NZ EPA must again refuse experimental seabed mining application

KASM | Scoop | 25 May 2017

Trans Tasman Resources (TTR) had failed to provide the information on the impacts of seabed mining that the EPA used as a basis for refusing the company’s first application in 2014, so there was no choice but to again refuse consent, Kiwis Against Seabed Mining and Greenpeace told the hearing today.

After a four-month EPA hearing into TTR’s application to mine 50 million tonnes of the South Taranaki Bight seabed every year for 35 years, KASM and Greenpeace gave their closing arguments to the EPA today (full document here).

In 2014, the EPA gave clear directives as to the information that should be gathered before submitting a new application, the groups told the hearing. TTR did some new modelling on the sediment “plume” and economics, but that was all.

“The other key areas for work such as marine mammals, benthic and seabird studies had not been undertaken. It just wasn’t done,” KASM and Greenpeace lawyer Ruby Haazen told the hearing.

“The South Taranaki Bight is an area that has not been the subject of any in -depth scientific or environmental research. What we know has always been limited. [TTR] has attempted to convince us that there is in fact a lack of environmental activity in the area.

“This thinking underpins the philosophy of the applicant in approaching this application and sums up how things have gone so wrong.

She noted that this application was – and still is – the first of its kind, not just in New Zealand but internationally; its effects are new and unique, and the scale of the proposed application is large and unlike any carried out in New Zealand before.

“The South Taranaki Bight is an environment that hosts an array of marine life, supporting some of the most threatened and rare species in the world and a feeding ground for seabirds, fish, marine mammals and a breeding ground for blue whales. This is only what we have found out so far.”

“The evidence presented has demonstrated that from what we do know, this area may be much more significant than anyone previously thought,” she said.

The company had modelled the spread of the “plume” of sediment around the STB, but had withheld key data. There were not enough samples for any expert to be able to verify the company’s claims that “flocculation” would reduce the effect of the plume. The so-called “worst case scenario” modelling that the EPA sent the company back to carry out was nothing like the “worst case” – and cannot be verified.

“Enormous uncertainties remain, not only on the worst case plume model but on the effects of the model presented as worst case, on primary productivity, the benthos, marine mammals and seabirds.”

Despite what the EPA said in its 2014 decision, TTR hadn’t done any further marine mammal surveys for this second application, and even then those surveys were only between the mine site and the shoreline.

This contrasted with evidence given by blue whale expert Dr Leigh Torres, who confirmed to the hearing that many blue whales had been seen in the South Taranaki Bight, and that her research confirmed that the Bight may be host to New Zealand’s own population of blue whales.

Nobody really knew what the effect of noise from the mining would have on marine mammals, including the whales.

“The underwater noise predictions are inadequate and insufficient as a basis for a biological risk assessment. Insufficient information is available at this time to estimate the noise levels that would be experienced by marine mammals in the area.”

The EPA decision is due around the end of June.

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