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post Mining in the blood but no lead in the veins – by Nigel.

April 22nd, 2008

Filed under: Earth — newseditor @ 5:31 pm

I think it needs to be accepted that many mining companies have poor track records both here and overseas… as the Department of Environment
and National Heritage advises it’s wise to look at ‘the history of the person’ and it’s also prudent to have information and knowledge at the outset of any negotiation. There are currently inadequate environmental safeguards as I expanded in ‘Marathon not Running by the Rules’. If anyone doubts this situation also peruse the latest Arkaroola newsletter, the Unknown SA site and the servethepeople site by Mike.

Information not only puts people in a strong bargaining position but it gives them insights into what they are bargaining for. When information is not freely available, monopolised by one group or group(s) or is witheld the bargaining ‘playing field’ is not level which can lead to unexpected and possibly unfair results. Currently in Australia and overseas many communities have been ruined or are seeking compensation because mining operations had an impact on their environs which was either not shared in advance or happened as a planned accident because there was no independent review of the project and potential impacts. If specific details of case studies are required from current mining and processing operations in Australia I would be pleased to provide the links.

First steps first. Until a level of risk is established whether that be low or extreme, there is not much point in engaging in process, whether that be legislated or through any informal contracts from either side. The application or relevance of these may pale into insignificance at a later time… and yet the informal arrangements do act as a form of engagement and acceptance of an external body which is making major changes to the environment. Once again, the cost of contamination can be the termination of a community because of excessive health risk and because the cost of clean up either exceeds the bond requirements lodged or the investigatory body is not separate enough from the operations to truthfully highlight the risk, damage, or origins of the complaint. To assume protection and long term sustainability based upon legislative frameworks, or community offering as part of, can therefore potentially be a fatal error which will distract away from key issues facing the community now.

So how can the community act as a powerful advocate without having a massive public relations budget and a team of lawyers? A critical first step could be to push the pause button on any negotiations until an independent
appraisal of the operations is complete. This is not a complex or expensive process and its completion can add surety to the future of the environment that sustains the community and the plants and animals of course. A company that co-operates with information sharing as part of this process can then allay fears and concerns by providing specific questions to any issues arising from having factual information about a program of mining activity. It can actually assist the mine as well by reducing their liability and risk. This is not Community Consultation this is Community Investigation.

In relation to providing proper information prior to negotiation I would propose Dr Gavin Mudd of Monash University, an independent specialist in mining process within particular strength in the area of hydrology and leaching used or a result of mining process. He has also successfully provided services to governments, corporations and communities worldwide. Like myself, Gavin Mudd has no problem per se with mining processes but has become aware that economics has over-ridden safety with regard modern mining processes, particularly in Australia with regard in-situ leaching processes. If anyone can suggest someone else with the accepted qualifications to independently comment and report I would be interested as well.

When this vital step is completed I am sure the community as a whole will feel a lot more comfortable about the mining activities in the immediate vicinity and what needs to be done to mitigate any risks that are identified. In the meantime, purchase of plants or having one corporation bid to another for a gift of water may be premature and the answers coming from the information gathering and sharing (focused on long term sustainability) will maximise the outcomes for everyone.

A note on the title: My family were miners in early colonial history in Burra (SA), Silverton and Broken Hill and I have worked for the Big Australian… so I have no problem with mining I just don’t want anyone to
end up with lead or anything else in their veins.

6 Comments

  1. Nigel, I think it makes sense for for an independent risk assessment to be done on both Perilya and the Leigh Creek Copper Mine for the information of surrounding communities. There is nothing to lose by doing this – either the practice is unsound, which we should know about, or it is sound, which gives us peace of mind.

    What is the protocol for getting someone like Dr Gavin Mudd to perform a risk assessment on the local mines? How much would it cost? How long would it take? Would he have access to the mines for an assessment? Would such a process have to be initiated by a local governing body or can it be initiated by individuals or community groups?

    Perhaps Arkaroola would be interested in his services as well.

    Comment by newseditor — April 23, 2008 @ 4:35 am

  2. This sounds like a very good way to begin. Another way is of course to do soil and air and water sampling at particular and pegged spots, either along water courses or along rail lines. This would need an independent lab to test it. Prof Dyson has expressed that he is happy to provide that service and to assist us in sampling. As he is a landowner here, he has specific interest in the quality of air, soil and water. PIRSA, when they sent a rep up here to discuss the mining procedures, told us that we are the mine monitors. EPA can only monitor what they can see, and the mining companies know exactly when they are coming to do an inspection.
    If we as a community, do not take the initiative in this we are actually saying it is all right for these companies to walk all over us, take what they want and walk away….virtually we are saying we don’t care. When businesses are the contact people for the consultative process there is a very big problem, as businesses have vested interest in mining, mining companies and the cash inflow they provide. In this case they should be declining from the consultative group and allowing others to be the independent assessors of whether an activity is healthy for the people, town and environment. When the contact person has been seen to be an environmental abuser, who cares not for the land, then the problems are exacerbated. We are doomed.
    In the latest case of the zinc train, the lack of communication was and is still, the downfall of the democratic right of all people.

    Comment by di — April 23, 2008 @ 9:26 am

  3. I can make enquiries to find this out.

    A lot of background specifications of the geology of areas affected is publicly available…sometimes it like finding a needle in a haystack and to a degree you need to know what one is essentially looking for.

