Tag Archives: Trans-Tasman Resources

KASM joins NZ seabed mining appeal fight

KASM will join the fight to oppose an appeal by Trans Tasman Resources to get consent for its seabed mining proposal.

NZCity News

Ocean campaigner KASM is trying to shaft an appeal by a mining company which plans to extract 50 million tonnes of black sand from the Taranaki sea bed.

Trans Tasman Resources is appealing the Environmental Protection Agency’s decision in June to reject its application to mine ironsands over the next 20 years.

Kiwis Against Seabed Mining has announced it will fight the appeal alongside the EPA in the High Court.

“We are extremely disappointed the company has lodged this appeal, and we are determined to fight this to the end,” said KASM chairman Phil McCabe.

Trans Tasman Resources spent $60 million over seven years developing a proposal to mine black sand which it said would increase GDP by $240 million annually.

But the EPA denied the application after two months of hearings, saying evidence to support it was uncertain and inadequate.

KASM celebrated the win, labelling it a victory for the 4800 iwi, fishers, surfers, divers and other locals who had made submissions against the proposal.

TTR said it was “extremely disappointed with the decision” and believed the project could be achieved in an environmentally sustainable way.

Within days the company lodged an appeal in the High Court in Wellington.

Both KASM and the Green Party have been critical of National’s decision to advocate for the proposal and grant TTR $25 million.

Mr McCabe said the proposal still appeared to have backing from the government, which has now issued permits to companies to mine black sand down the North Island’s west coast.

Many of the permits operate in the habitat of the critically endangered Maui’s Dolphin, one of the world’s most endangered dolphins.

“The government has backed the wrong horse here,” he said.

“It has implemented new legislation to support activities like seabed mining, pledged an up to $25 million taxpayer subsidy to the foreign-owned company, yet now their own EPA has decided that there were too many uncertainties to grant consent.”

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Mining company appeals NZ EPA decision

Radio New Zealand

Trans Tasman Resources wants to mine iron sands off the coast of Taranaki. Photo: PHOTO NZ

Trans Tasman Resources wants to mine iron sands off the coast of Taranaki. Photo: PHOTO NZ

A mining company has filed an appeal in the Wellington High Court after being refused consent to mine ironsands off the coast of Taranaki.

Trans-Tasman Resources proposed to mine for iron ore in an area of seabed 22 kms off the coast of Patea, but was turned down by the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) on 18 June.

The application to the EPA was to mine 50 million tonnes of seabed material from the South Taranaki Bight.

The authority’s decision-making committee says the rejection was based on uncertainty about the scope and significance of the potential environmental effects, and existing fishing and iwi interests.

A Trans-Tasman Resources (TTR) spokesperson says the appeal against the authority’s decision to decline its marine consents for mining was filed on Tuesday – the deadline for an appeal.

The company’s initial proposal drew 4800 submissions, with 99 percent opposed.

Disappointed but not surprised

Opponents of the TTR bid are disappointed, but not surprised that the company has lodged an appeal against the decision.

Chair of Kiwis Against Seabed Mining (KASM) Phil McCabe says the appeal is upsetting and ignores the will of the majority of New Zealanders.

“They were given a decision, it was a comprehensive decision (by) the people of New Zealand – 99 percent of submissions opposed their application.

“They’re taking it a step further, they have a right to do that but we’ll see how it plays out,” Mr McCabe says.

A Trans-Tasman Resources spokesperson says as the appeal is now before the courts, no further comments will be made.

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Seabed mining fight continues in NZ

Elton Smallman | Waikato Times


Celebratory drinks turned sour for ocean campaigners after Trans-Tasman Resources (TTR) said it would appeal a decision against a massive iron-sands mining operations off the Taranaki Coast.

Kiwis Against Seabed Mining (KASM) threw a party two weeks ago for supporters of the successful campaign to see off the mining giant.

However, KASM chairman Phil McCabe woke yesterday to news worthy of a painful hangover.

“We were 60 or 70 per cent expecting it,” McCabe said.

“They are a hungry bunch and they’ll do anything they can to get what they want.”

