Tag Archives: Trans-Tasman Resources

NZ: Is this the end for seabed ironsands mining?

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Pattrick Smellie | Yahoo Finance

A certain sort of fog of war tends to reign in battles between industrial developments and environmentalists.

Both sides are inclined to talk up their prospects and overstate their positions. Often what’s happening is that both sides are simply preserving their positions with supporters.

The most recent example is the triumphal reception given by the lobby group Kiwis Against Seabed Mining to the announcement by Trans-Tasman Resources that it is dropping its appeal against the rejection of its bed to mine ironsands off the seabed floor in the Exclusive Economic Zone.

KASM called the decision a “victory for commonsense”, but failed to notice that all TTR has announced so far is the abandonment of an appeal, not the abandonment of the project.

In fact, what TTR has said is that it doesn’t see the point of pursuing the appeal because even it succeeds, it will take too long to reconvene hearings with the original decision-making committee, appointed by the Environmental Protection Authority.

It would rather preserve its cash and consider launching a fresh application altogether. From TTR’s perspective, that may be preferable anyway, since it was very surprised and unhappy with the conclusions of the original committee, which found too many uncertainties about the environmental impacts of the project to allow it to go ahead.

At least with a fresh committee, the issues would be considered anew and with fresh eyes.

Of course, TTR could just as easily be bluffing. While it has an unspecified amount of cash in the bank and looks capable of mounting another application, it’s hard yakka being the first applicant under a new regime trying to undertake a controversial new type of economic development.

TTR will be watching very closely the decision now pending on the application by Chatham Rock Phosphate for a marine consent to mine phosphate on the Chatham Rise. If the CRP bid fails too, it would have to be an odds-on bet that seabed mining efforts will go on the backburner for quite some time, if not permanently in New Zealand.

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NZ: Seabed mining sets very high bar

seabed mining

Howling News

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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NZ: Seabed fight now for legal fees

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Laird Harper | Taranaki Daily News 

Anti-seabed mining campaigners and a South Taranaki iwi say a decision to finally scuttle a massive ironsand mining operation is a “victory for common sense”.

Last week, Trans-Tasman Resources (TTR) dropped its attempt to reverse the Environmental Protection Authority’s decision to decline consent to extract 50 million tonnes of sediment per year, across 65.76 square kilometres.

Te Runanga Ngati Ruanui Trust chief executive Debbie Ngarewa- Packer said that as the only iwi in litigation opposing the appeal, they were confident it would not get off the ground.

“This has been an arduous exercise for nothing and now we are in another battle as our lawyers will be fighting to ensure TTR pay our legal costs, not just the EPA as they are proposing.

“We have watched a company, with no practising experience, come into New Zealand, get Government support, promise the world and literally come apart at every challenge.”

Kiwis Against Seabed Mining chairman Phil McCabe said “the biggest seabed mining experiment in the world” had failed.

“The EPA was right when it rejected this shonky application for an awful proposal that would destroy the local environment, and the company has finally made the right decision by walking away.”

However, it may not be so clear-cut with TTR’s chief executive, Tim Crossley, signalling the company was still considering its options, including submitting a new proposal.

McCabe said the economics of the project at best were dodgy, and the benefits to New Zealand tiny.

“This should send a strong message to the Government and to investors that seabed mining is the wrong horse to back.

“It is now time that they considered our call for a moratorium on seabed mining in New Zealand waters,” he said.

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NZ: Seabed mining company drops appeal

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Kiwis Against Seabed Mining | Scoop NZ

Seabed mining company drops appeal: a “victory for common sense” 

A “victory for common sense” was Kiwis Against Seabed Mining’s reaction today to Trans Tasman Resources’ news that it will drop its attempt to reverse the EPA’s rejection of its seabed mining application.

Trans Tasman Resources today said it would no longer proceed with its appeal against the EPA’s decision to turn down its application to mine black sand in an operation that would have seen them dig up 50 million tones of the seabed a year for 20 years in a 65sqkm area off South Taranaki, a known feeding ground for blue whales and habitat of endangered maui’s dolphin.

“The EPA was right when it rejected this shonky application for an awful proposal that would destroy the local environment, and the company has finally made the right decision by walking away,” said KASM chairperson Phil McCabe.

KASM spent years alerting people in communities up and down the North Island’s West Coast about the threats from seabed mining, and they turned out in their thousands to send the EPA a record number of submissions (4800), with 99% opposing.

