Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Dedicted to Tony Abbott and the mining industry

No explanation needed really, a classic of Australian poetry.


"We'll all be rooned," said Hanrahan,
In accents most forlorn,
Outside the church, ere Mass began,
One frosty Sunday morn.

The congregation stood about,
Coat-collars to the ears,
And talked of stock, and crops, and drought,
As it had done for years.

"It's looking crook," said Daniel Croke;
"Bedad, it's cruke, me lad,
For never since the banks went broke
Has seasons been so bad."

"It's dry, all right," said young O'Neil,
With which astute remark
He squatted down upon his heel
And chewed a piece of bark.

And so around the chorus ran
"It's keepin' dry, no doubt."
"We'll all be rooned," said Hanrahan,
"Before the year is out."

"The crops are done; ye'll have your work
To save one bag of grain;
From here way out to Back-o'-Bourke
They're singin' out for rain.

"They're singin' out for rain," he said,
"And all the tanks are dry."
The congregation scratched its head,
And gazed around the sky.

"There won't be grass, in any case,
Enough to feed an ass;
There's not a blade on Casey's place
As I came down to Mass."

"If rain don't come this month," said Dan,
And cleared his throat to speak -
"We'll all be rooned," said Hanrahan,
"If rain don't come this week."

A heavy silence seemed to steal
On all at this remark;
And each man squatted on his heel,
And chewed a piece of bark.

"We want an inch of rain, we do,"
O'Neil observed at last;
But Croke "maintained" we wanted two
To put the danger past.

"If we don't get three inches, man,
Or four to break this drought,
We'll all be rooned," said Hanrahan,
"Before the year is out."

In God's good time down came the rain;
And all the afternoon
On iron roof and window-pane
It drummed a homely tune.

And through the night it pattered still,
And lightsome, gladsome elves
On dripping spout and window-sill
Kept talking to themselves.

It pelted, pelted all day long,
A-singing at its work,
Till every heart took up the song
Way out to Back-o'-Bourke.

And every creek a banker ran,
And dams filled overtop;
"We'll all be rooned," said Hanrahan,
"If this rain doesn't stop."

And stop it did, in God's good time;
And spring came in to fold
A mantle o'er the hills sublime
Of green and pink and gold.

And days went by on dancing feet,
With harvest-hopes immense,
And laughing eyes beheld the wheat
Nid-nodding o'er the fence.

And, oh, the smiles on every face,
As happy lad and lass
Through grass knee-deep on Casey's place
Went riding down to Mass.

While round the church in clothes genteel
Discoursed the men of mark,
And each man squatted on his heel,
And chewed his piece of bark.

"There'll be bush-fires for sure, me man,
There will, without a doubt;
We'll all be rooned," said Hanrahan,
"Before the year is out."

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Easter carnage? What Easter carnage?

Every holiday period and long weekend we hear the screaching of our political masters and police force amplified through a largely unquestioning and subservient media about holiday road "carnage". Police patrols are increased, double demerit points are enforced and despite having had years worth of notice all police leave is routinely cancelled and motorists spend far more time looking at their speedos rather than where they are going.

So what is this carnage? How much more likely are you to die during one of these periods of carnage?

I did a little searching and did a little number crunching from this report found at Infrastructure Australia looking at the monthly road death tolls from 1993 to 2008. I haven't gotten into the full statistical analysis as it'd take me too long and secondly I haven't done much with stats for almost 20 years.

The monthly averages are:
January 140.125
February 130.6875
March 152.0625
April 141.5625
May 148.0625
June 140.5
July 141.1875
August 148.5625
September 141.5625
October 153.0625
November 140.0625
December 157.0625

Once you start looking at the daily averages thing even out a lot more, with December (5/day), October (4.9), March (4.9), August (4.8), May (4.8) having the higher daily averages. January (4.5/day), July (4.5), Februry (4.6), and November (4.6) are the safest months to travel on Australian roads. April in which Easter occurs has 4.7 deaths/day.

Now the road toll has come down quite a bit since then (1953 deaths in 1993 to 1464 in 2008) but from the figures we can see that our "deadliest" month, December, is only around ten percent more dangerous than our safest, January and July.

Taking the 2008 figure of 1464 road deaths we come to an average of just over 4 deaths a day, given that we're four days into to Easter holiday period simple maths will tell us to expect about 16 deaths, and that's close enough to what we've got.

Now none of this is meant to make light of the tragedy that deaths and injuries undoubtedly are but I'm just adding some perspective to the hype. People die at all times during the year on our roads and at roughly the same rate, high profile campaigns for a few weeks a year will do little to reduce the overall numbers, better roads, better training and more appropriate enforcement (when was the last time you heard of someone being booked for tailgating?) are the things which will make a difference.

Given the recent change of government in New South Wales and their attitude to speed cameras I will look on with interest for the next few months.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Coal Industry Surprised (but no one else is)

Proving the old adage that money can't buy love, a recent survey has found that Upper Hunter residents don't like the coal industry. Coal mining executives are surprised at this, but then, they don't live here.