KASM’s two-year battle with the New Zealand-based mining company had taken a toll on members, but McCabe said they would pick themselves up and start again.

“We all love the ocean and we don’t want to see the ocean degraded and that’s what gives us our energy. We’ll follow it through to the end.”

TTR applied for marine consent for an annual harvest of 50 million tonnes of iron-rich sediment over 20 years, 36 kilometres off the Patea Coast.

A floating processing plant would separate 5 million tonnes of iron ore concentrate for export and the remaining spoil, about 45 million tonnes, would be dumped back to the ocean bottom.

An Environment Protection Authority-appointed committee declined TTR’s application, citing inadequacies and uncertainty in TTR’s bid.

McCabe said a core group had put their lives on hold to fight TTR’s application and hundreds more helped. It had cost them money and time.

“I’ve put my business on the backburner for two years and put 40 or 50 per cent of my work life to address TTR’s proposal,” McCabe said.

“We haven’t invited this and yet it has cost us considerably.”

The decision-making committee’s finding had been comprehensive and the TTR application had not been up to speed, he said.

“The whole proposal is offensive and it’s taken a lot of time from people’s lives and caused a lot of undue stress and the company is keen on keeping that going.”

TTR’s board said it would appeal the EPA decision on its application to mine iron sands in the South Taranaki Bight.

The decision-making committee’s ruling could be appealed only on points of law, but TTR chief executive Tim Crossley did not disclose the reason behind TTR’s stance.

“We have now studied the decision in detail with the assistance of our advisers and experts, and are confident that there are strong grounds for a successful appeal,” he said.

TTR had already spent more than $60 million on exploration.

TTR’s objective was for substantial economic development of the region and to protect the environment, Crossley said.

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Miners seek to take the plunge

James Wilson | Financial Times (UK)

Construction of the largest machine - the 310-tonne Bulk Cutter - was completed in the UK

Construction of the largest machine – the 310-tonne Bulk Cutter

Nautilus Minerals hopes a trio of machines being assembled in the northeast of England will foment a mining revolution on the other side of the world.

The front of one of the 6m-high machines in subsea equipment maker SMD’s works near Newcastle upon Tyne has a huge roller-like device, covered in points like a medieval cudgel. This 310-tonne, ivory-white monster is Nautilus’s “bulk cutter” and the mining company hopes to deploy it, and other SMD machines, in an extreme environment: 1,600m below the Pacific Ocean, where it will tear through the seabed to mine gold and copper ore before pumping it to the surface.

Seabed mining has long been talked about as having the potential to change the global supply of many minerals. Nautilus’s machinery orders, and its search for a ship that will be the floating processing station for the ore that it mines, are a sign of its confidence that its project can meet the intended 2017 start date.

Canadian-listed Nautilus is “all the closer to making seafloor mining a reality”, said Mike Johnston, chief executive, when the bulk cutter was completed this year. It comes after Nautilus resolved a dispute with the government of Papua New Guinea, which owns 15 per cent of the project and can acquire a further 15 per cent.

But for all the excitement around seabed mining, this subsector of the resources industry continues to advance in fits and starts. Several decades of growing knowledge of the way mineral deposits have accumulated on ocean floors have still not yielded sustained efforts at exploitation by the world’s most experienced mining companies, while adventurous smaller operators have struggled to overcome financial and environmental concerns.

Trans-Tasman Resources (TTR), a New Zealand company, had its application to mine iron ore sands off the country’s coast rejected on environmental grounds last week. And while Namibia is one of the few nations familiar with seabed mining – diamonds have been mined offshore for 50 years – the same country last year put a moratorium in place over proposed seabed phosphate mining.

In the mineral-rich subsea areas far from land, where the International Seabed Authority – a UN organisation – is responsible for the award of mining exploration licences, progress in seabed mining has been disappointing, says Nii Allotey Odunton, secretary-general.

Thirteen years after the ISA began issuing licences – and with the first ones awarded expiring in 2016 – Mr Odunton wants more progress.

