Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Mining is a risky business

Despite growing and widespread community opposition to large-scale mining on the Darling Downs, Queensland’s miners are continuing to act as if they have a natural right to anything of value lying beneath the earth’s surface. This confidence is totally at odds with the plethora of regulatory barriers and conditions that could potentially stop the establishment and operation of a new mine. In truth, the processes leading to entry into mining should be perceived by everyone as highly risky.

The main barrier currently standing in the way of a new mine getting established is its capacity to meet the Environmental Impact Study terms of reference. These days, the terms of reference for an EIS are meant to protect the public interest associated with large projects. In the case of a large scale mine, the public interest could be violated, to an unacceptable extent, in a number of ways including any one of the following:

­ Threats to local water supplies and quality
­ Destruction of amenity values
­ Threats of native flora and fauna
­ Creation of a large number of neighbours (as would happen in areas with high incumbent populations) that subsequently suffer economic, social and environmental impacts in the form of tremors, dust, noise, artificial light and dislocation
­ Threats to the quality of any near-by horticultural production
­ Inability to return rural lands to their original condition
­ Inability to offset collateral loss of rural production and jobs.

Given that a mining proposal could easily fail to satisfy the EIS terms of reference, state governments should be very cautious about the conditions under which they allow a would-be miner to explore for minerals and subject its plans to the EIS process. It should be made clear to the proponent, for example, that they are embarking on a risky undertaking and that all of the financial risk lies with them. Thus any pre-emptive investment in land and the cost of preparing and submitting the EIS are all at the proponent’s risk.

Where a mining proposal clearly contravenes the public interest it should be stopped before it goes to the EIS stage. This was recently done in the case of a proposed mine (near Proserpine) using the Mines and Energy Legislation Amendment Act 2008 (part 5). Thus it is possible for the government to save the proponent the cost of the EIS and in the process put a quick stop to the uncertainty surrounding irresponsible proposals. In the process the whole mining industry would be implicitly cautioned against the risk and futility of endeavouring to establish a mine that poses a demonstrative threat to the public interest.

Whether or not a prospective miner buys the land sitting on top of the mineral resource is not relevant to the application and findings of an EIS. Indeed the pre-emptive purchase of land by a prospective miner can only be explained in terms of locking in a ‘pre-emptive price’ or a stunt aimed at convincing authorities that they have made some sort of immutable commitment. The latter rationale is clearly misguided because if the EIS fails the land can be re-sold. Prospective miners could avoid this risk (ie, re-selling the land) by not buying any land until after the EIS is completed and an Environmental Authority granted.

The inherent risks surrounding establishment of a mine in Queensland could be made more apparent if responsibility for the licensing of new mines was handed over to an independent authority with no obvious reliance on the revenue flowing from royalties. In keeping with the trend in other areas of governance it would be appropriate for a national authority to take over responsibility for operational licensing of all large-scale mines. Making a national authority responsible for the licensing function would have the added advantage of allowing for more overt recognition of national obligations such as reducing greenhouse gases and adding to world-wide food security. Under this proposal, state EPAs would continue to manage EIS processes; only the review and final licensing function would be deferred to an independent national authority.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

A friendly welcome for the Premier

Friends of Felton supporters were out in force yesterday to greet Premier Anna Bligh at the Community Cabinet meeting at Highfields.

On arrival, Ms Bligh was presented with a gift by 5 of our younger members. The gift pack of soap was produced by Felton's own award-winning Amazing Soaps, who grow organic herbs at Felton.

FOF delegations had formal meetings with the Premier, and Ministers for:- Mines, Energy & Natural Resources; Climate Change & Sustainability; and Primary Industries & Fisheries.

The barbeque did a roaring trade. Many thanks to our sponsors: - Ashton's Butchery, Pittsworth (sausages); Storey Farms, Cambooya (shredded lettuce); Deb's Bakery, Toowoomba (bread); Anzac Avenue Smoko Shop (bread rolls).

Thursday, April 23, 2009

State Government to bail out of clean coal project - Courier Mail

By Craig Johnstone
April 23, 2009 12:00am

TENS of millions of dollars of taxpayer money is in jeopardy as the State Government considers walking away from its $125 million clean-coal project.

ZeroGen Pty Ltd - developed during the "Smart State" era - should be sold off or wound up, an independent review of Government bodies and authorities has found. The Weller Review said ZeroGen "has significant financial responsibilities in a highly technical, if not speculative, area". The Government will accept the recommendation.

ZeroGen, to which the Government has committed more than $100 million, plans to capture carbon dioxide emissions and bury them underground, a technology that has been hailed as the future of the coal industry. It had aimed to develop the world's first clean-coal power plant near Rockhampton by 2012.
But recent doubts have emerged about the project's viability because of the way it would be treated under the Rudd Government's proposed emissions trading scheme.
The State Government said it would investigate whether ZeroGen should be sold or wound up.

The State Government has placed great faith in clean-coal technology, saying it has the potential to cut up to 90 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions from large-scale power generation.
In a statement, Energy Minister Stephen Robertson said the Government remained "committed to accelerating the deployment of low-emission coal technologies before 2020". "The future direction of ZeroGen will be determined by Government in consultation with industry partners," Mr Robertson said.

