July 14, 2011. This page contains all major reports and comment pieces in the current edition.

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Ultra clean diesel from Simpson Desert coal? By ERWIN CHLANDA

Four people strolling around the Show this week, getting locals interested in a big idea they have, may hold the key for halting Alice Springs' seemingly inexorable slide towards becoming a welfare town. On our doorstep is a coal deposit they control, so vast that its size and value are expressed in numbers followed by nine zeros. It can produce all the transport fuel needed by Australia for decades – and then some, the four say.
How's this for magnitude: the "exploration target" from current drilling – yet to be "proven up" – is thousands of billions of tonnes of coal, the world's largest deposit held by a single company.
The project would need 3000 people to build infrastructure and 1500 to run it. Alice would be the service hub, turning around the town's decline in private enterprise investment and its growing dependency on the public purse.
Central Petroleum Limited, in association with Allied Resource Partners Pty Ltd (ARP), are now on a global hunt for $7.5b to build stage one, producing 60,000 barrels of high-grade diesel a day. The partners are hoping stage one will be up and running in five to seven years.
Ultimately the venture could produce three million barrels a day, or more than 1000 million barrels a year, roughly 10 times as much as Australia is importing at present, says John Heugh, managing director of Central Petroleum.
And no, this isn't a plan for producing coal that will belch CO2 into the air. Nor is it about fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, which in Queensland is under vehement attack. (Fracking is a process using water, sand and chemicals to drill deep into the ground and blast apart rock formations to release natural gases.)
Each tonne of coal can be converted to 1.5 barrels of "ultra clean" diesel, says ARP's David Shearwood.
The production process is simple and its environmental impact is small initially, shrinking to tiny very quickly, says Mr Heugh.
This is how it will work: a small portion of a slab of coal is heated underground and that turns the rest of the slab of coal to gas. That gas is brought to the surface where in one plant impurities are removed, and in a second one the gas is liquefied as high-grade, low emission diesel plus some valuable by-products.
At the start there will be some CO2 emissions. But when processing starts on the second slab of coal, the CO2 being created is pumped back into the first hole and sealed.
The CO2 from the third hole is stored and sealed in the second one – and so on, a continuing process of CO2 sequestration.
This method, called Underground Coal Gasification (UCG) to Gas to Liquids (GTL), is already in use in Chinchilla, Queensland, and in South Africa.
Mr Heugh says rather than having a mainly fly-in, fly-out operation the company would want to settle most of its workforce in Central Australia.
The plant will be near the deposit in the Pedirka Basin, north-east of Old Andado, in the Simpson Desert, some 200 km south-east of Alice Springs.
Some staff would live in The Alice. Building a new town in the desert may be an option, says Mr Heugh.
The mining process needs very little water and the artesian basin there is likely to provide enough for a small town.
Mr Shearwood says interest from governments – Territory and Federal – is keen.
As the project could fit under either the extraction (coal) or petroleum (gas) legislations the company has registered the Pedirka Basin Clean Fuel Production Project under both types of laws.
Mr Shearwood says the sheer size of the project is a challenge for fundraising. Local fund managers prefer "thus far" to put pension money they administer into the top-100 companies, and Central Petroleum isn't one of them – yet. Only about half the fund managers have a mining background.
"We want the best players around the globe to look at this," says Mr Shearwood.
These are likely to include the world's big oil and mining companies, he says.

Earlier stories:


Sir – Glad to see your story on Central Petroleum. I've been a fan and shareholder for some six years and have visited their well sites. Very few people here realise the scope of the project and I don’t think any of the town planners realise the implications, mainly for the areas south of The Gap, for example, Brewer Estate.
This further illustrates that the planning is well behind developments and extremely short sighted.
I attended the general meeting in Perth last year and spoke to John Heugh at length. I didn’t know he was at the Show or I would have loved to talk to him.
I have just got from Robyn Lambley the AS traffic study 2010 to 2025, which does not anticipate any traffic problems through The Gap in that time. Let's wait and see. Also it makes looking at rail diversion for freight trains around the town an even more likely and obviously pressing issue, with freight and ore trains going each way. I also heard on Saturday that Palm Valley gas will not be economic by early next year.
I will be going to Perth again this year for the Central Petroleum meeting.
I have also circulated to all the Members of the Assembly a document from Australian Science regarding the need for agricultural research into food production which makes the AZRI thing even more ridiculous.
Trevor Shiell
Alice Springs

Let's have more 'art' in public art. KIERAN FINNANE comments.