Significant resources lie on the seabed. Closer to land, meanwhile, some alluvial sands yield sufficient mineral deposits – as is the case with Namibian diamonds.

De Beers, the diamond company owned by Anglo American, mines these waters using “crawlers” on the seabed. Anglo is also a shareholder in Nautilus. Rising prices for many metals, and the falling quality of mineral deposits on land, make seabed deposits relatively attractive. In some cases seabed minerals are practically renewable, since they are extruded from the earth’s interior directly into the ocean through hydrothermal vents.

In the case of Nautilus’s project, the miner says its resources have a copper grade of 7 per cent. In contrast, copper mines on land today often deal with grades below 1 per cent.

But environmental opposition is often strong. Critics say ecosystems would be affected by noise, light and sediment. Rejecting TTR’s application as “premature”, New Zealand’s Environmental Protection Authority said a sediment plume about 50km long and up to 20km wide could be created.

“The conditions proposed, while extensive, are not sufficient to give us the degree of confidence we needed to be able to grant consent,” the authority said. TTR had wanted to mine in water up to 45m deep about 30km off the coast using seabed crawlers similar to those deployed off Namibia.

A second New Zealand company, Chatham Rock Phosphate, wants authority approval for plans to mine phosphate in water 400m deep, 450km east of the country. “Our application cannot be compared with TTR’s. It is for a different mineral, in a very different marine environment using different extraction methods,” the company says.

Shontel Norgate, Nautilus’s chief financial officer, says seabed mining can be less intrusive than on land. “Not having to strip mountain tops or relocate communities – that becomes quite a compelling argument,” she says.

Even if environmental concerns can be overcome, much of the economics of seabed mining is guesswork because so little has been done before. That makes it almost impossible for seabed miners to talk about being able to access economically viable reserves, rather than simply mineral resources. That, in turn, makes debt financing for seabed mining hard to obtain. Nautilus’s plan is to rely on equity finance.

For such reasons, says the ISA’s Mr Odunton, it is important that deep sea mining starts to yield more tangible results so all participants can become more confident, rather than get bogged down in “years and years of marine research”.

Without more progress, drawing up a commonly accepted set of rules and accounting conventions to govern deep sea mining will be almost impossible, he says.

“We are trying to push many [of the concession holders] to undertake some pilot mining work,” he adds. “The biggest problem is nobody has ever done it before and everything becomes an assumption you are making . . . we know a heck of a lot more than we did before but I am trying to deal with the objective of mining profitably.”

Additional reporting by Chris Tighe

Fathoming out a resource-rich sea

Significant resources lie on the seabed, writes James Wilson. In deep seas, these are normally found in three environments:

Sea-floor massive sulphides Created by hydrothermal activity when very hot liquids are released on to the sea floor along mid-ocean ridges. They are most valuable for base metals such as copper as well as gold and silver.

Polymetallic nodules Lumps about the size of potatoes that contain minerals including manganese and iron. The most prospective zone is in the middle of the Pacific.

Cobalt-rich ferromanganese crusts Layers form on undersea mountains, most strategic for being rich in cobalt but also containing other minerals. Many prospective sites are in the Pacific.

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Miner appeals rejection of seabed project in NZ

Australian Associated Press | Mail Online

A mining company is appealing the Environmental Protection Agency’s decision to reject its application to mine ironsands from the seabed off the Taranaki coast.

The EPA’s decision-making committee rejected Trans-Tasman Resources’ application on June 18, which was seen as a victory for conservation efforts but a blow to the government’s desire to help mineral extraction projects boost the economy.

Trans-Tasman’s board announced on Tuesday it will appeal the decision to decline marine consents for mining ironsands in the South Taranaki Bight.

“We have now studied the decision in detail with the assistance of our advisors and experts, and are confident that there are strong grounds for a successful appeal,” said the company’s chief executive Tim Crossley.

Mr Crossley said he would not comment further on its efforts to gain access to the South Taranaki Bight now that an appeal was being lodged.

TTR had 15 working days from the EPA’s rejection to lodge an appeal, and it’s expected that a court will deal with the matter within six months.

