Home' Greymouth Star : September 8th 2015 Contents Greymouth Star
4 - Tuesday, September 8, 2015
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uLetters to the editor
1855 - Crimean War ends.
1900 - Galveston, Texas, is struck by a
hurricane that kills about 6000 people.
1972 - Israeli Air Force, in retaliation for
slaying of Israeli athletes at Munich Olympics,
attacks 10 Palestinian guerrilla bases and naval
installations in Syria and Lebanon.
1974 - President Gerald Ford
grants an unconditional pardon to
former President Richard Nixon
for all federal crimes he may have
committed while he was in office.
1997 - A ferry sinks north of
Port-au -Prince, Haiti, drowning an
estimated 200 people.
1999 - The United Nations delays its
withdrawal from East Timor out of concern
for the safety of some 2000 East Timorese who
have taken refuge in the UN compound.
2003 - L eni Riefenstahl, Adolf Hitler’s
filmmaker and one the last of Germany ’s
famous Nazi-era figures, dies aged 101.
2006 - Racing car driver and nine-time winner
of the Bathurst 1000, Peter Brock, is killed
during the Targa rally, aged 61.
uWest Coast yesteryear
uToday in history
Richard I, the Lion Heart, king of England
(1157-1199); Sir Harry Secombe, Welsh singer-
comedian (1921-2001); Sid Caesar, US comedian
(1922-2001); Peter Sellers, British
comedian-actor (1925-1980); Patsy
Cline, US country singer (1932-
1963); Ron Pigpen McKernan, US
musician of Grateful Dead (1945-
1973); James Packer, Australian
businessman (1967-); Lachlan
Murdoch, Australian businessman
(1971-); Pink, US singer (1979-).
“That pestilent cosmetic, rhetoric.”
— T H Huxley, English biologist and author
“Then he called His disciples and said to
them, “ Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put
in more than all those who are contributing to
the treasury.” — (Mark 12:43).
The bodies of both
men drowned in
Sunday’s Grey River
tragedy have been
recovered. The body of Ahaura farmer Mr Ross
Hannah, 25, was recovered from the Grey
River half a mile downstream from the scene of
the tragedy, while the body of police constable
Ruston, 30, married with two young children,
was found about a mile away.
Inspector G Twentyman paid tribute to the
grand way in which local residents assisted
in search operations. About 60 men, most of
them residents from the Ahaura area, took part
in the search.
The product of many painstaking hours of
work and believed to be the only one of its
kind in existence, will be displayed at the
Hokitika Historial Museum, when sufficient
money has been raised to extend the building.
The product is the model of the old Waiuta
shaft mine, left to the museum by the late
Mr William Meagher, a former windhouse
machine driver at the Waiuta and Wallsend
mines, who built the replica himself.
The scale model is an operative one which
functions on a one-quarter horsepower motor
and depicts the functionings of the now
defunct mine down to the most minute detail.
An elderly Buller Road, Reefton resident
collapsed and died outside his home while
watching a cycle race late on Sunday morning.
He was Mr Walter Augustus Preen, aged 82.
Mr Preen was discovered on the roadside
by the first aid party following the race and
was given treatment by a St John Ambulance
brigadesman. However, he was found to be
dead on the arrival of a doctor.
uFood for thought
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One by one, the empty
boxes in the Drake
Equation are being filled
in with actual numbers,
and it is looking good. So
good that Yuri Milner is
spending $100 million of his
own money over the next
10 years to fund the search
for non-human civilisations
orbiting other stars. But it is a pity that
the Philae lander from the European
Space Agency ’s Rosetta mission did not
have more time to look for life on Comet
Yuri Milner is a Silicon Valley billionaire
who was working on a PhD in theoretical
physics at the Russian Academy of
Sciences before he moved to the
United States and got rich. His money
will buy thousands of hours of radio-
telescope time each year to look for radio
transmissions from other star systems.
This represents at least a 10-fold increase
in the amount of work being done on
finding intelligent life elsewhere in the
galaxy, and Yuri Milner is no fool. Why
does he think it is worth spending this
Probably because the Drake Equation is
finally coming into its own. It has seven
terms, and American astronomer Frank
Drake could not give a value to any of
them when he first wrote it in 1961.
It was just a formula that would let us
estimate the number of civilisations in the
Milky Way galaxy when the relevant data
eventually became available.
To fi ll in the first three terms, we needed
to know how many stars there are in the
galaxy, how many of them have planets,
and how many of those planets are in the
“habitable zone” where liquid water can
In 1961 the estimate was 100 billion
stars. Now it is 400 billion, of which 300
billion are essentially similar to our Sun.
Until 1992, we did not know if other
stars even had planets circling them. Now
we can estimate that at least 40%
of them do, although the real answer
may be almost all of them. (We still
cannot detect planets much smaller than
As for how many planets are in the
“ habitable” zone, not too close or too
far from their parent star, the answer is
probably one or two per star.