As welcome as they are, the recent public art projects in Alice Springs – at the front of the airport terminal and at the new indoor pool – have in the main been conceived as architectural decoration.  As a result they tend to disappear into the fabric of the buildings and the works' ability to claim space for themselves as art – work that can inspire an emotional response, that can prompt reflection, new ideas, that can change perceptions, change the experience of a space  – is diminished.
This is very much the case at the airport for the Aboriginal-designed elements of the project – the pillar sheaths, the canopy, awning appliques and bollards. I did not even recognise at first that the pillar sheaths are based on designs by Aboriginal artists, so mass-produced is their character. The only work that is stand-alone art is the sculpture in the entry courtyard by non-Aboriginal artists Pamela Lofts and Pip McManus. This work is allowed to simply express itself as art, serving no other function, and so manages to be much more transformative of the space in which it sits than any of the other elements of the project.
At the pool all of the art is applied as architectural decoration: there's a mosaic pathway; rows of tiles around the splash pool seats and walls; the giant mural on the external wall to the facility; the 'wallpaper' on the far internal wall; and the patchwork tiles in the change rooms.
The giant external mural, developed by Alison Hittman from the drawings of schoolchildren, has the potential to get people to stop and look at its many charming little narratives. But its presentation in two large parallelograms, used symmetrically to break down the expanse of the facade, dilutes its impact.
The exquisitely conceived and produced Claypan Wallpaper by Elliat Rich misses the opportunity this work could have had, because of twin problems of placement and scale. Positioned well above eye level and in a space made busy by the nature of its use, the wallpaper risks not being noticed at all. And the scale of its visual detail – inspired by the fauna and flora of the claypans which in wet years hold naturally existing bodies of water –  is too small to have the impact it deserves.
Rich's patchwork of tiles in the change rooms are appropriately and elegantly decorative and are a perfect expression of their idea of bringing the domestic into this more intimate part of the public space.
I am obviously not arguing against the involvement of artists and designers in the developing unique enhancements of architectural surfaces, but I'd like to see more priority in our public art projects for stand-alone works of art.
There's also a need to have a coherent vision of the whole space and of the way in which a work of art will relate to it, and where multiple artists are involved, the way in which different works will relate to one another. The airport entrance and pool projects are all over the place in this regard.
At the pool there is an incredible clash of aesthetics in the work in the outdoor area. In particular, the muted colours and dull base of the tiles around the splash pool, again drawing on designs by children, look wrong and old-fashioned in contrast to the clean, bright colours in use in the mural and pathway.
And the effect at the airport is busy and trivialising, especially when you consider what an impact Aboriginal art from this region has had around the world.

After six months at a truck stop – oasis Alice! By ESTELLE ROBERTS (MOZZIE BITES is on holidays)

