Monthly Archives: April 2018

Deep-sea mining possibly as damaging as land mining, lawyers say

Deep-sea mining off Papua New Guinea’s coast. Legal and environmental groups warn of danger to the environment and Indigenous groups who live nearby

Environmental and legal groups warn of potential huge effects on Indigenous people and the environment

Ben Doherty | The Guardian | 18 April 2018 

The “new global gold rush” over deep-sea mining holds the same potential pitfalls as previous resource scrambles, with environmental and social impacts ignored and the rights of Indigenous people marginalised, a paper in the Harvard Environmental Law Review has warned.

A framework for deep-sea mining – where polymetallic nodules or hydrothermal vents are mined by machine – was first articulated in the 1960s, on an idea that the seabed floor beyond national jurisdiction was a “common heritage of mankind”.

But exploration has gathered momentum in the past three years, with licences granted off Papua New Guinea’s coastlines, and successful mining off Japan late last year. The International Seabed Authority, which is drawing up a draft mining code, has issued 29 exploration contracts for undersea mining in international waters beyond any national jurisdiction.

Proponents argue deep-sea mining could yield far superior ore to land mining – in silver, gold, copper, manganese, cobalt and zinc – with little, if any, waste product. Different methods exist, but most involve using some form of converted machinery previously used in terrestrial mining to excavate materials from the sea floor, at depths of up to 6,000 metres, then drawing a seawater slurry to ships on the surface. The slurry is then “de-watered” and transferred to another vessel for shipping. Extracted seawater is pumped back down and discharged close to the sea floor.

But environmental and legal groups have urged caution, arguing there are potentially massive – and unknown – ramifications for the environment and for nearby communities, and that the global regulatory framework is not yet drafted, and currently deficient.

“Despite arising in the last half century, the ‘new global gold rush’ of deep-sea mining shares many features with past resource scrambles – including a general disregard for environmental and social impacts, and the marginalisation of Indigenous peoples and their rights,” the paper, written by Julie Hunter and Julian Aguon, from Blue Ocean Law, and Pradeep Singh, from the Center for Marine Environmental Sciences, Bremen, argues.

The authors say that knowledge of the deep seabed remains extremely limited.

“The surface of the moon, Mars and even Venus have all been mapped and studied in much greater detail, leading marine scientists to commonly remark that, with respect to the deep sea, ‘We don’t yet know what we need to know.’ ”

Scientific research – including a recent paper in Marine Policy journal – has suggested the deep seabed, and hydrothermal vents in particular, have crucial impacts upon biodiversity and global climate regulations.

Hydrothermal vents act as a sink, sequestering carbon and methane. The mineral-rich vents and their surrounds are also home to animals and organisms including crustaceans, tubeworms, clams, slugs, anemones and fish.

“It is becoming increasingly clear that deep-sea mining poses a grave threat to these vital seabed functions,” the paper says. “Extraction methods would involve the operation of large, remote vehicles on the seafloor to chemically leach or physically cut crust from substrate and/or use highly pressurised water to strip the crust.

“All of these methods would produce large sediment plumes and involve the discharge of waste and tailings back into the ocean, significantly disturbing seafloor environments.”

The Harvard Environmental Law Review article says the exploratory phase of deep-sea mining has already adversely affected Indigenous people in the Pacific. In Tonga, large mining prospecting vessels have disturbed traditional fishing grounds, and in PNG villagers bordering the exploration site in the Bismarck sea have reported high incidence of dead fish washed ashore.

The paper argues for governments globally to reform the international seabed regime to reflect modern developments in law and science, and to protect potentially vulnerable communities.

“They should recognise the risks of operating in an unknown environment, fully embrace the precautionary approach, and protect and conserve the ocean for the benefit of current and future generations,” it says.

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‘PNG is on the cusp of a super cycle in mining investment’

Illustrator: Holly Wales

Dr Kishti Sen* | ANZ | 20 April 2018

Papua New Guinea’s real gross domestic product averaged around 2 per cent per annum in 2016 and 2017.

This is a significant step down from the previous two years when growth averaged over 10 per cent thanks mostly to the sizeable liquefied natural gas (LNG) exports. These benefits have now largely faded.

Recently released ANZ research expects growth to remain subdued in 2018 and 2019 as the benefits of the LNG expansion diminishes and as non-mining sectors struggle owing to an overvalued currency and foreign exchange shortages. 

Infrastructure investment associated with the upcoming APEC meeting and higher agriculture output should be the main drivers of activity in the short term.