But KASM said instead of blaming the opposition to the proposal, or even the EPA, TTR should look to the Government.

“Energy Minister Simon Bridges has been a cheerleader for this extractive industry, and the Government passed legislation to enable it in New Zealand waters and gave this foreign-owned company a massive subsidy of up to $25 million

“The economics, at best, were dodgy, and the benefits to New Zealand tiny, compared with the destruction this activity would have wreaked on our environment and .

“This should send a strong message to the Government and to investors that seabed mining is the wrong horse to back. It is now time that they considered our call for a moratorium on seabed mining in New Zealand waters.

“The failure of TTR’s $60m proposal is actually a good thing for New Zealand’s economy. It provides clarity for investors and a pivot point to realign investment capital toward more appropriate proposals that will enhance rather than detract from our international reputation.”

The decision today would also be a blow for the rest of the seabed mining industry that was waiting in the wings to start mining black sand up the entire west coast of the North Island, which would have been, McCabe said “the biggest seabed mining experiment in the world.”

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Drive to Mine the Deep Sea Raises Concerns Over Impacts

Armed with new high-tech equipment, mining companies are targeting vast areas of the deep ocean for mineral extraction. But with few regulations in place, critics fear such development could threaten seabed ecosystems that scientists say are only now being fully understood.

Mike Ives | Environment 360

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Hydrothermal vents create rich mineral deposits that companies are eager to exploit. Nautilus Minerals

For years, the idea of prospecting for potentially rich deposits of minerals on the ocean floor was little more than a pipe dream. Extractive equipment was not sophisticated or cost-effective enough for harsh environments thousands of feet beneath the ocean’s surface, and mining companies were busy exploring mineral deposits on land. But the emergence of advanced technologies specifically designed to plumb the remote seabed— along with declining mineral quality at many existing terrestrial mines — is nudging the industry closer to a new and, for some environmentalists and ocean scientists, worrying frontier.

More than two-dozen permits have been issued for mineral prospecting in international waters. And in April, after years of false starts, a Canadian mining company signed an agreement with the government of Papua New Guinea to mine for copper and gold in its territorial waters. That company, Nautilus Minerals, plans to begin testing its equipment next year in European waters, according to the International Seabed Authority (ISA), a regulatory agency established in 1994 under the auspices of the United Nations. A Nautilus spokesman, John Elias, said the plan is to award a construction contract in November for a specialized mining vessel. “All other equipment has been manufactured and is in final assembly,” he wrote in an email.

Chief among critics’ concerns is that seabed mining will begin without comprehensive regulatory oversight and environmental review. They say dredging or drilling the seafloor could potentially obliterate deep-sea ecosystems and kick up immense sediment plumes, which could temporarily choke off the oxygen supply over large areas. And powerful international companies, they add, could take advantage of the lax or non-existent review and enforcement capabilities in many small island nations of the Pacific Ocean — precisely where seabed mineral deposits are thought to be highly concentrated.

“Communities are concerned that our governments don’t know enough about the ecology or the implications” of seabed mining, said Maureen Penjueli, coordinator of the Pacific Network on Globalization, a Fiji-based non-profit that has tracked seabed prospecting in the region since 2009. “We haven’t seen much benefit from land-based mining, let alone fisheries or tourism — and here we are entering a new frontier.”

drawing showing seabed mining operationBut industry proponents say no extractive industry is free of environmental impacts, and that only a fraction of the seabed covered by exploration permits would actually be mined. Companies and governments, they say, are carefully studying both deep-sea ecosystems and emerging mining technologies in order to prevent or mitigate ecological damage.

“We are committed to using ecologically sound, deep-seabed mineral recovery methods,” said Jennifer Warren, the regulatory director at UK Seabed Resources, a subsidiary of the U.S. defense giant Lockheed Martin’s British arm. “Toward that end, we are working closely with research institutions and scientists to understand any potential environmental impact of commercial recovery efforts.”

Gaining that kind of understanding is a work in progress. As late as the 1950s, the deep sea was still viewed as a dark and barren place with little or no biodiversity worthy of protection. But in the 1960s, new sampling technologies prompted the discovery of new deep-sea species, and by the late 1970s, scientists had discovered bacteria that could thrive amid hydrothermal vents in deep, volcanically active regions. Those bacteria are turning out to be food for a number of “beautiful and strange” invertebrates, according to Cindy Van Dover, a marine biologist at Duke University. By the early 1990’s, scientists were speculating that the deep sea played host to as many as 10 million species of small invertebrates.