The project, a key plank of the Government's superseded Smart State strategy, was expected to generate up to 700 jobs during its construction phase and 125 jobs once it was operational.
The company is due to complete a feasibility study into the technology the end of the year.
In March last year, Premier Anna Bligh said that, although Zerogen was a government-initiated project, it needed other "substantial funding contributors".
She said while the coal industry and energy company Shell were strong supporters, it also needed Federal Government and private support.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Clean coal remains a faraway dream

More bad news for Clean Coal -

Clean coal remains a faraway dream
Marian Wilkinson , Sydney Morning Herald
April 6, 2009
When the Academy Award-winning filmmakers Joel and Ethan Coen used their talents a few weeks ago to make an anti-ad ridiculing clean coal, industry lobbyists were not happy. When Robert Kennedy jnr branded clean coal in America "a dirty lie", and suggested some coal executives should face criminal charges, they got really upset. This state's most passionate coal advocate, the head of the NSW Minerals Council, Nikki Williams, reacts to Kennedy's name with a mix of outrage and sorrow.
But the coal industry and, more importantly, Australia's politicians, should come to grips with the reality that it is beginning to lose its social licence to operate in Western democracies. And the strategy of holding up clean coal as the Holy Grail for the industry's greenhouse problem is not working.
Australia is increasingly seen as the Saudi Arabia of coal - a leading exporter of a major greenhouse gas pollutant. Despite the present economic downturn, industry and government forecasts say our coal exports will keep rising in the next decades. The NSW Government is issuing new exploration licences like they were confetti, and the expansion of the Newcastle coal loader is a national and state priority.
All this flies in the face of the scientific forecasts delivered in Copenhagen last month. Unless there are rapid and sustained cuts in greenhouse emissions, the world will not avoid dangerous climate change.
High-profile figures such as the former US vice-president Al Gore, and a NASA climate scientist, James Hansen, advocate a moratorium on new coal plants in the US and Britain unless and until clean coal comes good. Similar public pressure is likely to come in Japan, our largest coal customer.
The irreconcilable gulf between our rising coal exports and the urgent need to cut emissions is answered too glibly with the assurance that clean coal will be up and running some time around 2020. From Barack Obama to Kevin Rudd, clean coal is pushed with unswerving conviction. The big Group of Eight leaders say they want 20 clean coal plants operating by 2020.
Yet at a NSW Minerals Council forum last week, CSIRO's chief of energy technology, David Brockway, explained bluntly that we are unlikely to see a commercial-scale clean coal plant operating within 15 years - or at least 2024.
Dr Brockway, like those close to this vexed problem in the industry, avoids the words "clean coal". The complex array of technologies to reduce carbon dioxide from coal generation plants, capture it, transport it and store it underground is known as "carbon capture and storage". Building a "demonstration" or "pilot" to capture and store a few thousand tonnes of carbon dioxide is being done. But getting rid of a million tonnes of carbon dioxide from electricity generators around the country every year, at an affordable cost, will be extremely difficult for us, let alone our export customers.
This month, the Rudd Government will, once again, ramp up its clean coal campaign when it announces the new head of the global carbon initiative in Canberra. But forgive a journalist a little cynicism. Last year, the media were lobbied heavily to promote a carbon storage project run by the gas company Santos that promised to bury 20 million tonnes of carbon dioxide a year from gas and coal operations around the country. Last month, without a whimper, Santos suspended the project, apparently because it wasn't considered economically viable.
A joint Rio Tinto-BP carbon capture project in Western Australia, also lauded in the media, fell over last year. Around the same time, the world's leading clean coal experiment, FutureGen in America, collapsed after the Bush administration slashed its commitment to the billion-dollar project. FutureGen was a favourite of the Howard government, which pledged $15 million from Australian taxpayers along with a slice of industry funds.
A damning report on FutureGen prepared for a US congressional committee surfaced a few weeks ago. Based on scores of internal government emails and documents, it reveals that the Bush administration was never really committed to the project. FutureGen, the report says, was largely a public relations ploy for George Bush to make it appear that the US was "doing something" about global warming while refusing to ratify the Kyoto climate agreement.
There is no easy solution to the coal problem. Almost every energy minister around the world insists coal will remain a significant source of new electricity generation because of its low cost and plentiful supply. But at the very least, federal and state politicians should have the courage to prepare a plan B, in the event the alluring promise of clean coal does not eventuate.
Marian Wilkinson is the Herald's environment editor.

Scrap coal plan, says Rudd's man

Article from Sydney Morning Herald -

Scrap coal plan, says Rudd's man
Matthew Moore, Urban Affairs Editor , Sydney Morning Herald
April 1, 2009

A MEMBER of the Rudd Government's group charged with rebuilding Australia's infrastructure says plans to double the coal export capacity in Newcastle should be abandoned.
Professor Peter Newman, who is a member of Infrastructure Australia, said the environmental damage done from burning coal meant the construction of new coal loading facilities in what is already the world's biggest coal exporting port should be stopped now.
"If I was in charge of coal loading facilities, I would say no, don't do it," Professor Newman said in an interview with the Herald.
Professor Newman also dismissed the Federal Government's $500 million commitment into researching clean coal technology, arguing there was little prospect the technology to capture and store carbon emissions would be developed sufficiently to make coal-fired power stations environmentally acceptable.
"I don't think the science on that is anywhere near that happening," he said. "In the US it's already disappearing … it's going to disappear along with nuclear fission."
Clean coal technology is one of the key pillars of the environment policies of Commonwealth and state Labor governments. While it has been criticised by environmentalists, Professor Newman's remarks dismissing its prospects are certain to embarrass these governments and the Federal Minister for Infrastructure, Anthony Albanese. Professor Newman is one of 11 members of the body Mr Albanese appointed last year to develop "a blueprint for unlocking infrastructure bottlenecks and modernising the nation's transport, water, energy and communications assets".
To boost coal exports Mr Rudd and Mr Albanese announced in December the Government would co-fund almost half of a $1.2 billion project with the private sector to expand Hunter Valley rail lines. Under the plan, six rail projects would help Newcastle double its coal exports within seven years.
Professor Newman predicted that while the coal industry would still be around in a decade, "there will be a painful transition" and "coal will be a declining export for Australia".