The national budget is in deficit with debt already at 32 per cent of gross domestic product (just 3 per cent below the self-imposed limit of 35 per cent) and the government is limited in its ability to support the economy.

However, PNG’s longer-term prospects are more encouraging as it would appear to be on the cusp of a ‘super cycle’ in resources investment, particularly in gas, gold and copper projects.

The challenge for the government and business is to manage the next upturn so that a boom-bust cycle is minimised.

Meanwhile, the Kina remains an overvalued currency and better macro balance could be achieved if faster depreciation occurred.

The currency’s fair value on our estimate is around $US0.23-0.25.

At this level, the Kina would likely remove uncertainty in the foreign exchange market, add liquidity and help clear the backlog of import orders, maximise import substitution and assist Kina-exposed industries including agriculture and mining.

*Dr Kishti Sen is an international economist at ANZ

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NZ seabed iron sand mining decision reserved

Opponents of seabed iron sand mining gathered more than 6000 signatures on a petition calling for a moratorium on seabed mining. (File photo: Monique Ford)

Stuff | April 19 2018

The finely balanced decision to consent to seabed mining of iron sand might have swung the other way if the decision makers had properly considered some factors, a lawyer says.

Eleven parties have appealed against the consents that were granted last August to Trans-Tasman Resources Ltd.

The appeal hearing in the High Court at Wellington wrapped up on Thursday with Justice Peter Churchman reserving his decision.

The 66 square kilometres off the South Taranaki coast (shown in dark green) where Trans Tasman Resources has applied to mine iron ore.

The final speaker was Davey Salmon, a lawyer for Greenpeace and Kiwis Against Seabed Mining, who said the consent decision had been as finally balanced as it was possible to be.

The Environmental Protection Authority had appointed a four-person decision making committee.

When the committee was deadlocked the chairman had the deciding vote, so even though members of the committee were split two against two, the outcome was that the consents were granted.

Salmon said the committee did not have enough information on which to make its decision, and did not give proper weight to issues that counted against allowing seabed mining.

The committee chairman had a legal obligation to exercise the casting vote favouring caution, and exercise caution where information was lacking, he said.

Trans-Tasman Resources’ lawyer, Justin Smith, QC, said it was unlikely the chairman was meant to change his vote because another committee member disagreed with him.

Even if the judge found against Trans-Tasman Resources on one or more points, it did not mean the decision had to be quashed, Smith said. He asked for a further hearing to discuss the consequences, if the judge intended to allow the appeal.

The lawyer for Māori and fishing interests, Francis Cooke, QC, said the two members who granted the consents had not grappled with a key problem.

The seabed that was to be mined was in the exclusive economic zone off the south Taranaki coast, up to the boundary of the coastal marine area, closer to shore, which came under resource management rules.

Mining would create a significant sediment plume that would spread into the coastal marine area where it was prohibited, Cooke said.

Trans-Tasman Resources said the marine consent and marine discharge consent it was granted were enough to allow mining to proceed, but the opponents said resource consent was also needed.

Regardless of that issue, it was already signalled that whichever way the judge decided, the outcome was likely to be appealed.

The committee granted the 35-year consents subject to conditions, including that two years of monitoring had to take place before Trans-Tasman Resources was allowed to begin mining up to 50 million tonnes of seabed material a year to extract iron ore for export.

A remote-controlled dredge would vacuum sand from the sea bed in depths between about 20 metres and 42m, to a processing ship. The dredging was planned in an area 22 kilometres to 36km offshore from Patea.

It was planned that about 90 per cent of the material would be returned to the sea. Opponents said the noise and sediment plume would cause fish to avoid the area, and would result in long term, if not permanent, damage to the environment and cultural concerns of Māori.

The company said the area was already intensively fished, had gas and oil installations, and was a rugged environment subject to naturally occurring sediment flows from rivers.

Taranaki iwi Ngāti Ruanui, and Trustees of Te Kaahui o Rauru, along with Greenpeace, Kiwis Against Seabed Mining, the Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society, the Taranaki-Whanganui Conservation Board, Cloudy Bay Clams, the Federation of Commercial Fishermen, Southern Inshore Fisheries Management Company, Talleys Group, and Te Ohu Kai Moana Trustee Ltd, appealed against the consents.