Upper Hunter coal industry receives harsh report
Posted April 15, 2011 09:22:00
Map: Singleton 2330 The NSW Minerals Council says it is surprised the Hunter Valley's coal industry has rated poorly in an independent community survey.

Participants in the Upper Hunter Mining Dialogue have received a research report examining opinions about the cumultative impacts of local mines.

The Australian Centre for Corporate Social Responsibility concluded a long-term commitment will be needed to improve the industry's relationship with the community.

"Overall the results do show that there is a lack of trust toward the mining industry as a whole and giving us below average scores on a range of questions about things like reputation, relationship quality and social capital," Minerals Council Deputy Chief Executive, Sue-Ern Tan said.

"I am personally very concerned about the findings, they will be and are very challenging for the industry,"

"I think the depth of concern is worrying and the low level of trust the community has really surprised me."

In response three industry working groups have been established to address the cumulative impacts of the region's open cut coal mines.

The research identified dust, air quality and the need for mine site rehabilitation as the community's main concerns.

"We have already established within the industry the three working groups as a first step and what we have done is look at the priority issues raised by the survey," Ms Tan said.

"They were clearly around dust, air quality, water, issues around rehabilitation and then what is happening with social infrastructure and the social issues in the towns thenselves,"

"So those are the three areas we are going to focus on."

The survey and the industry's response can viewed at the NSW Minerals Council website.

The report is available here.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Well here's a dumb idea!

Considering Australia's longest running coal fire has been going for 6 000 years just how are they going to keep this one under control?
Australia urged to develop 'fuel of the future' By Pip Courtney for Landline Updated 1 hour 47 minutes ago Linc Energy's UCG pilot plant, located at Chinchilla on the Darling Downs. (Pip Courtney, ABC TV Landline) Video: Landline: Fuel of the Future? (Landline) Map: Chinchilla 4413 One of Australia's richest men claims the technology exists to dramatically reduce the country's vulnerability to international oil price shocks and even become an exporter of transport fuel. Mining magnate Peter Bond says Australia could be self-sufficient in diesel and jet fuel if state and federal governments permit the commercialisation of underground coal gasification (UCG). "We can be the Wal-Mart of energy. This could actually put peak oil for this country off for two generations," he said. "It's definitely one of the fuels of the future." But there are fears from farmers that the process could have harmful environmental and health impacts. UCG, a Soviet-developed process, involves burning deep unmineable coals on site at a temperature of 1,200 degrees Celsius. Gas produced by the burn can then be converted into synthetic fuels. There are billions of tonnes of stranded coals in Queensland. "The fact that you're coal rich and oil poor means that you can isolate and insulate your economy from having to pay out a fortune for Middle East oil," Mr Bond said. For nearly seven years Mr Bond's company Linc has been piloting the UCG process at its $70 million demonstration plant at Chinchilla, west of Brisbane. "We gasify coal really cost effectively from stranded coal 100 to 150 metres under the ground," Mr Bond said. "We can produce a barrel for $30." Linc says it is the only company in the world to combine UCG and gas-to-liquids (GTL) processes in one site. "I get a buzz from standing here knowing that the coal is being gasified under our feet and going across to the GTL plant, and several minutes later is turned into diesel," Mr Bond said. "I love the concept of being able to unlock billions of tonnes of energy of stranded coal. I used to be a coal miner and it just makes sense." Contamination scares The Queensland Government has approved three pilot UCG projects but last year two of them, Cougar Energy based at Kingaroy and Carbon Energy near Dalby, had contamination scares. Cougar was shut down and Carbon Energy has just been allowed to reopen with stricter controls. The highly publicised contamination events seriously damaged the fledgling industry. "There is no doubt in the case of Kingaroy that they made a mess of it," said Ian MacFarlane, the Federal Opposition's energy and resources spokesman. "It was either a mistake or a complete PR disaster, one of the two. People have lost confidence in it." Mr Bond says the scare "certainly doesn't help" the industry. "Any black mark is a black mark but at the end of the day we are a growing industry, an emerging industry, and as such you have to take all comers," he said. A government report into the three pilots has found no problems with Linc Energy however. "This project was identified as being the world leader in the UCG process," said Stirling Hinchliffe, Queensland's Mines Minister. 'Exciting opportunity' To put a positive face on the technology, Mr Bond last month put coal derived diesel from Linc's plant into a car and drove it 6,000 kilometres from Chinchilla to Perth in Western Australia. "It's a huge moment. This is the first time in Australia we've ever filled up a car with synthetic fuel," he said. Mr Hinchliffe has shown enthusiasm for the project, saying "everyone is interested in alternative fuel supplies in Australia". "This is a genuinely exciting opportunity to see the UCG process proven up, if that is possible," he said. Mr Bond met federal Energy Minister Martin Ferguson in Canberra, who is also optimistic. "I first started talking to Peter when I was back in opposition and I thought geez, this looks promising in terms of an alternative fuel strategy," he said. Australia spent $16 billion last year importing petroleum. "By 2015 that [deficit] could blow out to $30 billion a year. For that reason these UCG ventures are very important in the overall debate about Australia's energy security," Mr Ferguson said. "Peter Bond has taken substantial risks to get Linc to this point, to have this road trip to prove the value of synthetic fuel in Australia. "The trip has proved the capacity of us to create a new industry in Australia and in doing so to resolve our supply-side problems in terms of energy security from a transport point of view." With a personal fortune estimated at nearly $600 million, Peter Bond is Australia's 10th-richest man. A former coal miner who went from working in mines to owning them, he believes UCG can transform Australia's energy landscape, and even rival the booming billion-dollar coal-seam gas industry. He says if UCG gets the go-ahead in Queensland, Linc could have a commercial plant in Chinchilla within five years. "A commercial plant is over 22,000 barrels a day - that is, 7 to 8 million barrels a year - and that's a good start to Australia regaining some of its own fuel independence," Mr Bond said. He says there is enough coal at Linc's 4,000 hectare property to feed one plant for 80 years. 'Pretty scary' While the Queensland Government is yet to allow UCG to move beyond the pilot phase, Queensland's farmers are calling for caution. Unnerved by the Kingaroy scare, rural lobby group AgForce say it is worried about UCG's impact on underground water aquifers as well as the possibility of land subsidence. "It is all happening underground. Everything that goes on, from the lighting of the fire to the extraction of the gas and the inter-aquifer relationships, is all well hidden away out of sight," spokesman Drew Wagner said. "We don't know what the impacts will be. What we are reacting to is pretty scary. "These are not simple chemical compounds. These are highly carcinogenic. They are highly dangerous contaminants that once released in the groundwater could end up anywhere." But Mr Bond says UCG is safe and caution is being taken. "We don't do anything that could possibly hurt the water table or contaminate the aquifer in any way whatsoever," he said. "We manage everything in such a way that there is no environmental damage." A final report into the UCG pilots is due to be handed to the Queensland Government in November. "We look forward to getting an answer. I think in time we will get the positive answer but it will take work," Mr Bond said. Mr Bond is risking millions on the UCG industry, but he did not get rich without taking a few chances. "The combination of taking something that is possible and turning it into a reality is very exciting for an entrepreneur and to do it on a global scale for what UCG can do for you is a rare opportunity," he said. "It is a small Australian company that has turned into something bigger. It is one man's dream that has turned into something bigger. "It's all been done here at the back of Chinchilla and I think that's a great story."

