Wednesday, May 19, 2010

it's the pits!

insert hole here? click for the 'undermined!' set on flickr
this is the arkaroola wilderness sanctuary...

Vanda K's picture of the Leigh Creek coalfield
...and this is a hole in the ground! if you can spot the difference - read on!

Reading Paul Howes' - National Secretary of the Australian Workers' Union - submission on Seeking a Balance, the state government's 'mining access' plan for the northern Flinders Ranges, is a rather extraordinary, and also disturbing, experience.

Extraordinary, for a start, for what it contains.

For one, a table, on page 4, under AWU letterhead, entitled 'Marathon's vision for an enduring legacy.' I think it's fair to assume this was drafted by the company. This sets a range of Marathon's proposed activities against a background of the specific targets of the South Australian Strategic Plan.

Now, why would they do that? There's already a specific plan for the Flinders Ranges, and the much-discussed Class A Zone is the core of it.

Perhaps because -

The AWU notes the concerns of Marathon Resources in this regard and also their support for a triple bottom line approach instead of zoning which was being pursued by the South Australian Government through Planning SA in 2008 but which has apparently progressed no further since December 2008.

In other words, it seems Marathon were expecting a 'get out of jail free' card with respect to the Class A Environmental Zone restrictions - which, after all, effectively make mining uranium in Arkaroola impossible if the document is read and understood in plain English.

This may help to explain recent press comments where Marathon have supported Class A as sufficiently restricting upon them without need of further regulation, despite its apparently going well beyond that and dealing them a death-blow; they were simply expecting to be able to effectively bypass these 'precluding' restrictions.

it's the pits!

But the real concern for me was to be found in the AWU's submission's appendix: 5 verbatim pages taken from online investment gurus Fat Prophets' November 2009 assessment of Marathon Resources position in the light of Seeking a Balance.

Marathon have a history with Fat Prophets, having originally seen their share price perform rather nicely, thank you, after it was made one of their recommended stocks in 2006. We can only assume that FP and MTN (Marathon) have worked pretty-closely together. So it's very striking to see the following included -

The mining concept for Mount Gee will include a mixture of open pits and underground mines targeting high-grade zones.

What is it with the open cuts? Marathon are supposed to know that any such program is absolutely out of the question. As minerals minister Paul Holloway told Parliament in February 2008 -

This government has... 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]

Could that be any more straighforward? And yet here, nearly two years later, is a declaration by a presumably well-informed party claiming open-cuts will be an integral part of the process!

We must also remember what Marathon told The Advertiser's Cameron England in regard to the legal dispute between former Marathon CEO Stuart Hall and the company. Hall, they alleged, had publicly announced a proposal to access the area exclusively via a very long decline (tunnel), so as to reduce potential environmental impacts in the ranges. This was costed at a fairly-alarming half a $billion, and Marathon complained that Hall had made the statements...

...'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.'

Yet the 'all underground' aspect was supposed to be one of the projects key 'environmental' selling points!

The public has a clear right to be told; is Marathon simply - and inexplicably - persisting in planning open-cut operations in the heart of the Arkaroola sanctuary, despite being repeatedly told it's out of the question? Or are they doing so with the state government's knowledge and consent, implied or otherwise?

(For more discussion see tunneling in for some pure black comedy.)

Could this perhaps help to explain why Marathon has chosen to withhold its own submission on Seeking a Balance from the public? Surely we are entitled to know what they are planning? Not only is Arkaroola a state icon, a unique wild landscape, and one of our premier tourism destinations - the minerals concerned are, after all, the property of the people of Australia.

And, before we stray too far, note the reference to 'mines' - plural - in the Fat Prophets quote above.

So, the AWU submission has sent us us an ominous message indeed! One that we cannot ignore if we care for the future of SA's truly wild areas.



  1. I didnt know that Marathon has withheld its own SaB submission. You really need someone in PIRSA to start leaking!


  2. 1) So what effect, if any, is the recent congo aircrash going to have on the return to exploration at Arkaroola?

    2) We have a re-energised federal election this year. Is this issue getting any traction at all with the federal greens?

    p.s. Wonderful photos as usual mr Bill



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!