I wrote the following EarthCare for the 6th April edition of the Fremantle Herald. Unfortunately it missed that edition and the 2 subsequent ones, so here it is for your perusal. As you can see it was topical and already somewhat out of date regarding the James Price Point gas hub and international Future Funds.
Given Federal Environment Minister Tony Burke’s recent approval for little known company Toro Energy to mine uranium in W.A. at Wiluna, it seems timely to look at how the mining boom fits with the conscious living principles of EarthCare. State Minister for Mines and Petroleum Norman Moore was reported as saying it (the uranium mine) will be good for the State, providing much needed jobs and capital. Comments that lead me to ponder whether Mr Moore has ‘visited WA recently’ with our chronic shortage of workers for the mining industry resulting in FIFO planes coming from Melbourne and Queensland and a flurry of 459 visa applications. The capital he refers to is presumably the royalties that will help reduce the State Government deficit, but do little to enhance the lives of those on a basic wage. Conservation groups have raised concerns about Toro Energy’s lack of capacity and experience; Greens Senator, Scott Ludlam said “This is a rookie company with no operating mines”. Fact: Australia has the world’s largest known uranium deposits.
Meanwhile, earlier in the week ABC’s 4 Corners ran an expose on the Gas Fracking industry, quoting farmers who have seen rivers bubbling with methane, and a whistle-blowing insider saying the approval processes applied in Southern Queensland were significantly flawed. Back in December 2011 I dedicated an entire EarthCare to Gas Fracking and quoted Senate Committee chair Senator Bill Heffernan as saying currently CSG operators work under “cowboy regulations”. It appears nothing has changed, except maybe the increased profits for resources companies and NSW politicians such as Eddie Obeid. Fact: There is enough shale gas and oil deposits in the world to cook the planet several times over.
Meanwhile back in February, here in Fremantle the Esplanade Park was packed to capacity for the Concert for the Kimberly, demonstrating strong community opposition for a gas-hub that threatens the pristine Kimberly coast whilst emitting enormous amounts of CO2. The state’s Environment Minister, Hon. Bill Marmion waived emission restrictions on Chevron’s Wheatstone project and the prospective Browse Basin project, reportedly against EPA Officer advice.
Similarly, in Queensland the ever growing coal port of Bowen has Green groups and locals angry about potential adverse impacts on the Great Barrier Reef, saying “What we have here is the world’s largest coal mining operation, shipping coal through what will be the world’s largest coal loading facility, through the Great Barrier Reef the world’s largest coral reef. It is a recipe for a disaster”. Fact: Australia is the world’s largest exporter of coal.
The Australian economy has transitioned from the sheep’s-back to the Haulpack-back, especially in WA and Queensland; so advocating a stop to mining is fiscally irresponsible, but we cannot go on as we are. What’s missing here is intergenerational learning; our ancestors thought oil would last forever, but now we know it cannot. Likewise other mineral resources are finite, and we need to start treating them as such. Allowing multinational companies to mine and export our resources as fast as they can, primarily for their profit, is showing no vision for the future. We need to assess what resources are available, and plan their exploitation for many generations hence, both at home and overseas. Any export profits need to go into a future fund to benefit the next generations. Late last year USTODAY reported that “North Dakota voters created a Legacy Fund in 2010 and the state expects to have $1.3 billion tucked away by June 30. Utah voters approved a constitutional amendment Nov. 6 to require up to half of new energy revenue be set aside in the future. West Virginia legislators are considering a Future Fund to divert energy revenue into a trust fund. And the idea has been raised in Kentucky, Ohio, Pennsylvania and South Dakota.” One day Australia will be left behind once resources become scarce and there is no money left in the bank. The Carbon Tax was meant to help in this regard, unfortunately the community rebates were always going to exceed the Tax-take, amounting to only a fraction of that promised.
If we manage our resources into the future for the best interests of the community, rather than the current system which benefits multinational resource companies, we can have sustainable mining. However, I guess that’s a pill just too bitter for our current State Government to swallow.
Disclaimer: The author works in the resources sector.