It is amid this awakening to deep-sea biodiversity that interest in seabed mineral mining is heating up. While investing in seabed-mining operations remains comparatively expensive, “the equation is turning,” according to Michael W. Lodge, legal counsel with the ISA. “People are starting to think that upfront investment is worth it for the long term payoff.” The ISA has issued seven new seabed exploration permits this year, Lodge noted, bringing its global total to 26, stretching across an area of international waters roughly the size of Mexico.

Nautilus Minerals’ planned operation in the territorial waters off Papua New Guinea, however, is widely expected to be the world’s first commercial-scale deep-seabed mine. Several neighboring countries have begun to issue export permits — and in some cases, are drafting seabed-specific mining legislation. New Zealand has also been weighing applications for two seabed mines in its waters, which would target iron sands and phosphate, respectively.

In an email message, James Hein, a geologist with the U.S. Geological Survey and the president of the International Marine Minerals Society, a non-profit organization linking industry, government, and academic institutions, suggested that the global rush to mine so-called “rare earth” elements – which are used to manufacture cellular phones, wind turbines, solar panels, electric cars and other applications – is a key driver in moving the industry forward.

Other sought-after resources include sulfide minerals — a source of precious metals like silver, gold and copper — that accumulate around gaps in the seafloor where chemical-rich fluids leak into the ocean at temperatures nearing 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit. The Nautilus Minerals project in Papua New Guinea plans to mine a sulfide deposit by cutting the seabed with a remote-control machine that is 26 feet tall, 42 feet wide, and 55 feet long. According to the company, the ore will be extracted with an “associated suction mouth” and pumped to the surface — a distance of about a mile.

Manganese nodules — palm-sized chunks of rock containing copper, nickel and cobalt — are also prized, and in shallower areas, mining companies plumb for rocks containing phosphates, a key ingredient in agricultural fertilizers. “The process itself is essentially a large vacuum cleaner on the end of a hose,” said Chris Castle of Chatham Rock Phosphate, the company behind the phosphate-mining application pending in New Zealand.

Here and elsewhere, however, environmental battle lines are now being drawn. In June, a New Zealand court, citing environmental concerns, riled the mining industry by rejecting a proposed plan for an iron sands mine about 15 miles off the coast of the country’s North Island. The company behind the proposed mine, Trans-Tasman Resources, says it has spent over seven years and more than $50 million studying the potential impacts. An appeals hearing is scheduled for next March.

Meanwhile, the New Zealand advocacy group Kiwis Against Seabed Mining has argued that the mines would pose risks to iconic mammals — including blue whales and Maui’s dolphins — that outweigh any potential economic benefits.

Castle, Chatham Rock Phosphate’s project director, said the environmental impacts on the seabed would be far less than those that fishing trawlers regularly inflict. But Les Watling, a biology professor at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, argued that sediment plumes from the phosphate mine could stress or kill an entire species of local coral, Goniocorella dumosa, leading to wider impacts because the coral’s branches are a habitat for smaller organisms. And Liz Slooten, a zoologist at New Zealand’s Otago University, said the sounds from seabed mining in that area could damage or destroy the hearing of blue whales, causing them to flee and perhaps even beach themselves.

Ultimately, the exact impacts of deep-sea mining in New Zealand or beyond won’t be entirely clear until the mines actually open, said Phil Weaver, a geologist and the coordinator of a three-year project called Managing Impacts of Deep Sea Resource Exploitation, which launched in 2013 with a $11.4 million grant from the European Commission. “We need to put in place some criteria and protocols which will at least try to control those impacts based on available information.”

In March, the ISA began soliciting public comments for its first-ever Mineral Exploitation Code. A voluntary environmental code drafted by the International Marine Minerals Society in 2001 will inform the new ISA document, according to Hein, the society’s president. David Billett of Britain’s National Oceanography Centre, who sits on the ISA’s legal and technical commission, said environmental matters are “regularly raised” at the committee’s meetings, and that the ISA has strict guidelines for the sort of ecological data that prospective miners must collect along seabeds.

Still, individual countries are free to choose their own regulatory approaches to seabed mining, and permits in the South Pacific have already been issued in waters that cover an area the size of Iran, according to the Deep Sea Mining Campaign, an international coalition of non-profit groups. A 2010 study in the journal Marine Policy said the “absence of a clearly defined regulatory regime” in international waters was encouraging seabed prospectors to pursue projects in territorial waters, where legal risks were smaller. It named Tonga and its neighbor Papua New Guinea as two countries that would struggle to balance economic development against the need to protect marine ecosystems.

