Thursday 28th May 2020

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Posts tagged ‘pennsylvania’

Troubled and uncharted

April 10th, 2020

Navigating the new normal to an uncertain destination

by Greg Klein | April 10, 2020

The new normal transitions into an uncertain future


What’s Chinese for “cui bono”?

Through grimly ironic coincidence, the country that unwittingly inflicted this on the world stands to benefit. “The Chinese Communist Party is seizing what its senior officials are calling the ‘opportunity’ of the pandemic to realize the party’s long-game objective of fully eclipsing North America and Europe in the global order,” writes Terry Glavin.

“While the Chinese government’s internal statistics are routinely questioned by outside analysts, China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology credibly reports that roughly 75% of small and medium-sized businesses across the country have already resumed production.”

On April 7 Bloomberg reported its own estimates “that most of China was 90% to 95% back to work at the end of last week, noting pick-ups in the steel market, construction activity and crude processing. Those oil refineries, as well as coal-fired power plants, are nearing last year’s operating rates, while metals stockpiles have shrunk from record or near-record levels. It’s a three-month cycle of collapse and recovery marked by perhaps the most heartening milestone for those nations still fending off the worst of the virus: China has now reported zero new COVID-19 deaths for the first time since January.”

But not so heartening, former U.K. foreign secretary William Hague noted in the Telegraph that “in Europe, North America and lower-income countries too, it seems likely that the virus will kill far more people, wreak much worse economic damage and bring more unwelcome changes to life than in China itself.”

The new normal transitions into an uncertain future

Glavin quotes from an analysis by Horizon Advisory, a consultancy that investigates Chinese policy: “Beijing intends to use the global dislocation and downturn to attract foreign investment, to seize strategic market share and resources—especially those that force dependence—and to proliferate global information systems.”

Hague warned that “China will gain from the new age of the surveillance state that will be summoned into existence around much of the world in the coming months…. Guess who will be well-placed to supply the systems, software and data, and to do so quickly and on a large scale?”

Glavin also stressed China’s designs on global information technology architecture, “mostly through Huawei Technologies, China’s ‘national champion’ telecom giant.”

He remains stark in his conclusion: “We may be stumbling headlong into an uncharted realm of social breakdown and mass graves. We could be destined for something else, somewhere dark and foreboding, where Xi Jinping calls all the shots. Or we might be traversing an excruciating social and economic terra incognita towards some eventual semblance of normalcy.”

Keep the news stream flowing

Seemingly steadfast, though, are miners and explorers. Many of their announcements concern responses to the crisis, especially whether companies are allowed to continue working, or whether they find it practical to do so.

The new normal transitions into an uncertain future

Photo: Talon Metals

But with many seasonal exploration programs completed before the industry entered pandemic mode, assays are starting to pour in. Some random and radically abbreviated examples from April 8 alone include 2.31 g/t gold over 101 metres from QMX Gold’s (TSXV:QMX) Bonnefond deposit in Val d’Or; 7.14 metres of mixed massive sulphides from Talon Metals’ (TSX:TLO) Tamarack nickel-copper-cobalt project in Minnesota; 25,466 ppm zirconium, 89.1 ppm dysprosium, 1281 ppm neodymium and 348 ppm praseodymium over 8.83 metres in a channel sample from Search Minerals’ (TSXV:SMY) Silver Fox zone in Labrador; 0.69% Nb2O5 over 185 metres at NioBay Metals’ (TSXV:NBY) James Bay niobium project in Ontario; 11.6 g/t gold and 2,960 g/t silver in surface chip samples taken by Cornerstone Capital Resources’ (TSXV:CGP) ASX-listed JV partner Sunstone Metals at their Bramaderos gold-copper project in Ecuador.

Other project updates included promises of assays to come from recent programs or new developments from analytical work. Determined, maybe even irrepressible, junior exploration soldiers on.

A humanitarian call for mineral exploration supplies and skills

As of April 9 the Association for Mineral Exploration received 29 responses to its call for assistance in providing testing, triage, housing and isolation areas for vulnerable people. “As mineral explorers, we have access to the supplies needed and are in a unique position to help,” AME pointed out. If you can, please consider the following donations:

  • Insulated structures (both hard and soft wall)

  • Camp gear such as furniture, lighting and kitchen appliances

  • Medical equipment

  • Camp support personnel such as caterers, housekeepers, janitors, etc.

  • Available medical staff including such qualifications as OFA3s, paramedics, RNs, etc.