The miner said its objective is “to develop an ironsands extraction project which achieves substantial economic development while protecting the environment”.

The company has spent some $60 million over seven years developing the mineral extraction export proposal.

TTR said it believed it could pull it off in an environmentally sustainable way while creating additional exports of around $150m a year from the sale of around five million tonnes of titano-magnetite iron ore to Asian steelmills.

TTR had planned to use a suction dredging process some 36km off the coast of Patea that it said would have returned 90 per cent of the sands to the ocean floor.

Mining the seabed would have created hundreds of jobs and grown the Taranaki regional economy by $240m a year, TTR said.

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We Won!


Phil McCabe | KASM Chairperson

We Won!

These two words have been spoken with bewildered elation by many over the last week. I still haven’t found the words that properly describe how I feel about the EPA’s decision to favour caution and deny the first application to mine New Zealand’s seabed.

Although many believed it impossible, the KASM committee and I never let go of the very real possibility of this win; from a big picture perspective, this win was a necessity. And it was that belief along with the awesome support from community that fueled this campaign.

Wow! I’m stoked, I’m proud and I’ve got to say, this is large … verging on huge!

We the people stood up to a foreign owned company and the New Zealand government who tried to quietly slip through an environmentally destructive and culturally offensive proposal – and we whipped them at their own game. Not only did they fail, they failed while playing under their own rules written to give them an unfair advantage.

For me, and lots of folk I’ve been talking to, this win has most definitely brought a sense of hope and belief. Hope inspired by all those that took action and belief that when we collectively act we affect change.

Like it or not, by definition, each and every person that took any action whatsoever that had even the slightest effect on this outcome, is an activist. You’re hooked now! Hah!

We know that we, together, have stopped the destruction of an area of ocean and important habitat for many species including Blue Whales and Maui’s Dolphin. That makes my heart sing!

As I sit here, nearly a week after the decision, what excites me even more is the potential of what might transpire from this lift in hope and belief as reverberations from this decision continue to be felt in the hearts and minds of people working on and those who care about similar issues.

This outcome was always going to set a precedent, not only for New Zealand communities and our marine environment, but globally also, for there is a growing number of communities around the planet facing such proposals in their waters.

This decision, resulting from our collective action, will inspire the protection of the world’s oceans for years to come and that is a beautiful thing!

On behalf of the KASM committee and core group, thank you, thank you for your every contribution and action large and small. For when we put them all side by side and stacked them up, we stood upon a wall that separated the greedy, destructive and dangerous from that which we love, the beautiful, wondrous and fragile. Our Oceans.

In highest gratitude.

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NZ no to seabed mining a cautionary tale for the Pacific

ABC Radio Australia

PROTEST 2 600 by 400

NZ no to seabed mining a cautionary tale for the Pacific

New Zealand’s Environmental Protection Authority has torpedoed a proposal for the first seabed mining venture off the coast of Taranaki.

Trans Tasman Resources had proposed mining for iron ore 22 kilometres off the coast.

But the EPA said no, citing concerns about the potential environmental effects and the effects of existing fishing and Kiwi interests.

The decision raises questions about whether proposed sea bed mining projects across the Pacific could go ahead without causing environmental damage.

Phil McCabe, chairman of KASM – Kiwis Against Seabed Mining, says the Taranaki project would have had a severe ecological impact.

McCABE: The marine environment is a very complex environment and this hasn’t been done anywhere in the world on the scale of what the company was talking about here. And they hadn’t done a strong enough base line study on what exists in the environment and therefore there was no way to predict what the impacts of the activity would have. So too much uncertainty.

ABBOTT: Is that a particularly fragile marine environment?

McCABE: It’s a highly active marine environment, reasonably strong currents and a lot of wave action, so you wouldn’t think in looking at it from a distance, you wouldn’t think it’s a particularly sensitive area, but even still, it’s a certain environmental destruction that occurs when you undergo this activity. It wasn’t acceptable in this case.

ABBOTT: The project for mining at Taranki was approved by the Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment, but knocked back by the Environmental Protection Authority. Is that the way things happen in New Zealand? The EPA has the final word on mining projects?