Environmental groups are watching carefully as the Nautilus Minerals project gathers speed in Papua New Guinea. The company says its mine will not contaminate coral or fisheries, and Jonathan Copley, a prominent marine ecologist at Britain’s University of Southampton, has said that the project’s design appears to be environmentally sensitive. Yet Nautilus and other international firms have other mining applications scattered across the South Pacific, and Van Dover of Duke University said scientists’ biggest concern is the cumulative impacts of multiple mines opening in the same area.

“A single mining event — at the scale of a single hydrothermal vent field — would be no worse than the most extreme natural disturbance,” Van Dover said in an email message. “But multiple mining events in a region in a short period of time — i.e. within a decade — would be unwise without good environmental knowledge of the ability of the system to recover.”

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NZ Seabed mining appeal set for March next year

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Pattrick Smellie | National Business Review

Would-be ironsands miner TransTasman Resources has been instructed by the High Court to come up with a far shorter, more focused appeal against the rejection of its application to mine the seabed in the Exclusive Economic Zone.

At a chambers hearing on Tuesday, which media were allowed to attend, Justice Denis Clifford gave TTR’s counsel, Hugh Rennie QC, until Friday, Oct. 17 to file an amended statement of claim against the finding to turn down the project in June by a Decision-Making Committee appointed by the Environmental Protection Authority, while setting aside five days for hearings from March 9 next year.

The application was the first for seabed mining under new legislation governing economic activity in New Zealand’s vast offshore EEZ and came as a shock to the minerals sector, which was watching the TTR application intensely after the company spent seven years and some $60 million on technical feasibility, environmental impact and other studies.

The procedural hearing for TTR came just two days ahead of today’s start to hearings by another DMC into a marine consent application by Chatham Rock Phosphate to mine phosphate nodules on the Chatham Rise, more than 400 kilometres to the east of Christchurch.

The CRP bid is opposed by many of the same fishing industry and environmental groups as opposed the TTR application.

On the TTR statement of claim, Justice Clifford urged Rennie to “give us your five best” grounds for appeal and to “try to sift it”, or the hearing risked running beyond the one day set down for TTR to set out its arguments.

“Can’t it be made bit more succinct and its structure a little clearer?” the judge said.

Based on Rennie’s comments to the court, it appears one of the fundamental issues raised will be whether the EEZ legislation allows or requires a DMC to be “investigative” or to make its decisions “on the papers before it”.

TTR has spoken in the past about expecting a negotiated process at the hearings, where concerns about environmental impacts and options for their mitigation could be teased through – a process the company says did not occur.

Rennie said the most recent filings on the appeal made clear the company was not seeking an entirely new hearing, but to have the decision sent back to the EPA.

Justice Clifford told Rennie he needed to identify “legal theories” relating to the EPA’s investigative obligations.

“They need to be found in the Act and particularised,” he said.

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Iwi rallies to anti-seabed mining cause

Laurel Stowell | Wanganui Chronicle

OUTSPOKEN: The Ngati Ruanui team has its say at Trans-Tasman Resources' marine application hearing.

OUTSPOKEN: The Ngati Ruanui team has its say at Trans-Tasman Resources’ marine application hearing.

South Taranaki tribe Ngati Ruanui has spent too long opposing seabed mining offshore from Patea to stop now.

It’s joining with Kiwis Against Seabed Mining (KASM) to support the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) decision to refuse Trans-Tasman Resources’ application to mine offshore in the South Taranaki Bight.

Te Runanga o Ngati Ruanui Trust chief executive officer Debbie Ngarewa-Packer said the iwi had applied to be part of the High Court case as Trans-Tasman Resources (TTR) appeals that decision. Yesterday was the deadline for registering to take part.

She was hoping others would want to support the decision of the EPA committee – other iwi perhaps, or fisheries groups. Being part of the case could be expensive, and the parties might be able to get together and share different aspects of it, and the costs. She was unsure what would be covered in the High Court, but if it called on different opinions or advice Ngati Ruanui wanted to be there to give its view. It had lawyers ready, and had extensive experience on resource exploitation matters. It was also handling the ironsand issue within the Iwi Chairs’ Forum.

The iwi was bitterly disappointed that TTR had appealed the decision.

“At the EPA hearing we outlined cultural and environmental concerns and expressed concern at TTR’s poor consultation,” Mrs Ngarewa-Packer said.

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