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Samar Exits MRA

Post Courier | April 17, 2018

Mineral Resources Authority’s (MRA) managing director (MD) Philip Samar’s term in office has expired since April 9.
Mr Samar served as the managing director for four years since his permanent appointment as MD from 2014-2017.
He was appointed acting MD for the MRA in 2012, a post he held until 2014 when he was made permanent.
The outgoing managing director also took the opportunity to thank the Prime Minister Peter O’Neill and the government for the opportunity given to lead the MRA in the last six years since 2012.
Mr Samar thanked the Prime Minister for his confidence in appointing him to be head of the statutory authority responsible for regulating the exploration and mining sector in PNG. The last six years have been the highlight of his career over the last 21 years as a public servant.
“I am privileged to serve the government, the people of Papua New Guinea especially the mining project stakeholders and the exploration and mining industry.
“I am satisfied I have done my part in nation building through managing the MRA and servicing the mining industry. Since the MRA’s establishment in 2007, the statutory authority has performed well in regulating and promoting Papua New Guinea’s mineral sector,” he said.
Mr Samar said for the last 10 years, the mining industry has been the single largest contributor of revenue to the national purse contributing over 60 percent of revenue annually.
“This makes the sector important and the government must continue to support the sector by creating a conducive environment where the industry is allowed to operate sustainably, safely, profitably and responsibly,” Mr Samar said.
He said the government must realise the expected benefits to be derived from these projects such as employment, taxes, duties, royalties, dividends, compensation, training and business spinoffs.
As outgoing MD, Mr Samar said there was still room for more improvements and urged the government to consider to:
– Support the MRAs ongoing regulatory roles by strengthening its governance, independence and resourcing.
– Revise the proposed amendments to the Mining Act to capture additional practical administrative improvements.
– Review and revise the Mining Safety Act 1977.
– Strengthen the regulation of the small scale mining alluvial gold sector.
– Improve training, create awareness and provide capital and appropriate technology to the alluvial miners around the country.
– Change the current benefits sharing arrangements via MOAs to a more project delivery model.
– Review and revise the government’s equity participation in major mining projects.
– Better organise itself to optimise its participation in the Wafi and Frieda copper projects.

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Ok Tedi Mine Landowners Get Share Certificates

Post Courier | April 17, 2018

The people of Western Province finally own 33 percent of the giant Ok Tedi Copper Mine following the handover of equity share certificates by Ok Tedi Mining Limited Board Chairman Sir Moi Avei to Governor Taboi Awi Yoto yesterday in Kiunga.

“OTML is now a third owned by the people of Western Province,” Sir Moi told a large gathering of locals and invited guests in front of the grand Cassowary hotel.

“We have heard so much about this 33 percent. Is it every going to happen? The board in its wisdom made a decision that the only way to move this share transfer is loan MRDC K30million to pay for the stamp duty. Governor the stamp duty has been paid. OTML is now one third owned by the people of Western Province,” Sir Moi Avei told the excited crowds.

He also said this ensures that politics cannot interfere now because they own more than thirty percent of the mine.
Western Governor Taboi Yoto said in the past we were told that we own 63 percent but we do not have direct control of the funds.

“We have direct control of the 33 percent and that’s the difference,” Mr Taboi Yoto said.

According to the Governor out of the 33 percent, 12 percent is owned by CMCA communities through their board, the mine villages own 8.4 percent and the Fly River Provincial Government owns 12.6 percent.

“For the government with the four MPs, the PEC members and the LLG presidents, we will decide how we will use the money for development purposes.

“I thank the government of Prime Minister Peter O’Neill for this.”

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Harvard Environmental Law Review Calls For Precautionary Approach to Seabed Mining

Harvard Environmental Law Review Calls For Precautionary New Legal Standards

Post Courier | April 17, 2018

Today, the Harvard Environmental Law Review published an article entitled, “Broadening Common Heritage: Addressing Gaps in the Deep Sea Mining Regulatory Regime.” The article provides a new perspective on the incipient global industry of seabed mining, heralded as the next extractive frontier despite growing concerns and opposition from civil society, scientific experts, and indigenous groups worldwide.

“Deep sea mining has been framed by proponents as a lucrative mineral windfall with minimal impacts,” says author Julie Hunter, attorney and Clinic Fellow at the University of British Columbia. “This narrative entirely disregards recent scientific information linking the deep seabed with major climate regulation and biodiversity functions. Destroying these ecosystems before more can be learned about them not only risks major health and fisheries impacts – it could completely upend global climate change efforts.”

The article provides a brief overview of the so-called ‘gold-rush’ for seabed minerals, in which countries and companies have scrambled to buy up licenses for seabed exploration covering millions of square kilometers of ocean, before environmental and regulatory standards have even been drafted. With Japan becoming the first country to successfully mine its deep seabed in 2017, and Canadian company Nautilus Minerals scheduled to begin the world’s first commercial operation in Papua New Guinea’s waters in 2019, deep sea mining is rapidly becoming a reality.