  • Other supplies or skills

To make a contribution, fill out this form and AME will be in touch. 

For further information contact Savannah Nadeau.

AME’s program comprises part of a spontaneous international effort in which miners and explorers across Canada and around the world contribute supplies, facilities, skills and expertise to the cause.

We will get through this—won’t we?

From one perspective, nuclear energy poses dangers unimagined by its more conventional critics. Although statistically one of our safest sources of electricity, its complexity requires a sophisticated and orderly society to guarantee safety.

Would that be possible if the West succumbed to a future dominated by rampant terrorism, rioting and crime—and in Canada, incessant blockades as well as unrestrained flakery? These are nightmarish scenarios, of course, but the pandemic makes them seem almost quaint.

An outbreak during a nuclear refuelling program at Pennsylvania’s Limerick facility just hints at the vulnerability of key infrastructure if illness strikes enough people, or even just a few specialists with rare expertise. Populations would suffer not only compounding problems from the loss of essential services but also dangers ranging from an ailing reactor to a crumbling hydro dam.

Preparations to lock down essential staff show foresight, but might also presage a highly regimented society. Such an outcome might result anyway, as has often been the historic case following a period of chaos.

Weakening links in the supply chains

Anyone who’s seen the derelict state of greater Vancouver’s once bountiful agricultural districts might question the wisdom of importing so much food from so far away. Times like these afflict complicated trade, communications and transportation networks and, as the case of milk distribution shows, shorter supply lines too.

Unable to get their product to market, some Canadian dairy farmers have been dumping large amounts of raw milk. In British Columbia, the practice started on April 3, “a measure of last resort, and only considered in emergency situations,” according to the B.C. Dairy Association.

Among problems listed by Postmedia are “transportation shortages caused by an overwhelmed trucking industry, processing and packaging challenges, a sharp decline in bulk customers due to the mass closures of restaurants and bakeries, and inconsistent distribution to stores.”

Another hint of the possibilities to come was the suspension of Maple Leaf Foods’ (TSX:MFI) Brampton poultry plant after three workers became infected.

“This is a very fluid situation and our teams are working very closely within our network, as well as with our supply chain and logistics partners so that we can continue to deliver safe food at this critical time,” the company stated.

Meanwhile selling groceries can prove deadly, as shown by COVID-19 fatalities among U.S. retail workers. The virus recently struck down at least four American supermarket employees, the Washington Post reported on April 6. “Industry experts say the rise of worker infections and deaths will likely have a ripple effect on grocers’ ability to retain and add new workers at a time when they’re looking to rapidly hire thousands of temporary employees,” the paper stated.

In southwestern British Columbia, some newly hired staff appear to come from a vulnerable age group. Some of the security guards policing the socially distant queues outside retail outlets wouldn’t look out of place in a long-term care home.

Myriad other supply chain challenges include COVID-19-specific medical equipment.

The new normal transitions into an uncertain future

Can your immune system withstand The Stand?

Virus novel precaution: Take this immunity self-test

Tragically these are also times of rampant misinformation, whether it’s conspiracy theories of how the virus originated or phoney promises of miraculous cures. One especially preposterous claim has been perpetrated by the National Post: that Stephen King’s The Stand “is either the perfect distraction from COVID-19 or too eerily accurate to consider.”

Yes it’s a story, of sorts, about a virus killing off most of our species. But before any attempt to read it, potential victims should answer these questions:

  • I like fictional characters who resemble TV stereotypes

  • I don’t care how long an author takes to tell a story, as long as it’s long

  • My favourite pastimes include watching water boil, paint dry and grass grow

  • I like boring books because they make our suddenly shortened lives seem to pass so slowly

If you answered every question with a resounding yes, you have sufficient boredom immunity to survive this virus novel.

Calendar of the plague year

These days commemorate the plague that passed over and the Resurrection. We can hope…

Outbreak at U.S. nuclear plant shows pandemic threat to infrastructure

April 7th, 2020

by Greg Klein | April 7, 2020

What might be considered an unanticipated fail-safe failure highlights the vulnerability of essential services as well as the health of a local community. After approximately 1,400 temporary workers moved into the Montgomery county region to refuel Pennsylvania’s Limerick nuclear facility, some staff began showing COVID-19 symptoms.

Outbreak at U.S. nuclear plant shows pandemic threat to infrastructure

The Limerick nuclear plant nears the halfway
point of its refuelling program. (Photo: Exelon Corp)

As of April 7, operator Exelon Corp was reporting three confirmed cases of the virus at Limerick, with another 44 staffers in quarantine. MediaNews Group reported five confirmed cases.

