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Archive for June, 2007

More on cross country travel with kids and grandkids: today we traversed the plains east of Denver, leaving behind the Rockies and entering the land of farming. Now we are in Nebraska, surrounded by corn and RVs in the KOA. It takes a trip across the wide open spaces to come to grips with the immensity of space and place inbetween the cities of this country (and probably any other.) We saw no mines, but many a gravel pit along the way. But for the most part it was fields and very small towns surrounded by the largeness of the land.

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Absence of fresh content so far this week is explained by the fact that I am travelling across country with my daughter and three grandkids on route to Iowa from California. At a KOA in eastern Colorado, I have managed to connect to the internet and post this piece. This morning we traversed the Rockies via I70 and passed all those old mining towns that are now fancy ski towns. I had a deep discussion with my daughter who informed me that the US produces more milk and milk powder than it uses or for that matter can give away to needy countries where inefficient and corrupt systems preclude its proper distribution. Then she gave me hell for saying we are using up too much farm land for housing development. Her basic point was mines do much the same and for much the same reasons: so people can live better. Then a smart alek gradnson weighed in on the arguement and I knew I had lost. So we will all have to await my return to Vancouver next week to post some really unassailable arguements.

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Sometimes a fresh look at a problem by new people sheds light on the hidden obvious. Sounds like a platitude; and maybe it is. We all, however, grow inbred in our attitudes and perspectives and can benefit by standing on the other side of the platform. Not easy to do, as I discovered again this evening while dealing with a family issue of much emotion: should the youngest kids be expected to clean up the mass and mess of fallen plumbs on the walkway to the front door? My son-in-law demanded they should. Their mothers objected. The kids tried to get out of the work by fake and feign. I sat drinking a beer, bewildered by the dispute. Then I intervened–what else is an opinionated grandfather to do? I persuaded my daughters to let the “men,” a son-in-law and three boys, deal with it by force of will and power of personality. I reckoned that in “real life,” they would have to face obdurate bosses and workers, so they might as well start now. And obdurate they all were; but after some shouting and negotiating, the plumbs were picked up, the walkway cleaned, the boys restored to their PayStation2 privileges, and we sat down to desert happy.

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As regular readers of this blog may have discerned, I spend time in Canada and time in the United States. All my kids and grandkids are American, and my empathies are Canadian. So I am berated both sides of the border. In Canada, I am regarded as an ugly American, although my accent is bastard South African. I am told at Vancouver dinner parties that Canada’s regard for the environment is much greater than that of the United States, which I am told is dominated by Republican businesses. Conversely when in the United States, some of my friends, who actually know enough to know that there is a country called Canada to the north, joke about the Canadian inbred self interest and predeliction for supporting ugly mining companies that rape the landscape for whatever they want. I must confess that most of these friends lost money in the Bre-X affair and have no love for Canadian mining companies.

Thus I will follow the outcome of this story with great interest:

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Talking of sustainable development, talk of remining old mines. I am not sure how reworking old mines, their waste rock dumps, and tailings impoundments constitutes sustainable development, but use of the term sure helps. The waste rock dumps and tailings impoundments of the Witwatersrand that were my childhood playground are all gone: reworked for residual gold and uranium. The large fields where they stood are clear and now the place of factory and industry and even homesteads.

It is inevitable with rising metal and resource prices that the reclaimed dumps will be the focus of study and, in appropriate places, of rework. Thus with interest I read this coy report about possibly even reopening underground mine working. The report is reticient in committing to anything more than a vague statement of interest, but clearly if this is being “floated” as an idea, serious consideration is being given to the idea. Let’s hope they proceed to “construction & operation & second closure.”

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The mine wastes, some call it tailings, but the regulators would term it a significant waste, was placed in a lined pond. Beneath the liner is a leak detection system. And above the liner is a drain “spine.” Rain has kept the materials wet and during the wet season, water ponds on top of the materials. The spine drain flows continuously. The outlet from the leak detection system also flows, but at a much lesser rate.

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Now we have it on good authority from any number of experts that there is no such thing as global warming. So the storms that now play havoc with Australia are just part of the natural pattern of things. I wonder what the Recurrence Interval (or Return Period as some hydrologist call it) is of the storms that cause the damage giving rise to the report below. To be force majeure, one would expect the storms to be pretty big, and hence to have a low probability of occurrences, i.e., a long Recurrence Interval. I mean, most rail lines should be able to handle the one in a hundred year storm? Maybe this is a series of one in a thousand years storms; we know they occur with a probability of one in a thousand each year, and those are not bad odds if you think of it. At any rate, if you know more of the size and recurrence interval of the storms, please let us know. Here is part of the report:

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Today was nice and hot in Southern California. We spent time on the yacht moored in San Pedro harbor and took five kids around the Cabrillo Aquarium–a quaint, informal place that cost but a dollar to get in. Then to the hot sands of the beach and toes in water that is still cold, at least too cold for me to fully immerse.

So it was with some relief that I noticed the news of a new TV series on the ice road to the Candian diamond mines. The report contains few facts although it is long on sentiment. Here are some of the more intriguing statements by drivers along this key road taking supplies to northern mines during two cold months of each winter:

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Here is a refreshingly honest, if politically incorrect, statement about why there are labor shortages in the drilling and mining industries–Francis McGuire the CEO of Major Drilling Group International is reported to have told a conference the following:

“On the quality of equipment, there is no doubt that you see, as you always have (at industry peaks), a lot of the mom-and-pops bringing things out of garages and stuff, and a lot of mines have bought their own drills,” McGuire said.

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Just had a stiff gin and tonic with a friend across the road. Over the weekend he was an honored guest at the induction of somebody important at Caltech. He talked with a Noble Prize winner about sustainable development. Apparently the professor of chemistry maintained that sustainable development is a myth based on propoganda objectives. The Noble prize winner said that with short-lived CEOs motivated by profit, companies motivated by shareholders, and student not learning much anyway, the cycles of philosophy and practice were so far out of sync that we might as well pass ownership of the concept to the sentimental and the spin doctors.

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