Having spent six months at a truck stop in the Top End my taste buds were juicing up at the culinary delights I was sure Alice Springs would have on offer. Supermarkets, cafes, restaurants, fast food, Indian and Thai – I couldn't wait to transcend the flavor of beef, bacon and cheese pies.
I spent my first week in Alice participating in an earth bag dome building work shop and our hosts had organised an excursion to see some interesting builds – mud brick, bottle walls and paper creations were all happening but what caught my attention as we went from home to home were the amazing gardens. There were orchards and chook pens, succulent veggies and herbs, so crispy, leafy and fresh! A wonderland away from the deep fried and frozen foods at the truck stop.
To be completely honest the food at the truck stop wasn't at all bad – I got a taste for the pies, but there were plenty of trucked in vegetables too. What was incredible though was unpacking the weekly delivery and noting carrots from Queensland, tomatoes from SA, rocket from NSW, potatoes from America! All wilting slightly from their harrowing trip over thousands of kilometers on the back of a road train.    
The vegie garden in Alice that blew me away was an insane oasis. In the middle of a hot 'n' dry day I could hear water tinkling through an aquapondic system (pictured above). It uses only 10% of the water a regular garden might, with fish housed in the garden beds or old bath tubs on one level, and on the other, fed by the fish poo, a mass of blooming, sprouting goodness.
The initial excitement I felt for the smells and tastes in Alice waned as steadily as my bank balance. $14 a kilo for mushrooms, 9 bucks for capsicums, $3 for a little unripe avocado from the ‘fresh food people’, quickly soured my first sweet impressions. The task of buying fresh fruit 'n' veg became a wild goose chase for expiring cheap items at the independent grocers.  I worry about food security in densely populated urban areas, but in remote areas the worry is just as tenacious. And I hate buying things from supermarkets anyway –  they confuse me, I must look ridiculous stumbling about under the sensory overload.
I took a walk with a friend the other day who told me about the curious sensation she had felt as the only one up in the early hours of a bright morning. Thinking about all the other comatose residents so crazily different in their waking lives who were at once the same in their human need to sleep ... and to eat.
I like that there are so many food stories in Alice. One of the first things I did was look for a community garden and am excited to find that one is on the grow. There is a woman who brings rocket from her garden to the café I work at – I can tell that we're going to be friends. One of the cooks at the cafe in down time home delivers mandarins, coriander and horse poo! A woman conducts a lively trade in seedlings both at the markets and from her home on yard sale mornings. And perhaps the cherry on top, my boss gives me all the Portobello mushroom stems that would other wise go to the chooks!
I’m not exactly sure what it was that brought me to Alice Springs but what’s going on between the ground and the people here is one of the things tempting me to put down a few roots.

LETTERS: Love, sadness for The Red Centre and Aussie arts and crafts

Dear Sirs (a very British greeting but that's what I am) – I have just read your article about Renate Schenk, along with reports in other papers of alcohol related crime, with sadness.
My husband and I first visited Alice Springs in 1994 when we drove from Uluru to Ross River and finished with a few days in Alice.
We fell in love with The Red Centre and the Outback. The whole experience was everything we hoped for and although, even then, we were advised to avoid the Todd River area in the evenings, we enjoyed our few days exploring the main tourist areas.
In Alice we bought three wall hangings of the type shown in your picture – they were all proudly "Made in Australia" and we have them still.
Between 1986 and 2006 we have visited Australia six times and each time we were determined to explore a different corner of your fabulous country. Grant you, the impetus for our visits was having family out there but after the first holiday in 1986 we needed no ulterior motive to keep returning – just the funds!
Each trip gave us some magical moments and wonderful memories. There are too many to recount.
We returned to the Red Centre in 2001, hiring a small campervan out of Alice and spending a week exploring Uluru (again), Kings Canyon and the McDonnell Ranges, including the Mereenie Loop Road.
Our only slight disappointments came with the inevitable "progress" and the increase in tourists.
The base walk around Uluru became discreetly cordoned; it made no difference, those who wanted to take the 1000th photo simply stepped over the rope and ignored the signs to respect the sacred areas.
Port Campbell National Park and the 12 Apostles went from a wild and wonderful natural experience in 1986 to fully commercial, Visitor's Centre with coach parks and boardwalks by the time we returned in 2003.
By 2006 we noticed a marked increase in accommodation and car hire costs (and the UK pound wasn't as weak then as it is now!); everything seemed much more commercial, whether it was Sydney, Noosa, Gold Coast and so on.
Our biggest disappointment was the amount of cheap souvenirs. Trying to buy anything of decent quality made in Australia became a challenge almost as tough as Outback driving!
My favourite store in Sydney has gone to the wall – Weiss Art. We did find a small family business with a stall at The Rocks Market in Sydney where I spent a small fortune.
And in Queensland we bought two watercolour prints by a local artist. They now are proudly hung in our lounge. But I guess that we are of the few who would rather buy one genuine Australia-made article than ten made in China.
It must be even more difficult now that the infamous Global Downturn has affected most of us.
We are now retired and know that with the current exchange rates between our two countries my husband and I cannot afford to do the kind of independent trips we used to enjoy and the organised tours all tread a well worn route, moving on after just a day or two in each place.
They miss so much.
We hope to get back to Australia one day and when we do we'll do our best to support local arts and crafts – if there are any.
Good luck and best wishes
Isobel and Dave Smith