Prior to the workers arriving, local authorities asked the company to reschedule the procedure. “We learned of plans to bring approximately 1,800 workers into our region from around the United States,” media outlets quoted Valerie Arkoosh of the Montgomery County Board of Commissioners. “We asked Exelon to postpone this refuel until a time when the disease burden from COVID-19 was lower.”

Refuelling takes place on intervals of 18 to 24 months during non-peak periods. Exelon states that the current schedule will ensure electricity supply during the high-demand summer season.

On March 31 Arkoosh expressed concern about newly arrived staff staying at local accommodations, private homes and campsites in the region, MediaNews Group stated.

In an April 5 Mercury story, anonymous workers expressed fear about crowded conditions at the job site.

Outbreak at U.S. nuclear plant shows pandemic threat to infrastructure

Workers undergo screening for symptoms and
body temperature on arrival. (Photo: Exelon Corp)

“From the first day I got there, there were no less than 100 people in the training room being processed,” the paper quoted one source. “I have pictures from that day of people literally sitting on top of each other, no one enforcing social distancing. There were computer labs for people to take the tests they need to get into the plant, people sitting at every computer elbow to elbow.”

The worker added that the project continues to disregard social distancing in some areas “because you need multiple pairs of hands to accomplish the jobs.”

In a video statement, Limerick communications manager Dave Marcheskie conceded that “social distancing is an ever-present challenge and we continually look for ways to improve every task, every shift, every day.” He said the company bars sick or symptomatic people from the plant and requires Exelon staff to undergo a two-week quarantine on finishing their stint at Limerick. But, he said, the company has no authority to force contract workers into quarantine.

The workers are considered essential under federal and state regulations, he added.

As of April 7 COVID-19 fatalities for Montgomery county reached 32 deaths, while confirmed cases rose to 1,294, according to the Mercury. The U.S. Census estimates the county’s 2019 population at 830,915.

Thirty-two nuclear plants in 21 U.S. states have refuelling procedures planned for this spring, the World Nuclear News reports.

Some infrastructure agencies, like Ontario’s Independent Electricity System Operator, have been preparing emergency lockdown accommodations for permanent essential workers.

John Grisham’s Gray Mountain castigates the Appalachian coal industry

December 16th, 2014

…Read more

Pity poor Appalachia

November 21st, 2014

John Grisham’s Gray Mountain depicts a country corrupted by Big Coal

by Greg Klein

Just as a former big boss of Big Coal faces criminal prosecution following the death of 29 Appalachian miners, a best-selling novel castigates the industry for its devastation of that region. On November 20 former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship pleaded not guilty to four charges resulting from the 2010 Upper Big Branch mine disaster in West Virginia. John Grisham’s 27th novel, Gray Mountain, portrays an industry that ruthlessly destroyed the environment as well as the health of workers, their families and anyone else living there, with the help of politicians, judges, regulators and even goon squads, both civilian and FBI.

The charges against Blankenship could almost come from Grisham’s book. Three other former Massey executives have already been convicted of criminal offences involving Upper Big Branch. Blankenship’s victory in a previous legal battle has been said to have provoked Grisham into writing The Appeal, an indictment of the American electoral and judicial systems.

John Grisham’s Gray Mountain depicts a country corrupted by Big Coal

Massey Energy’s Upper Big Branch workers “were intimidated,” Forbes quoted Mike Caputo, a West Virginia legislator and VP of the United Mine Workers of America. “Records were falsified. Advanced warnings of inspections were given. Two sets of books were kept. There was a lack of enforcement. The list goes on, and on, and on. The more I read about the Upper Big Branch tragedy, this wasn’t just bad business practice. This was akin to organized crime.”

But while it was a methane gas explosion that killed the 29 underground miners, Grisham’s latest book, set in 2008 and 2009, focuses on mountain-top removal. Described as “strip mining on steroids,” the practice destroyed about 600 of the region’s mountains over 30 years, according to Grisham.

The company “literally attacks the mountain with all manner of heavy equipment,” the story’s activist lawyer Donovan Gray tells newcomer Samantha Kofer. “First it clearcuts the trees, total deforestation with no effort at saving the hardwoods. They are bulldozed away as the earth is scalped. Same for the topsoil, which is not very thick. Next comes the layer of rock, which is blasted out of the ground. The trees, topsoil and rock are often shoved into the valleys between the mountains, creating what’s known as valley fills. These wipe out vegetation, wildlife and natural streams…. If you’re downstream, you’re just screwed. As you’ll learn around here, we’re all downstream.”

