In the News

Hopes of big money in controversial seabed mine

Waikato Times | 21/03/2012

Seabed mining pressure is mounting on Waikato’s west coast amid fears that it could damage the unique coastline and its endangered wildlife.

Trans-Tasman Resources has lodged two new exploration permits with NZ Petroleum and Minerals covering 333,090 hectares of ocean floor in a band that runs along the coast from the Awakino River mouth to Port Waikato and extends 12 nautical miles out to sea. It’s also exploring the South Taranaki Bight.

Shareholders in the company come from across the world and New Zealand, including US-based Denham Capital and RockCheck Trading, the investment arm of a Chinese steel company.

The applications lodged on March 12 come after extensive prospecting revealed “positive signs”, spokesman Andy Sommerville said.

Exploration permits would allow the company to assess the ironsand resource and carry out all work to the point of exploitation and mining. But there is a lot to be done and still much uncertainty, Mr Sommerville said. If granted, the permits will be for five years. That should be enough time to find out if there’s an economic case for extraction.

“To get to mining we’d have to do a whole lot of environmental and field work,” Mr Sommerville said. “If it looked like we could do the mining without significant damage to the environment then we’d look at proceeding to apply for resource consent.”

Prospecting down the coast in the South Taranaki Bight has proven fruitful. “Our prospecting has enabled us to measure a small economically recoverable amount of about 500 million tonnes. If we were mining it, 10 million tonnes would be 50 years of mining in South Taranaki. There’s probably an awful lot of ore that is economically recoverable as well. “So there’s a lot of ore out there, that’s our view anyway.”

Mr Sommerville said the total permit area, including South Taranaki, contains between two and 10 billion tonnes of iron ore. That means big money via wages, salaries, service industries, royalties and taxes. But many west coasters remain staunchly opposed to the plan.

Kiwis Against Seabed Mining met in Raglan last night to discuss the exploration permits and ways to get people on board. Environmentalist and professional surfer Dave Rastovich attended a recent protest in Raglan that coincided with a meeting between Mr Sommerville and local iwi at Poihakena Marae. Mr Rastovich fears for both the area’s world-class waves and the critically endangered maui’s dolphin.

“Any person who lives near water of any kind knows that every action ripples out and affects the space around it 360 degrees. Mining anywhere near this coastline is assuredly going to have an impact on the wave scape and wellbeing of all those who dwell within and around those waves,” he said.

Mr Sommerville said it is not yet known how mining would affect the coast but a National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research study in Taranaki, due for completion this year, should give an idea.

KASM spokesman Phil McCabe said his group was determined to pressure the Government and TTR to back down. “We are opposed to overseas mining companies pillaging our natural resources and threatening our endangered species,” he said.

If mining did proceed, iron-rich deposits would probably be dredged off the sea floor and processed magnetically on a “capesize” ship moored offshore before being stored and exported.

matt.bowen@waikatotimes.co.nz

– © Fairfax NZ News