Lifting of live export ban welcomed

Sir –  The Federal Government's decision to lift the suspension on live cattle exports to Indonesia is a relief to the industry and pastoralists who have faced almost a month of uncertainty about the future of their industry and the trade to Indonesia.
Now our efforts and focus must shift to immediately hammering out the logistics around the practicality of how the resumption will take place on the ground.
Primary Industry Minister Kon Vatskalis will be talking with officials and industry about:
• assisting the transition back to exports;
• supporting Territory families affected to understand how the resumption will work;
• identifying after-effects including managing oversupply of cattle;
• exploring new potential markets in Asia.
We estimate there will be an extra 100,000 head of cattle left on country that would otherwise have been exported to Indonesia. As the cattle trade resumes it is important that the necessary assistance is provided to Territory pastoralists to help manage their excess cattle.
The NT Government will also provide funding to host and train Indonesians involved in the industry so that animal welfare standards are adhered to.
Paul Henderson, Chief Minister
Kon Vatskalis, Primary Industry Minister
Sir – I cautiously welcome the Federal Government’s decision to lift the blanket ban on live beef exports to Indonesia.
While details are sketchy, I welcome Agriculture Minister Joe Ludwig’s announcement that live cattle exports will resume with Indonesia and hope the decision breathes life back into an industry that has been on its knees.
The decision to slap a six-month blanket ban on live exports to Indonesia showed the Federal Government was woefully out of touch with northern Australia. Its knee-jerk reaction has damaged northern Australia’s economy as well as our relationship with Indonesia.
Senator Ludwig’s back-flip was necessary and overdue. I look forward to seeing the details, although it appears the Commonwealth has put the industry back on the same footing it was immediately after the Four Corners program went to air.
In the weeks since the blanket ban was announced, the livelihoods of thousands of Territorians have been under threat as income streams dried up. I hope the Commonwealth honours its commitment to compensate pastoralists and workers affected by the ban.
The blanket ban has highlighted the importance of the Northern Territory re-establishing a permanent presence in Indonesia to capitalise on our strategic relationship to mutual benefit.
Terry Mills
Opposition Leader

Work needed in Indonesian industry

Sir – The NT Cattlemen’s Association applauds Minister Ludwig’s decision to lift the live cattle trade suspension but cautions that the cash flow crisis facing northern producers may take more than a year to overcome.
While the news is a great relief, the reality is that there is a great deal of work that needs to be done in Indonesia before the trade returns to some kind of normality.
I have just returned from Indonesia as part of a joint NT Government and industry delegation. There are about 25 abattoirs that are being upgraded to meet the new standards required for us to export cattle, which is about a third of the facilities that normally take cattle. We call on both the federal and state governments to assist MLA in upgrading the rest of the facilities and train the Indonesian abattoir workers.
We also need to be mindful that the cattle that are shipped into Indonesia will spend 90 days or more in a feedlot before they go to the abattoir, so during that period we must ramp up our investment and human effort into the upgrades and training.
Cattle numbers leaving northern ports for Indonesia will be restricted for some time, which translates to continuing financial stress for producers waiting for cattle sales. There is no financial quick fix. Our best hope is for a strong and determined focus by industry and Government on getting the work done in Indonesia.
Rohan Sullivan
NTCA president

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