McCABE: Well yeah, there’s two sort of parallel processes that occur, one is it moves through the petroleum and minerals of the government. It goes from a prospecting permit to an exploration permit, to a mining permit and those things there’s not a public process for that side of it. The one that just got knocked by the EPA that for a marine consent to actually undergo, do the activity and that’s where the public process comes in. And we saw the 99.5 percent of the submissions nearly 5,000 submissions were in Opposition, so it’s clear that it was a socially and culturally offensive proposal.

ABBOTT: Is this the only proposal for seabed mining in New Zealand?

McCABE: No, there’s the second ever application was lodged just a few weeks ago and it’s just become publicly notified about ten days ago, I think it closes for submissions on the 10th. of July, and that’s for a massive mine off the east coast of the South Island, on the Chatham Rise. They are looking at a 10,000 square kilometre area, where they would hope to mine 1,000 to 1,500 square kilometres in that area and they are looking for phosphate for fertiliser for our farms.

ABBOTT: Now, I imagine as Chairman of KASM, you would have done quite a bit of study on the prospects for seabed mining, as you say, it doesn’t happen anywhere in the world. But the first project is going ahead, the Nautilus Mining Project off the north coast of Papua New Guinea. From what you know about seabed mining, do you believe the Nautilus Project will be safe?

McCABE: Safe for what is the question. It’s the guaranteed destruction of an area where the mine. The real question is, is how big an area and what will the impacts be around the mining area? How big an area will those impacts be felt and I haven’t looked at the Nautilus one particularly closely, but yes, that’s for Papua New Guinea to decide.

The thing that really concerns me is I’ve watched that process over the last 18 months or so, is the lack  from where we stood in New Zealand, it seemed that the people that are likely to be affected had very little knowledge about this proposal up until it had, to the point where it was consented. So I think that’s an issue that many island nations will be facing now with governments looking at this as a way to boost economy is that the people on the ground that are facing the environmental consequences, they need to be informed more fully before the governments move ahead. And it’s a bit scary that the SOPAC is setting down the framework for these companies to get consent before many people on the ground are even aware that this is a possibility.

ABBOTT: Phil, do you believe it’s safe to carry out seabed mining with environmental controls that would be accepted by a group like the New Zealand EPA?

McCABE: We haven’t seen a proposal that shows that and, as I said, it’s guaranteed destruction and it’s just what, what’s acceptable to the nation, what level of destruction is acceptable to the nation for economic return.

All of these nations have Exclusive Economic Zones and they are areas that we have the right exploit for economic gain, but we’ve also got a responsibility to protect those areas and maintain the integrity of the marine environment, so we really have to look at that and our view, KASM’s view is that this moving too fast, while we’ve got the technological ability to mine the oceans, we don’t feel that we have the scientific understanding to predict the long term effects. And we know that our oceans are in trouble on many levels, from overfishing and pollution and we think that there needs to be a slow walk towards this as a possibility, rather than the race that’s going on right now.

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The full NZ EPA Decision on experimental seabed mining

The uncertainties in the scope and significance of the potential adverse environmental effects, the lack of confidence we find in the extent to which existing interests will be appropriately taken into account, the lack of clarity about the extent of economic benefit outside of royalties and taxes and the economic value of the adverse effects, cannot be remedied by the imposition of other lawful conditions that we could require based on the evidence before us.

We are not satisfied that the life-supporting capacity of the environment would be safeguarded or that the adverse effects of the proposal could be avoided, remedied or mitigated, nor do we consider that the proposed conditions (including the adaptive management approach) are sufficiently certain or robust for this application to be approved, given the uncertainty and inadequacy of the information presented to us about the potential adverse effects.

Download the full NZ EPA Decision 17 June 2014 (4mb)


Pursuant to section 62(1)(b) – Decisions on applications for marine consents – of the Exclusive Economic Zone and Continental Shelf (Environmental Effects) Act 2012 ( the EEZ Act), the application for a marine consent by Trans-Tasman Resources Ltd is REFUSED.

