Monday, September 17, 2012

Coal, congestion & environmental protest

It was mid-morning Friday before I finally left Sydney for ArmidalP1000694e. There was a reunion of my old class at TAS. Driving up the expressway, I decided to take an old route that I used to drive many years before. Swinging left, I took the Peats Ridge Road. 

Years ago before the opening of Waterfall Way, I used the Wollombi-Broke road as a short cut between Armidale and Sydney. There were long stretches of dirt and the road was very rough. I didn't mind driving on gravel although it was rough on the car. The country was pretty and the route saved up to an hour in busy times on on the main highway.

Initially, the route takes you along George Downes Drive and then onto the historic convict built Great North Road. The country was just as pretty as I remembered it, although the road was better and there were far more signs of development.

I stopped briefly at the historic Wollombi village. P1000699 I had been planning to visit Wollombi properly, but this was impulse, so I got a coke at the store and just walked around in the sun looking at the buildings.

Both here and in Broke, I was struck by the growth of the vineyards and the wine trails. These did not exist when I last drove this route. I knew that they were there, I have written a little about them, but I hadn't actually seen them.

Driving on on what had been a dirt road, I suddenly had a shock. I have written on the mine developments in the Upper Hunter and on the protest movements. At spots along the Wollombi-Broke road, the anti-mining or coal seam gas protest signs were to be seen every hundred metres or so. Now I struck the first of the big mines with the new roads and overpasses.

Driving on towards Singleton, I almost got lost. I was driving a road that I had known very well indeed, but where was I? I knew in geographic terms from the shape of the hills, but nothing else was familiar.

Getting through Singleton was a bit of a nightmare.  The traffic was horrendous on narrow roads with every second vehicle a mine vehicle. I am not anti-mining, far from it, but you can see why people get so upset.

The scale of development has been just so big, the contrast between that and alternative industries and life styles so great, the stress on local infrastructure great, that you can see why people get so upset, Some of the protests may not be rational, but they are understandable.P1000706

Going further north, you can see why mining industry representatives have been trying to reassure Liverpool Plains residents that the same thing would not happen there. You can also see why they don't believe it since they drive through the Hunter to get to Sydney.

Things would have been easier if Sydney had diverted some of the royalty stream to local development. But this was too much to ask of a cash-strapped Sydney Government presented with golden royalties.

The problem we have now is that, in a way, the golden goose has bolted. Yes, I know that is a dreadful English mixture, but it captures the problem. Local demands and resentments continue, new infrastructure and services are needed, but the boil has come off mining with coal prices well down. There just isn't the cash to meet needs.

To put the problem at a very micro level, road traffic on the New England Highway north of the mining belt appears well down. Who would go this route now because of the delays? Easier to go another route if you can. That affects incomes.

Some of this could have been avoided with more creative thinking, But that's difficult to achieve in the present system. Meantime, the clashes go on. The protestors aren't irrational, although some of their arguments may be. You can see their point.  


Mezza said...

What arguments exactly are you referring to that are irrational Jim? Just more than a little curious now.

Rod said...

Hi Jim,

I just moved house and in the process found all my university Honours study notes on a project I was doing at the time on the Gunnedah Basin Coal Resources (including CSG potential).

I remember some of the discussions I has with the government departmentof mineral resource staff at the time (more than 10 years ago) saying that not much development will occur north of the Liverpool Ranges until they build a new railway. It was considered to be to be too hard on the roads alone. Sadly, the mining development has occurred regardless and no upgrades to the railway (or for that matter the port at Newcastle) that were needed first have occurred. The pressure on the local and regional roads must be enormous.

Jim Belshaw said...

Actually, Mezza,you pinged me rather nicely with such a short question, for you forced me to ask just what I meant by irrational! If you are opposed to something, it may be perfectly rational to use whatever arguments you can against it! However, those arguments as phrased may not be rational although the intent of use may be.

One test of rationality is the extent to which an argument is testable on the facts. Some of the individual arguments I have seen in passing on the impact of coal seam gas seem to me to be really statements of belief that will continue to be put forward independent of evidence. Issues associated with ground water, for example, vary greatly from area to area. The Northern Rivers are not the same as the Liverpool Plains.

Jim Belshaw said...

That's an interesting comment, Rod. The coal train problem is an interesting current Gunnedah example. They actually split the town in half for an extended period.

In regard to Mezza's point, our discussion on CSG came to mind. You remember that you criticised some of the ground water arguments so far as the North Coast was concerned.