Issues Magazine

Articles about Underground Wealth

Mining in Afghanistan

By Jeffrey Reeves

Mining in Afghanistan is often portrayed as a panacea to the fragile state’s socio-economic problems. It is, however, far from certain whether Kabul can manage the mining sector to exploit its potential benefits.

In 2010, the United States and Afghan Geographical Survey announced the joint discovery of over US$1 trillion in mineral resources spread throughout Afghanistan. For a brief moment, international news media turned away from the daily accounts of violence in Afghanistan to consider the development. An impoverished country where military analysts and development specialists believe a lack of economic opportunity contributes to ongoing conflict was suddenly “blessed” with untold riches. What were the larger implications?

Microbial Mining

By Carla Zammit

Microbes can operate in the toughest conditions on Earth, including among the acids and heavy metals of the mining industry.

The first microorganisms appeared on Earth 3.7 billion years ago at a time when there was no free oxygen and the atmosphere was composed of methane, carbon dioxide, ammonia and hydrogen. They have since evolved to inhabit almost all parts of the globe, developing many systems to deal with life at the extremes.

Some microorganisms can grow in strongly acidic conditions, withstand levels of heavy metals lethal to most other life forms, live in temperatures above the boiling point of water and withstand radiation levels much greater than we can tolerate.

Huge Scope to Store More Water Underground

NCGRT team-member Stephanie Villeneuve sampling and testing groundwater. Credit: Heidi Linehan/Heidi Who Photos.

NCGRT team-member Stephanie Villeneuve sampling and testing groundwater. Credit: Heidi Linehan/Heidi Who Photos.

By National Centre for Groundwater Research and Training

There is potential to store large volumes of Australia’s freshwater underground to offset climate change, avoid evaporation losses and meet national water needs into the future.

Researchers in the National Centre for Groundwater Research and Training (NCGRT) say that managed aquifer recharge – the injection or infiltration of excess surface water into underground aquifers – could help secure the nation’s water supplies for an uncertain future. With bigger droughts and floods forecast under climate change, along with rapidly rising demand from growing cities and industries, managing water wisely will be central to the nation’s future prosperity and sustainability, says Professor Tony Jakeman of NCGRT and the Australian National University.

The National Centre for Groundwater Research and Training is an Australian Government initiative supported by the Australian Research Council and the National Water Commission.

Waiting for the Global Oil Downturn

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iStockphoto

By Bruce Robinson

“Peak oil” – when the rate of oil production worldwide starts its inevitable decline – is widely forecast to occur sometime around 2014. Some are ignoring the possibility of oil shortage, while others are looking at problems and opportunities.

We will probably not know when oil production reached its all-time maximum – “peak oil” – until some years after the event. Definitions and estimates of oil production differ, so there is considerable uncertainty about the data behind the forecasts. Some people are much more optimistic, but they are perhaps now in the minority.

Acknowledgment of the real risks of future global oil shortages at state and federal government levels and in business is seriously inadequate, highlighting a common but unfortunate tendency to overlook or discount crucial risk factors.

New Feats from Fossil Fuels

By Greg Perkins

Underground coal gasification, in combination with other technologies, has the potential to meet the demands of energy security, efficiency and environmental protection.

A jet aircraft powered by fuel produced from coal in Australia? Linc Energy’s Chief Executive Officer, Peter Bond, recently made it a reality by flying in a jet 4270 km across Australia from west to east. It is a feat that many would not have believed possible.

Managing a Risky Business

By David Cliff

Australian mining has a great international safety reputation, but the nature of risk compels the industry to remain vigilant.

Although many see mining as a dangerous industry, mining in Australia is the safest in the world. Certainly, fatality and injury rates are higher than in some other industries.

The size of the equipment used and the complexity of mining processes are two major safety factors. The challenge is how to manage these hazards and others to safely mine the minerals that we all need.

Some Mining Hazards

Helium: Is the Party Really Over?

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iStockphoto

By Colin A. Scholes

A shortage of helium will be faced in the near future as the nearly completed sell-off of the US strategic reserves suppresses the world’s ability to extract helium from natural gas reservoirs.