The reasons for refusing consent are set out below in this decision (pursuant to section 69 – Decision of the Environmental Protection Authority – of the EEZ Act).

Executive summary

1. Trans-Tasman Resources Ltd (TTR) sought a marine consent under the EEZ Act to undertake iron ore extraction and processing operations. The application area was 65.76 square kilometres, located between 22 and 36 kilometres (12 and 19 nautical miles) offshore in the South Taranaki Bight (STB). An Impact Assessment supported the applications for marine consents as required under section 38 of the EEZ Act.

2. TTR proposed the excavation of up to 50 million tonnes per year (up to 27 million cubic metres per year) of seabed material containing iron sand, for processing on a floating processing, storage and offloading Vessel (FPSO). Around 10% of the extracted material would be processed into iron ore concentrate for export, with the residual material (approximately 45 million tonnes per year) returned to the seabed as de-ored sediment via a controlled discharge at depth below the FPSO.

3. The deposition of the de-ored sediment would create a sediment plume with a median extent of approximately 50 kilometres long and up to 20 kilometres wide, predominantly east south-east from the mining site. In addition to the direct effects at the mining site many of the effects of the proposal would result from the plume and accordingly we address them in some detail below. One of the more significant impacts would be on the primary productivity. Modelling of the optical properties and primary production indicated a reduction of total primary production in the 12,570 square kilometres of the STB could be in the order of 10%, and a reduction in energy input into the seabed ecosystem of up to 36%.

4. The application was heard and determined by a Decision-making Committee (DMC) appointed by the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA), which is the consent authority. The procedural history of the application and the hearings process is set out in some in detail in Appendix 1 to this decision.

5. Our decision is to refuse consent. The reasons for this are summarised here and fully set out in the rest of this decision.

6. We have determined that the applications do not satisfy the purpose of the EEZ Act (section 10(1)):

“The purpose of this Act is to promote the sustainable management of the natural resources of the exclusive economic zone and the continental shelf.”

‘Sustainable management’ is defined in section 10(2) as follows:

“In this Act, sustainable management means managing the use, development, and protection of natural resources in a way, or at a rate, that enables people to provide for their economic well- being while—

(a) sustaining the potential of natural resources (excluding minerals) to meet the reasonably foreseeable needs of future generations; and

(b) safeguarding the life-supporting capacity of the environment; and

(c) avoiding, remedying, or mitigating any adverse effects of activities on the environment.”

Section 10(3) states:

In order to achieve the purpose, decision-makers must— (a) take into account decision-making criteria specified in relation to particular decisions; and

(b) apply the information principles to the development of regulations and the consideration of applications for marine consent.”

9. In making our decision, we have taken into account decision-making criteria set out in sections 59 and 60 of the EEZ Act and have applied the information principles in section 61 of that Act. As required, we have addressed the effects of the proposal on the environment and on existing interests, using what we have determined is the best available information. In doing so, we have found that there is considerable uncertainty regarding the scale of those effects based on the information we had before us. In particular, these related to primary productivity and benthic effects and consequent ecosystem effects as well as the impacts on existing interests notably iwi and fishing interests. We have also taken a cautious approach to the impacts on marine mammals given the legislative direction to take into account the importance of protecting rare and vulnerable ecosystems and the habitats of threatened species (section 59(e)).

10. The applicant and most submitters acknowledged that there was uncertainty and accepted that, in this situation, we were to apply sections 61(2) and (3) (and as set out in section 10(3) – Purpose) of the EEZ Act. These are:

“(2) If, in relation to making a decision under this Act, the information available is uncertain or inadequate, the EPA must favour caution and environmental protection.

(3) If favouring caution and environmental protection means that an activity is likely to be refused, the EPA must first consider whether taking an adaptive management approach would allow the activity to be undertaken.”

11. We have, as required, favoured caution and environmental protection. In doing so, we have also considered the extent to which imposing conditions under section 63 might avoid, remedy or mitigate the adverse effects of the activity (section 59(2)(j)).

