On the same day that 8000 farmers, environmentalists, the Country Women’s Association and others took part in Australia's biggest rally against coal seam gas (CSG) mining, the NSW mining industry launched a website to “dispel myths” about the industry.
Website creator the Minerals Council of NSW includes the state's biggest mining companies: Anglo American, BHP Billiton, Barrick Gold, Peabody, Rio Tinto, Shenhua and Xstrata.
The website's timing reveals the industry is reeling from the broad alliance growing in opposition to the impacts and dangers of mining and CSG.
The main arguments on the mining website are scrutinised below.
Claim: Mining operations account for just 0.1% of NSW land, compared with 76% for agriculture.
The real issue is the impact of this use on the land, environment and community. A similar argument is made by some climate deniers, who say that since carbon dioxide makes up a tiny fraction (about 0.04%) of our atmosphere, it can’t possibly have the devastating effect that climate scientists have demonstrated it does.
In terms of impact on land, mining is significant.
For example, BHP’s use of land in coalmining has caused environmental destruction and devastating subsidence, shown by a leaked 2008 Department of Environment report.
The website also sneakily uses the term “mining operations” neglecting the land consumed by mining infrastructure to support such operations. This can include huge coal trains and tracks, semi-trailer trucks for construction, coal export terminals, new roads, land clearing, waste water storage and more.
The CSG industry’s TV ads claim that “a CSG well uses less land than half a tennis court”. But it also needs a web of well heads, land cleared for pumps, drill pads, generators, compressors, heavy vehicles, storage ponds for waste water, gas pipelines and fire breaks.
Claim: The total number of coal mines in NSW has risen only by three since 2005.
A rise from 58 to 61 coalmines at a time when coalmining has been identified by scientists as a key driver of dangerous climate change is hardly something to be proud of.
If Beyond Zero Emissions’s comprehensive plan for moving Australia to 100% renewable energy had been pursued instead, Australia could moving towards being powered by renewable energy. But one of the most harmful activities, coalmining, has increased.
Claim: Mining and minerals processing employs 93,000 across NSW.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics says that mining only employs 1.9% of the Australian workforce. A report last year by the Australia Institute (AI) said: “Much of the growth in mining comes at the direct expense of expansion in other parts of the economy.”
In north-west NSW, energy company Santos says its new CSG project will create 200 jobs. But the Australia Institute says it is likely the project would destroy 5770 non-mining jobs.
There are also serious environment and health hazards associated with many of the jobs. They are rarely sustainable and many mining companies are anti-union.
BHP is currently engaged in hostile action against unionised workers in Queensland. Rio Tinto used the anti-union laws of the John Howard government to attack workers at the Hunter Valley No. 1 mine. Xstrata locked out coalminers in Tahmoor.
Claim: Mining is one of the most heavily regulated industries, and proposals go through rigorous assessment from government agencies.
“Rigorous assessment” seems unlikely from governments that have shown themselves, whether Labor or Coalition, to be firmly pro-mining, if not in the pocket of the industry.
CSG mining licences have been approved despite the huge unknowns, such as the effects on health, water, environment and communities. CSG wells have been drilled next to the Sydney water catchment and have produced toxic spills in the Pilliga forest.
Claim: Mining companies can’t compulsorily acquire land for mining.
Mining companies can assert huge pressure to access land for coal or CSG. The Lock The Gate website explains: “Initial agreements and compensation may have seemed fair … landholders have found that the development escalated well beyond what was agreed upon — without consultation.”
In 2008, 200 Liverpool Plains farmers and their families blockaded BHP Billiton when it tried to enter a property that had been in farmer Tim Duddy’s family for 150 years. Other farmers said drilling had taken place on their properties without warning.
Claim: Mining uses just 1.4% of water, agriculture uses 49.2%.
CSG mining draws contaminated water out of the ground, which is high in salt and can contain toxic and radioactive compounds, heavy metals and methane. It damages aquifers and pollutes large quantities of freshwater.
Hydraulic fracturing (fracking), blasting water and chemicals into the coal seam to fracture the seam and allow the gas to escape, is even worse. The CSG industry says a single well takes more than 11 million litres of water to fracture. With thousands of wells planned in NSW, this will use enormous water resources.
Coalmining pollutes rivers with dirty mine water, cracks riverbeds from mining subsidence and depletes underground aquifers.
Far from “dispelling myths”, the mining industry’s spin seeks to promote the myth that rampant mining is not at oods with the environment, health, and the interests of the broader community.
The important message spread on May 1 was not by slick mining industry website, but by the thousands rallying at NSW parliament to demand that our land and water must be put before the short-term profit interests of the mining and CSG industries.