, I don’t believe him at all.

Phone-in Caller Anne: … I’m very disappointed with the fact that they’re trying to get mining there. It’s worldwide famous for its beauty. There’s plenty of uranium in the Northern Territory … it’s basically glowing with the stuff and I’m very disappointed in Chris Schacht for supporting it.

Phone-in Caller Peter: … the reason why we allow mining in Australia and let these leases is so that the people of Australia can get access to these minerals … in reality the people of Australia can’t get access to these minerals because the plan is to export it. So Australians don’t need the mining to happen.


1 comment:

  1. Chris Schacht has a lot to answer for.
    Not only with Marathon Resources, but he is also fronting for people who wish to take vast amounts of water from the Shoalhaven River, near Nowra (south-east coast NSW) and pump it up hill and down dale to the Lachlan and or Murrumbidgee Rivers.
    A terrible waste of resources(energy) and the Shoalhaven is in desperate straits anyway.
    Have we learnt nothing from the abuse of the Snowy River?
    Chris Schacht should be barred from lobbying activities with the Australian Government (at the very least).
    Denis Wilson


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!