Using the data acquired in the past
twenty years, the National Aeronautics
and Space Administration (Nasa) now
estimates that there are 144 billion
habitable planets in our galaxy. Not all of
them will harbour life, of course, but that
is a very encouraging number.
Other questions remain, however. How
many “habitable” planets will actually
have life on them? On how many of
those planets will an intelligent species
appear? How many of those intelligent
species will build civilisations that use
electromagnetic communications? How
long, on average, would those high-tech
We do not yet know the answers to any
of those questions, but we do know that
organic compounds are common even
in interstellar space, and that they are
continuously raining on our own planet.
So the standard assumption is that they
somehow combined on Earth to form the
first single-celled creatures, and evolution
did the rest.
But if it were easy for those organic
compounds to combine into complex
microbes and viruses, then you would
expect it to have happened here a number
of times. There would be several or many
unrelated genetic lineages on Earth —
and there are not. All life here has a
So it must be very rare for life to develop
spontaneously. If it actually happened
here, it would mean that we are a miracle,
and pretty much alone in the galaxy. But
maybe the miracle happened on another
of those 144 billion planets, billions of
years ago, and life been spreading through
the galaxy ever since — not as alien
beings on starships, but as microbes and
viruses on meteorites and comets.
This is the “panspermia” hypothesis, first
proposed by astronomers Sir Fred Hoyle
and Dr Chandra Wickramasinghe in
1974. Dissatisfied with the notion that
Earth was unique, they suggested that
not only organic compounds but actual
microbes and viruses could travel through
interstellar space, dormant but still viable
in the liquid water that they suspected
was present in the interior of many
It sounds weird, but it is just as plausible
as the rival hypothesis of an independent
origin of life on Earth. Comet 67P/
Churyumov-Gerasimenko was the first
opportunity to see if this hypothesis
holds water (so to speak). The Philae
lander did detect 16 different organic
molecules as it bounced along the comet ’s
surface, but it ended up in the shadows
without power to pursue its investigations
Pity, but there will be another comet
along in a while. If it turns out that Hoyle
and Wickramasinghe were right, then
most of those 144 billion planets will have
life on them. The history of evolution on
earth tends always to greater complexity,
so a fair proportion of them would have
intelligent life on them.
How many of them have high-tech
civilisations on them at the moment, of
course, depends on how long the average
technological civilisation sur vives. O ur
own hi-tech civilisation has survived, so
far, for about one century.
Gwynne Dyer is an independent
journalist whose articles are published in
Panspermia and the Drake Equation: looking good
WORLD IN FOCUS
with Gwynne Dyer
egatives have abounded
in New Zealand’s mining
sector during the past two
Combined job losses
from Solid Energy and
Oceana Gold are beyond 1200, global coal
prices have hit rock bottom, gold’s price
remains mediocre and crucial investment
capital has become scarce.
Many companies find themselves on
a knife edge and in sur vival mode while
in the health and safety arena, proposed
workplace safety legislation has been
under the blowtorch of criticism — to
a backdrop of three quarrying fatalities
during the past year.
Despite the negatives, patient optimism
outweighed pessimistic undertones at this
year’s AusIMM conference in Dunedin,
attended by more than 260 delegates, as
companies gave updates on their activities.
A strong theme in luncheon
conversations was the effects of the
industry being caught up in a “cyclical’’,
almost predictable, event.
One delegate noted the public
recognised and dealt with the cyclical
nature of residential housing, and they
have quickly become educated in the
cyclical effects of the dairy industry of late,
so the mining sector downturn and its
aftermath should not be seen as a crisis.
A more senior delegate pointed out
that while many are talking about the
“cyclical nature’’ of the mining sector,
few remember harder times before 2000,
during a six year downturn.
A former industry leader was bemused
that when commodity prices were peaking,
the sector assumed they would just
continue to rise, and when they slumped,
no one believed they could recover.
“ You can’t tell me these things can’t be
picked — but the ‘when’ is the tough part,’’
Industry lobby group Straterra’s
chief executive Chris Baker conceded
Solid Energy, and Bathurst Resources
were respectively in a “crisis’’ and a
“ Within the cycle, jobs are the human
cost, and that has has been significant,’’ Mr
However, the problems facing New
Zealand’s coal sector were not unique as
85% of Australian coal production was
uneconomic at current prices and more
than 10,000 jobs had been lost, Mr Baker
‘’It’s been a harsh path for most
commodities; coal, iron ore and oil,’’ Mr
Baker said of the respective price plunges
— a nywhere from 40% to 70%.
Last week, the Australian mining malaise
swept through Dunedin, with United
States owned foundry Esco, citing the
Australian mining downturn, to close with
the loss of 34 jobs.
Separately, 74 staff at the Australian
owned Bradken foundry in the city had
their work cut back to four days a week
because of weak New Zealand product
Debt laden state owned enterprise Solid
Energy will find out in a few weeks if it
will face receivership or, more likely, a
controlled asset sell down.