Samantha, whose promising career in corporate law ended abruptly with the Lehman Brothers-induced recession, takes an unpaid internship at a Virginia legal aid clinic/social services agency. There she encounters a world of Big Coal-induced woe.

Reckless practices send boulders flying toward family homes. Contaminated drinking water turns communities into “cancer clusters.” Overloaded, speeding coal trucks in West Virginia alone kill one person a week. Excessive exposure to coal dust gives miners a wasting disease called black lung. Coal companies deprive dying workers of compensation.

Fighting back are Donovan and his lawyer aunt, Mattie Wyatt, who both had parents screwed over by coal companies.

Big Coal’s regime gets support from cosy regulators and watchdogs, elected judges who depend on campaign contributions, politicians who legislate favours for the industry, doctors who lie under oath and lawyers who cover up medical evidence. The FBI uses legal intimidation. Illegal intimidation comes from the companies’ armed thugs who, it’s suggested, will murder their opponents.

Lowest of the low is Krull Mining, “a company with the worst safety record in the history of U.S. coal production and an owner who was reputed to be one of the deadliest Russian gangsters in Putin’s frat pack.”

Denied benefits for over a decade, one dying miner says, “They cheated, they won, and they’ll do it again because they write the rules…. They got the money, the power, the doctors, and I guess the judges. Some system.”

Of course despair doesn’t sell books. So Grisham, a one-time Mississippi lawyer, has Donovan, Mattie and eventually Samantha launching heroic counterattacks.

Coal’s controversy divides the people of the region, Grisham writes. A bumper sticker battle features opposing slogans like “Save the Mountains” and “Like Electricity? Love Coal.”

Coal was the fabric of life in these parts, but the strip mining had divided the people.

“Coal was the fabric of life in these parts, but the strip mining had divided the people,” Samantha reflects. “According to her Internet research, its opponents argued that it destroyed jobs, and they had the numbers to support them. Eighty thousand miners now, almost all non-union and half working in surface mines. Decades earlier, long before they began blasting tops off mountains, there were almost a million miners.”

Something to keep in mind, though: If Grisham’s portrayal is fair, and if these people have their facts right, the Appalachian and British Columbian coal industries are poles apart.

What both areas now share is devastation by coal prices, less than half what they were three years ago. Mines are shutting down, throwing people out of work. In a strategy that parallels Down Under iron production, Australia has increased its low-cost coal output, further damaging the North American industry.

Yet the Age of Coal persists, despite petroleum and uranium. According to the World Coal Association, the fuel “provides 30.1% of global primary energy needs and generates over 40% of the world’s electricity. It is also used in the production of over 70% of the world’s steel.” Twenty-year forecasts from the Coal Association of Canada call for a 50% increase in metallurgical coal demand, with demand for thermal coal more than doubling.

One wonders if Blankenship will watch that happen from a prison cell.

B.C.’s longwall controversy

May 2nd, 2014

HD Mining says it will hire Canadians after all—if they want the jobs

by Greg Klein

Has there been a change of plans? Or was it a misunderstanding all along?

A veteran politician now working for HD Mining International says the company intends to hire and train Canadian longwall miners for what will be, should its proposed coal mine go into production, an English-speaking operation. He wonders, however, how many Canadians would be interested.

That qualification notwithstanding, his statements seem to differ substantially from the company’s original position, which ignited a controversy beginning in October 2012.

Saying too few Canadians had longwall mining experience, HD Mining received federal government approval to import 201 Chinese miners. The plan, as reported by media and the company itself, was to staff underground operations at its proposed Murray River mine in northeastern British Columbia with Mandarin-speaking Chinese workers for 10 years. The company, owned by Mandarin-speaking Chinese, insisted that only Mandarin-speaking Chinese knew its longwall system.

HD Mining says it will hire Canadians after all—if they want the jobs

A longwall shearer with cutting drums and
movable hydraulic roof supports called shields.

But Blair Lekstrom, an adviser to HD Mining chairperson Penggui Yan, says the company’s intentions have been misunderstood.