12. On 8 May 2014, the last day of actual hearings, the applicant proposed a detailed suite of conditions that included a “risk-based tiered adaptive management approach”. As we set out in some detail in this decision, the conditions proposed by the applicant, while extensive, are not sufficient to give us the degree of confidence we needed to be able to grant consent to the proposal.

13. The uncertainties in the scope and significance of the potential adverse environmental effects, the lack of confidence we find in the extent to which existing interests will be appropriately taken into account, the lack of clarity about the extent of economic benefit to New Zealand outside of royalties and taxes and the economic value of the adverse effects, cannot be remedied by the imposition of other lawful conditions that we could require based on the evidence before us.

14. In summary, on the evidence presented, we are not satisfied that the life-supporting capacity of the environment would be safeguarded or that the adverse effects of the proposal could be avoided, remedied or mitigated,1 nor do we consider that the proposed conditions (including the adaptive management approach) are sufficiently certain or robust for this application to be approved, given the uncertainty and inadequacy of the information presented to us about the potential adverse effects.

15. Overall, we think this application was premature. More time to have better understood the proposed operation and the receiving environment and engage more constructively with existing interests and other parties may have overcome many of the concerns we have set out in this decision. It is conceivable that at least some of these matters could have been addressed contemporaneously with the other investigative work the applicant undertook prior to lodging the application for consents. Ultimately, the information upon which we had to make our decision, while voluminous, was too uncertain and inadequate, and we did not have sufficient confidence in the adaptive management approach proposed to address that uncertainty and inadequacy to enable the activity to be undertaken. For all of these reasons, the application as presented to us does not meet the sustainable management purpose of the EEZ Act.

Download the full NZ EPA Decision 17 June 2014 (4mb)

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Seabed mining sets very high bar

Editorial | The New Zealand Herald

Photo / Wanganui Chronicle

Photo / Wanganui Chronicle

During the passage of legislation establishing a new regime for activity in New Zealand’s exclusive economic zone, environmentalists fretted that the Government had got the balance wrong. Economic considerations would ride roughshod over environmental protection, they complained.

They can now rest far more easily. On the evidence of the first response to an application for seabed mining, those seeking consent for economic activity in the 200-mile zone will have to clear a very high hurdle.

The applicant was TransTasman Resources (TTR), which wants to dredge iron ore-rich sand off the South Taranaki coast and export about five million tonnes of ore a year to Asian steel mills.

Its plan was roundly rejected last week by the Environmental Protection Agency, which described it as premature. The company should, said the agency, have spent longer on understanding the impacts of its proposal on the environment and existing users.

TTR estimated that its project would generate $147 million a year in exports for New Zealand, and said the local community would benefit from hundreds of new jobs.

That tallies very well with the thinking of a Government that is keen to see new offshore oil, gas and mining industries. But the EPA’s decision-making committee found every reason under the new legislation to reject it.

There were, it said, uncertainties in the scope and significance of the potential adverse environmental impacts and those on existing interests, such as fishers and iwi.

In such circumstances, it was required to favour caution and environmental protection. Even an adaptive management approach advanced by TTR late in the hearing process did not alter the picture.

Additionally, said the agency, there was a lack of clarity about the extent of the economic benefit to New Zealand outside royalties and taxes and the economic impact of the adverse effects.

The latter finding is particularly relevant. Environmentalists worried that economic benefit would take priority over protecting biological diversity and suchlike when an application was considered. That has not proved to be the case. Indeed, it is clear that any such benefit will, itself, have to be argued comprehensively and convincingly.

TTR’s application was opposed, either fully or in part, by the vast majority of 4702 submissions. Included in that number were fishing companies Sanford and Talley’s.

Sanford said the operation could affect its economic wellbeing, diminish the value of its quota assets and reduce its access to public water space. But that view was effectively rejected by the Ministry of Primary Industries, which, while taking a neutral stand, said there was likely to be a “negligible or non-existent” impact on fishing.

The Department of Conservation, however, opposed the proposal in part, asking for further information about its effects, including those on threatened species.