Meanwhile, Bathurst must sur vive on
domestic thermal coal production while it
waits out an expected three years for global
coking coal prices to rise to commercially
Much of its West Coast holdings are
billions of tonnes of the specialist coking
Mr Baker expected Solid Energy would
be taken down the track of a controlled
sell off, it being unlikely that one buyer
could take all.
It could be sold in “three units’’ — North
Island operations and on the West Coast
— broken down to export coking coal and
domestic thermal coal.
He expected prices for the specialist
coking coal, crucial for steel production,
would experience an upswing in three to
five years, with industrialisation in the
emerging Indian economy and China
underpinning the boost.
“ You could say Bathurst has been in
crisis for three years, but it is still there,’’
Mr Baker said.
Bathurst and Solid Energy’s
predicaments were balanced by Oceana
Gold thriving and growing in the same
environment; albeit in gold.
Positives included the arrival in New
Zealand of Evolution Mining, in
Northland, and Newcrest Mining, to the
central North Island volcanic plateau, plus
separate exploration projects for industrial
garnets on the West Coast, he said.
Analysts had recounted a major global
downturn in available capital for the
mining sector, one singling out the ‘’under
40 year old’’ investors as not interested in
supporting the resource sector.
Mr Baker acknowledged when it came to
direct investment in a fossil fuel company,
the under 40s might well keep their cash
in their pockets.
But, he said, in general most investors
understood economies needed the resource
sector to fuel the construction industry or
to manufacture cars and computers.
“If you don’t grow it, if you don’t mine it,
you haven’t got any,’’ he said.
Energy and Resources Minister Simon
Bridges told the conference expanding
the geological data available to would be
minerals explorers, as he had done for
the oil and gas industry, would provide a
welcome boost to the resource sector.
Mr Baker did not believe there was a
hiatus in exploration and New Zealand
was getting a ‘’reasonable amount of recent
“Newcrest (Mining) is a significant
“They are all legitimate and high quality
operations,’’ he said.
Another way to boost offshore
investment would be to “streamline’’
regulatory approval of permits, including
the work of the Government permitting
agency New Zealand Petroleum and
Minerals (NZPM), the Department of
Conser vation, and the legislation covering
resource management, conser vation and
“On the West Coast, Doc is working
with two councils, under two separate
Acts, but doing it all as one process,’’ he
He said it was ‘’too big a leap’’ to have
NZPM rolled into a ‘’one stop shop’’
to process all facets of permitting and
permissions, but it could become a ‘’ lead
agency ’’, given its overlapping interests
with many agencies.
“This is about how all the regulations
interface, it’s where we need to do better ...
particularly to attract new investment,’’ Mr
Access to land also remained a
“significant issue’’ for the sector.
While “entirely ruling out national parks’’
from mining, Mr Baker singled out the
other highly protected schedule 4 areas,
saying some did not have the conser vation
values which merited the schedule 4
protection, a point he was sure Forest and
Bird would disagree on.
He wanted the sector to have the ability
to explore such areas, then to have the
debate on the trade off between the needs
of the environment and the economy.
“ If you are lucky enough to find
something, that ’s when the debate should
begin,’’ he said.
“ Look, times have been tough and will
stay tough for a while. But there are plenty
of positives coming into New Zealand,’’
Mr Baker said.
With health and safety an industry focus
during the conference, Mr Baker was
“proud’’ of the advances and investment
made since the 2010 Pike River coal mine
tragedy, which claimed 29 lives.
However, the industry had recently
collated aerial views of hundreds of
quarries across the country, of which
only a tiny number were engaged with
Work Safe; even though they probably
represented as much as 90% of the quarry
Most delegates were startled when the
data, collated by industry led MinEx (NZ
Mining Industry Safety Council), was
It dawned on them that the sparse green
dots were the health and safety “engaged’’
quarries, while the near carpeting of red
dots were virtually unknown operations.
“There’s more accidents in the quarry
sector than open cast (pit) mining,’’ Mr
Following a quarry accident which
killed the site owner/operator at a North
Canterbury quarry in June, Work Safe
had since said he had been operating the
site illegally and did not hold the required
certificate of competence.
“The North Canterbury operation was
one that wasn’t engaged (with Work
Safe),’’ Mr Baker said.
He said the application of the health
and safety regulations from 2013 had to
be “fit for purpose’’, and made to cover the
quarry sector, highlighting accidents were
higher in that sector in New Zealand than
“ For the vast majority, there’s no official
health and safety presence ... we ’ve
got a long way to go, given the issues,
particularly with quarries,’’ Mr Baker
Is Solid Energy’s imminent breakup and the loss of hundreds of mining jobs during the
past two years reflecting a crisis in New Zealand’s mining sector? Otago Daily Times
senior business reporter SIMON HARTLEY wraps last week’s annual conference of the
New Zealand branch of the Australian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy in Dunedin.
PICTURE: Otago Daily Times
The scene of the North Canterbury quarry accident.
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