The project’s underground staff now consists of 51 Chinese recruited under Canada’s temporary foreign worker (TFW) program. They’re currently building a decline to conduct a bulk sample that will take about 18 months to complete, Lekstrom tells Should the company go into commercial production, “we’ve made a commitment to train—and we’re in discussions with Northern Lights College—Canadians who want to do this work.” He says the current crew was granted TFW status only to conduct the “highly specialized” bulk sample.

“Chairman Yan has said we will train as many Canadians who want to work in our mine, but first we have to prove there is a mine.”

In November 2012, after about six weeks of critical publicity, the company signed a memorandum of understanding with Northern Lights College in the town of Tumbler Ridge to develop a longwall training program. Lekstrom says the curriculum would be developed following a decision to operate a mine.

Several American operations use longwall mining. But the companies themselves provide specialized training, according to Marlon Whoolery, training director at the Mining Technology and Training Center, which has campuses in Pennsylvania and West Virginia. “I don’t know of any training facility that trains specifically to work on the longwall because there’s various types of longwall machines, various shields, panels, shears, different stage loaders, different tailgates. Most training centres prepare a miner to go to work at the mine then the coal company trains them to the longwall system they have.”

He says U.S. federal law requires a minimum of 40 hours’ training before a novice can work underground, while some states require longer periods. The length of time to become a certified miner also varies from one state to another. West Virginia requires six months of experience while Pennsylvania requires a year.

During that time, specialized training “could be a matter of weeks or months to run a particular portion of the longwall,” Whoolery adds. “To be the shear operator in Pennsylvania you have to have machine operator’s papers in the state and it takes a year underground before you can apply for those.”

Whoolery doesn’t know of any American parallels to the HD Mining controversy. He says Massey Energy threatened to import Mexican workers years ago. The company, associated with the 2010 Upper Big Branch mine disaster that killed 29 people, was later bought out by Alpha Natural Resources NYE:ANR.

“I don’t believe there’s any mine in this country that brings miners in from somewhere else. I’m not saying there’s not mines, especially out west, that may have immigrants that are in this country illegally but I don’t know of any mine that solely operates with a workforce that they brought from another country.”

But Lekstrom insists that never was HD Mining’s intention. “Our goal is to hire and train Canadian workers that will work there and English will be the prevailing language.” Mandarin will “absolutely not” be the working language, he emphasizes.

I talk to a lot of people up here and a lot of my friends, and not many of them seem anxious about thinking underground mining might be in their future.—Blair Lekstrom,
HD Mining adviser

Lekstrom maintains there’s been no change in policy. “They’ve made that commitment from the beginning.” As for impressions to the contrary, “I would say it was a misconception.”

But any “misconception” was understandable. In October 2012 Jody Shimkus, HD Mining’s VP of environmental and regulatory affairs, told the company would likely need a decade to train a Canadian underground crew. “We’ve set a target of 10 years, recognizing that there’s a lot of work that needs to be done particularly with the local community, the educational institutions and the provincial government to develop a program that transfers the skill set. If we can achieve that target earlier, that would be great.”

Lekstrom, a former B.C. mines minister and mayor of Dawson Creek, suggests there’s a discriminatory aspect to the controversy. “Because [the TFWs] are Chinese they seem to be looked at different than the Australians, many who are over here working in mines.” He says an Anglo American project, also in the Peace River region, employs Australian TFWs. A inquiry to Anglo American’s Vancouver branch was referred to the company’s Brisbane office too late for a response by press time.

Murray River benefits Canadians, Lekstrom says. “We have spent to date about $90 million. The vast majority of that is on Canadian content. Most of the work that has been done to date has been done by Canadian workers—ground service prep whether it be fuel services, road services, hauling and trucking, drilling and blasting, surveying, the list is long.”

His remarks follow months of controversy over alleged abuse of Canada’s TFW program by companies importing staff ranging from fast food workers to helicopter pilots. Then, last month, Walter Energy NYE:WLT announced 695 layoffs for two open pit mines in the same region as Murray River. A week later Teck Resources TCK.A announced another 80 layoffs for the region, as the company postponed the restart of its Quintette open pit operations.

Still, Lekstrom wonders how many Canadians want underground jobs. “I talk to a lot of people up here and a lot of my friends, and not many of them seem anxious about thinking underground mining might be in their future. We’ll see.”

Canada’s Minister of Employment and Social Development Jason Kenney has announced plans to reform the TFW program. An e-mail from his department didn’t answer questions from about how the reforms might affect HD Mining’s 201 approved applications.

May 8, 2014, update: Details about temporary foreign workers in Canadian mines remain elusive.