Outside of Dexter, Missouri, USA, in 1905 a drilling company struck a gas geyser. To celebrate the company’s good fortunes, it was decided to ignite a side stream of the gas. Taking a burning bale of hay to the escaping gas, the assembled crowd was shocked as time after time the escaping gas extinguished the burning bale.

Reproduced from Chemistry in Australia (http://www.raci.org.au/chemaust).

Life After the Peak

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iStockphoto

By Samuel Alexander

Evidence is mounting that the age of cheap energy – particularly the age of cheap oil – is over. What are the lifestyle implications of this historic turning point?

The rise of consumer societies since the industrial revolution has only been possible due to the abundant supply of cheap fossil fuels – most notably, oil. Economic activity depends on energy, so cheap energy means cheap and easy production. This has allowed parts of the world to become very wealthy.

Adapted from Alexander S. Peak Oil, Energy Descent and the Fate of Consumerism. Simplicity Institute report 11b, 2011.

Activists Threaten One of Australia’s Great Industries

By Nikki Williams

The anti-development agenda of the Australian Anti-Coal Movement is a manipulative approach to opposing the industry.

Our strategy is to “disrupt and delay” key projects and infrastructure while gradually eroding public and political support for the (coal) industry... We urgently need to build the anti-coal movement and mobilise off the back of the community backlash to coal seam gas.

This call to arms was contained in the Australian Anti-Coal Movement’s Stopping the Australian Coal Export Boom document, exposed by two of Australia’s leading newspapers in March and met with wide condemnation by state and federal government, the union movement and business.

Impacts of the Not-So-Rare Earths

Olympic Dam’s rare earth elements are worth almost as much as BHP’s entire Pilbara iron ore resources.

Olympic Dam’s rare earth elements are worth almost as much as BHP’s entire Pilbara iron ore resources.

By Gavin M. Mudd

Rare earth elements, for so long ignored by big mining companies, have recently become incredibly popular. Contrary to what their name suggests, they are not particularly rare. They do, however, pose technical and environmental challenges for the companies now rushing to find and extract them.

The growing demand for rare earth elements comes from the important part they play in modern technology. They help make electronic parts smaller and faster, magnets more powerful (especially in wind turbines), metal alloys stronger, flat screen TV pictures brighter, chemical reactions faster, fuel cells more efficient (especially for some types of hybrid cars) and pollution control better.

In short, they are extremely useful for a range of modern technologies, including numerous environmental technologies, and more uses are being discovered all the time.

The Social Implications of Mining in Australia

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iStockphoto

By Kieren Moffat and Justine Lacey

What is the future of mining in Australia, and can it be more sustainable?

The mining industry in Australia features in much of the public discussion about our current and future prosperity. As advocates for the mining industry point out, the materials that mining produces are central to almost everything that our society uses and values:

• coal is essential to our current electricity generation models;

• metals are used to make the smart phones, computers and televisions we use every day; and

• the use of diamonds in jewellery remains a near-universal symbol of wealth and prestige.

Bristol Bay and Alaska’s Pebble Mine

By Carl Johnson

The Bristol Bay region in Alaska is at the centre of a decision about developing one of the largest gold and copper mines in the world. What does this mean for a people who are deeply connected to the land and a region that produces half of the world’s sockeye salmon supply?

The Bristol Bay region of south-western Alaska has seven river systems that provide incredible habitat to a variety of wildlife and fish, including all five species of Pacific salmon. A Canadian and British joint venture seeks to bring jobs to the region and wealth to their shareholders by developing a massive gold, copper and molybdenum mine at two of those rivers’ headwaters.

But people in the region fear the development of that mine, known as the Pebble Mine, because of the potential for adverse impact to the land, waters and resources of the region.

If you think King Coal is dead, think again …

By Mike Sandiford

Coal is set to surpass oil as the most important energy commodity sometime this year.

If you are like me, and concerned about the possibility that rising CO₂ levels in the atmosphere are jeopardising climate stability, the latest BP Statistical Review of World Energy makes for sobering reading.

Coal seam gas: just another land use in a big country

By Andrew Campbell (1) and Steve Turton (2)

(1) Charles Darwin University
(2) James Cook University

An independent report into coal seam gas has made two key findings.

In 2011, the Australian Council of Environmental Deans and Directors (ACEDD) asked Dr John Williams, former Chief of CSIRO Land and Water Division, to review the science on coal seam gas.