That highlighted the uncertainty which persuaded the agency that caution must be exercised. But it also raised the question of what degree of certainty could ever be achieved for a project that would take place 22km to 36km off the coast of Patea.

Little research is available on the impact of seabed mining on deep-water environments. Could applicants for projects in the exclusive zone, therefore, have any confidence that a bar of the height implied by the agency’s decision would ever be hurdled in terms of permissible risk?

It is little wonder that the Environmental Defence Society hailed the decision. Late changes to the exclusive economic zone legislation have clearly tilted the scales in favour of the environment. Too much so for the Government’s mining ambitions.

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All eyes on next EPA mining decision

Simon Hartley

The focus on proposed seabed mining now shifts from Taranaki to the Chatham Rise, as the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) considers its second ocean mining application.

This week, the EPA’s maiden decision declined a proposal by Trans-Tasman Resources to mine iron-sand off Taranaki’s coast – throwing the focus on to a separate proposal by Chatham Rock Phosphate to take phosphate from the sea floor of the Chatham Rise.

The Taranaki proposal galvanised thousands of people to protest the project for a variety of environmental concerns, including thousands of submissions to the EPA, while the EPA’s decision angered business and mining lobby groups.

Trans-Tasman has a 15-working-day appeal period, but can only appeal a point of law.

The EPA decision said ”the major reason was uncertainty around the scope and significance of the potential adverse environmental effects, and those on existing interests, such as the fishing interests and iwi”.

In an entirely separate seabed mining proposal, the EPA has just called for public submissions on Chatham Rock Phosphate’s proposal to vacuum dredge sediment off the Chatham Rise sea floor, to extract phosphate nodules. Chatham has spent about $25 million in researching the project, including its environmental reports for the EPA.

Forest and Bird’s advocacy manager Kevin Hackwell said the EPA’s permit denial for Trans-Tasman was a ”positive precedent”, meaning the Chatham Rise proposal to mine was ”unlikely to ever be approved”.

He said dredging in Taranaki was at depths of only between 20m and 45m, while the Chatham Rise was more than 400m deep.

”That would make it the deepest seabed mining operation in the world, destroying habitats and species science knows even less about,” Mr Hackwell said.

Chatham Rock chief executive Chris Castle said the EPA’s decision against Trans-Tasman could not be compared to Chatham’s application as it involved mining a different mineral, a different marine environment and different extraction methods.

”We remain very confident we have submitted a robust and comprehensive application which will meet the legal tests under the relevant New Zealand legislation,” Mr Castle said.

Business New Zealand chief executive Phil O’Reilly said the EPA’s Taranaki decision was a ”blow for prospects for new industries and growth in the exclusive economic zone”, noting Trans-Tasman had spent $60 million in research during the past seven years.

”No doubt the EPA has carried out its mandate in good faith, but business will be wondering about the effect of the decision on other new and emerging industries,” Mr O’Reilly said.

Resource lobby group Straterra’s chief executive Chris Baker said the EPA decision was a ”shock and surprise” and ”sends an unfortunate signal to potential investors”.

”Modern society needs these resources, as does the New Zealand economy, and it is difficult to imagine that the environmental impact of the proposed mining could not be managed in an acceptable manner.

”I’m sure the company [Trans-Tasman] could have worked with conditions that required review over time,” Mr Baker said.

Trans-Tasman’s chief executive Tim Crossley told the Taranaki Daily News the company was ”extremely disappointed” with the decision, having put a significant amount of time and effort into developing the project, including consulting iwi and local communities and providing detailed scientific research to assess environmental impacts of the project.

”We will be carefully analysing the decision over the next few days and will take our time to consider what this means for the South Taranaki Bight project and for the company.”

The EPA said it was ”not satisfied that the life-supporting capacity of the environment would be safeguarded or that the adverse effects of the proposal could be avoided, remedied or mitigated, given the uncertainty and inadequacy of the information presented”.

As with Trans-Tasman, Chatham Rock already has the requisite mining permit for its Chatham Rise proposal, but it, too, must gain an EPA marine consent. Public submissions for the marine consent are open until July 10, with public hearings to be scheduled later.

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