    Early and more recent assay results give a clear indication of the minerals present in the defined mining area of the lease. With an open-cut situations for example, the natural runoff and drainage of the land will be important.

    PIRSA documentation also shows the exact position, orientation and nature of the mineralised layers sought. Other information will show the position and flow of aquifers in the area in relation to mining activity, some of these can be quite close to ground level and if the nature of the mineralised ore body is fractured, changes in the native hydrology of the systems can occur, including the excursion of concentrated contaminants. The way in which the mine process is managed is important as well in terms of stockpiling and the finished state of the site vis a vis requirements to rehabilitate the site and any potential impacts on ground water supply from mining activity and potential risks arising from movement of residues and materials in the event of flooding, particularly where such flooding is closely associated with water sources for human and animal habitation.

    And yes, environmental benchmarking of sites will provide proper data to ensure that we can measure accurately environmental impacts and monitor progress. At Mountain of Light Copper, for instance, the fractured ore body is in close proximity of fast flow aquifer channels and extensive tunnelling exists from mines going back to the 1920’s. Above ground heap leaching is being used at this site, so not having monitor bores in key locations makes it impossible to determine the impact of accidents or flood penetration of mine residue, on ground water quality. Assistance from other qualified professionals such as Professor Dyson would be valuable after such key monitoring points are located following the inspection of the affected geology.

    A community can certainly be proactive in undertaking risk assessments in its own regions. Its politically not possible at the moment to expect either PIRSA (which is a commercial mining body) or the EPA to carry out such tasks. It was indicated last year that EPA carry out routine environmental assessments/inspections on behalf of PIRSA, which casts doubt upon their independence. There has also been musical chairs with regard the role of environment, police and mining minister further inhibiting public access to independent government assistance in such matters.

    Both the process and the information gathered can be informative for all parties. It would make sense for any independent person reviewing a site to have the opportunity of discussing mine processes with a company representative(s), hopefully one with geology and hydrology qualifications and a clear understanding of the companies plans.

    A couple of days work and follow up research, flights to Leigh Creek and accomodation…I don’t think the costs for a community are onerous and it fact it could turn out to be the best money ever spent, protecting the long term viability of the town and environment.

    Comment by nigel — April 23, 2008 @ 10:59 am

  4. Carrie Ann came up with an obvious and brilliant solution. Perilya are negotiating community revegetation/water assistance. We should propose that our first and foremost priority is for them to pay for an independent risk assessment by Dr Mudd, which should only cost about $1500, as an act of goodwill to the community.

    Comment by newseditor — April 23, 2008 @ 5:38 pm

  5. Great solution Carrie Ann, have spoken to Gavin Mudd in Melbourne and he is prepared to assist – he also has a lot of experience with re-veg strategies, optimization and prioritisation – a win win for all parties concerned…not just a garden hobbit hey 🙂

    Comment by Nigel Carney — April 23, 2008 @ 7:51 pm

  6. The McArthur Zinc Mine has been the subject of several articles prior to this highlighting the environmental problems involved at this site. It is a place we need to keep a watch on, as it is similar in some respects to here. The traditional owners and environmentalists have been concerned about the long-term effects on water contamination down-stream of the zinc mine and the problems with diverting the river to accommodate an open-cut extension of the previous underground facility. The mine has fenced off access to sacred sites, so the traditional owners have taken things into their own hands…..see articles below……

    http://www.abc.net.au/7.30/content/2006/s1753910.htm
    http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/story/0,20867,21645906-643,00.html

    BlackGreenSolidarity@lists.perthimc.asn.au

    This was 2 weeks ago, but still really important:

    Traditional owners locked out of sacred McArthur River site

    Posted Wed Jun 18, 2008 4:02pm AEST
    Updated Wed Jun 18, 2008 5:31pm AEST

    Traditional owners say police refused them entry to a sacred site. (Guy McLean)

    Map: Borroloola 0854
    Traditional owners in the Territory’s McArthur River region have today been denied access to a sacred ceremonial site which they say will soon be destroyed by the expansion of a nearby zinc mine.

    Around 100 Aboriginal people from four different language groups were met by police and mine security and were told only one senior traditional owner could visit the sacred site.

    The traditional owners have now set up camp outside the mine and are vowing not to leave until they are allowed to hold a ceremony at the sacred site.

    Traditional owner Jackie Green says it is a serious abuse of the
    Sacred Sites Act, and traditional owners are particularly upset that the mine’s operators did not come and talk to them.

    “We’re all pretty cross and upset because the company they should be coming talking to us instead of having the police in front of us,” he said.

    “Our personal feeling is that we don’t think police should be involved because they made this decision without the police and they should be talking to us face to face as a human being.”

    Tags: mining, indigenous, sacred-sites, nt, borroloola-0854

    http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2008/06/18/2278770.htm

    ———————————————————-
    “Rather than a tale of greed, the history of luxury can be more
    accurately read as a record of emotional trauma. It is the legacy of those who feel pressured by the distain of others to add an
    extraordinary amount to their bare selves in order to signal that they too may lay a claim to love” – Alain de Botton

    Xstrata backs down on traditional owners visit
    Mining company Xstrata says it will allow a group of more than 80 traditional owners into its zinc mine at McArthur River tomorrow, to show them that no damage has been done to Aboriginal sacred sites on the land.
    ABC News mining – Published 2 weeks, 1 day ago

    Comment by di — July 5, 2008 @ 9:46 pm

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