NZ seabed mining plan is madness

Black gold: Taranaki’s seabed could be mined. Photo/file

‘Companies involved in these boom-and-bust industries are known for rushing ahead with great gusto, only to suddenly scale back production, laying off workers as jobs disappear and, in fact, often disappearing altogether, leaving behind damaged ecosystems and pollution for the community to clean up’

Graham Pearson | NZ Herald | April 10, 2017

NEW Zealand resources have been ravaged through history by boom-and-bust industries that have extracted timber, gum, gold, coal, oil and gas.

Now there is a crazy proposal to mine at sea our West Coast black sand, using untried and untested processes, with its suggested economics based on yet another old-fashioned boom-and-bust industry.

Just a few minutes’ Google search revealed the crazy price fluctuations of iron and steel. From a maximum price of US$191 ($275) in February 2011, iron crashed to US$37 in December 2015, while steel has an even bigger range: US$1265 in June 2008 to just US$90 March 2016.

Companies involved in these boom-and-bust industries are known for rushing ahead with great gusto, only to suddenly scale back production, laying off workers as jobs disappear and, in fact, often disappearing altogether, leaving behind damaged ecosystems and pollution for the community to clean up.

Recently spending two days attending the EPA’s Decision Making Committee (DMC) hearing in New Plymouth, I was heartened to hear many, many organisations, iwi and members of the local communities speaking out for most of those two days against yet another extraction industry. Members of the fishing and dive clubs provided amazing footage of the undersea world just off the Taranaki coast, giving all of us present an idea of the wonderful environment that is at stake. Others spoke for the mammals that live in or travel through this section of the Taranaki bight.

Others spoke with passion of their connections with the sea through their lifestyle and heritage, which they see as threatened with the TTR’s proposal. Some objectors, with experience of sea-based industries, were able to give us valuable perspectives of this huge ocean-based proposal, with its weather-related risks and disruption to the ocean floor.

A locally based economist pointed out to the DMC how the trickle-down idea for economic value has not worked in the Taranaki oil and gas industries. These extraction industries are known for “fly-in” workers taking the skilled, high-paying jobs, leaving only lower level and support industry jobs for the locals. He also pointed out that while New Plymouth and close environs might gain support for Womad and other local community activities, South Taranaki remains an economically depressed area with low incomes, job shortages and a high level of child poverty.

We even know, from Minister Judith Collins’ recent statement, that the oil and gas industry needs multimillion-dollar handouts to close down its end-of-life wells.

In contrast to this valuable evaluation of the proposal, our “guardian” organisations, DOC and councils, took a neutral stance.

The Government’s Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment has supported the proposal and seems to think it’s wonderful — despite TTR’s previous application being declined, and the company seeming to need a Callaghan Innovation Fund grant of $15 million to keep it afloat while preparing to submit its second application.

The DMC has extended the hearing deadline to the end of May, against some community opposition, to further examine the sand plume issue and consider possible mitigation options.

So we wait until June to see if the decision is again a sensible decline or if we get yet another extraction industry.

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1 Comment

Filed under Environmental impact, Financial returns, New Zealand

One response to “NZ seabed mining plan is madness

  1. The marine mining systems proposed are akin to very shallow and large area open cuts or vegetation clearing on the land. Environmental issues in seabed exploitation seem to be “under water” and unseen, but like the extensive bleaching of the Great Barrier Reef, out of sight is no excuse to ignore the consequences. While different, offshore oil & gas exploitation can demonstrate that appropriate practices can work but there is also another marine resource that depends on a protected seabed …. fishing!

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