Thursday, April 7, 2011

You don't win friends with salad!

Nor do you get all that fat on it, so why is it when we talk about grazing we concentrate on the grass leaves rather than the stems and seed heads where the starch and sugars are stored? Considering feedlots rely heavily on grains to fatten cattle why don't we let our grasses get just that bit bigger and in a lot of cases let some of them go to seed before we let stock graze them? I have spoken to some farmers who report horses getting fat on Blue Grass (Dichanthum sericium) as it's gone to head and have seen some paddocks where stock have deliberately targetted paspalum heads. Just my thought for the day.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

A Load of Hot Air.

Prior to the introduction of catylic converters one of the favourite was of topping yourself was to run a hose from your car exhaust, in through your car window, sit inside, start her up and wait for the carbon monoxide to do it's thing. The carbon monoxide would bind to blood haemoglobin forming carboxyhaemoglobin and prevent the exchange of carbon dioxide for oxygen. After the introduction of catylic converters suicide rates by car exhaust didn't fall (as I had presumed) it just swapped death from the effects of carboxyhaemoglobin to death by hypoxia (lack of oxygen), so obviously high levels of carbon dioxide are fatal to humans. High CO2 levels are also fatal to invertebrates, (which is a technique we used to use for fumigating seeds for storage). Given all that, why would someone interested in improving soil health want to pump something used as a fumigant underground? Sounds silly but this is what a number of farmers are starting to do, called Exhaust Emission Fertilisation the aim is to capture the exhaust gasses, cool them then inject them underground where the carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxides and other gasses:

"stimulates the biological life within the soil so the new seeding and photosynthesizing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere is done at a greater rate,”

Sounds great, it's just a pity that photosynthesis occurs above the ground. Despite all the claims there is a serious lack of scientific studies and actual evidence, the only study I've been able to find concludes:

The ANCOVA showed that the injection of exhaust did not improve or compromise crop production relative to the control. However, injecting exhaust while simultaneously applying fertiliser did initially reduce crop growth. In this season and on this soil, the crop was unresponsive to the application of fertiliser except for a small, significant increase in grain protein.

There may be some short term benefits as the acids present in the exhaust gasses react with nutrients bound up in the soil but in the long term these reserves will become depleted. Some proponents are reporting drops in soil pH. While the website promoting this system looks quite flashy it apears very short on providing actual information on how it works or any data to support their claims. I don't think I'll be buying it.