However, the risks of operating in an unknown environment less documented than Mars are starting to become apparent. In 2016, a consortium of scientists and oceanographers released a study detailing the critical carbon sequestration functions of deep sea hydrothermal vents and methane seeps. Combined with other studies establishing irreversible impacts from seabed mining, these findings trigger a body of protective environmental and human rights law, including the precautionary principle and the need to obtain free, prior, and informed consent from indigenous and other affected peoples.

“Pacific Islanders have already suffered negative consequences as a result of mere exploratory mining in the region,” says author Julian Aguon, attorney and founder of Blue Ocean Law—a law firm that works throughout the Pacific region to defend and advance the rights of colonized and indigenous peoples. “Our work has documented impacts to fisheries and traditional customs in coastal communities in Papua New Guinea, Tonga and elsewhere, and the disconcerting absence of true and meaningful consultation with affected groups.”

Other acknowledged impacts of deep sea mining include contamination of the water column and fisheries by tailings and heavy metals, species extinction, coral reef acidification, carbon emissions from onshore mineral processing, and increased risk of oil spills and surface accidents, among others.

Given the unique biodiversity, genetic, and biomedical properties of deep sea ecosystems, not to mention their potentially critical role in climate regulation, the so-called “common heritage” of the seabed extends far beyond the value of its minerals. “It would be tragically ironic if, in our rush to obtain minerals for use in green tech and renewable energies, we end up bulldozing the most important climate regulator of our planet,” says Hunter. “That possibility alone merits a cautious approach.”

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Taranaki iron sand seabed mining consent reduced Māori interest to lip service, court told

Ngati Ruanui iwi went to Parliament to voice its protest against the Trans-Tasman Resources’ plans to mine iron sand off the Taranaki coast. (File photo: Monique Ford)

Stuff | April 16 2018

Māori interests were not properly considered in the decision to allow iron sand seabed mining off Taranaki, a court has been told.

They went to the High Court at Wellington on Monday seeking to overturn environmental permission for the project.

A lawyer for Māori and fishing interests, Francis Cooke, QC, said as far as they were aware this was a world first for deep sea iron sand mining to be allowed to be undertaken.

Ngati Ruanui protested against Trans-Tasman Resources’ bid for marine consent to mine the seabed for iron sand. More than 6000 people signed the petition calling for a moratorium on seabed mining. (File photo: Monique Ford)

The permission, though, had split the Environmental Protection Authority decision making committee, and the outcome depended on the chairman’s vote.

Cooke said the majority decision of the committee had reduced to an “interpretive gloss” the strongly-worded direction to take into account the interests of Māori, and give effect to the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi.

Instead the interests of Māori could be said to be reduced to lip service, he said.

The highest concentration of suspended sediment would occur in coastal marine area offshore from the Ngāti Ruanui district, and fish were expected to avoid the area, with severe effect on seabed life within 2km of the operation, and moderate effects up to 15km of the mining area.

Cooke said an earlier decision for the same activity, the same parties, in the same area had been declined, on different evidence. One of the later committee’s alleged errors was not taking into account the first decision to decline the application.

Even the committee that gave consent described some of the effects as perhaps being catastrophic from Trans-Tasman Resources’ mining, Cooke said.

The company has allegedly spent about $80 million preparing for the mining.

The decision making committee said that when extraction finally ended the effects would be long term, but not permanent.

Cooke said the committee appeared to have applied a standard that allowed the environment to be harmed provided it ultimately recovered.

It had misunderstood, and misapplied the law, he said. The committee never identified the standard against which it judged the environmental effect.

At the start of Monday’s hearing some members of the public could not find seats in the crowded courtroom and had to listen to proceedings via a link to a court foyer.

In August, the authority’s committee granted Trans-Tasman Resources 35-year marine and discharge consents to annually mine up to 50 million tonnes of iron sand in the South Taranaki Bight.

A remote-controlled dredge will vacuum sand from the sea bed between depths of 20 metres and 42m, at a rate of 8000 tonnes an hour, to a processing ship. The dredging is earmarked in an area 22 kilometres to 36km off the coastline from Patea.

The decision committee said the company proposed extracting seabed material and processing it on a vessel. Approximately 10 per cent of the material would be processed into iron ore concentrate and the rest would be discharged to the seabed. It was expected much of the concentrate would be sent to China for steel making.

Taranaki iwi, Greenpeace, Kiwis Against Seabed Mining, the Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society, the Taranaki-Whanganui Conservation Board, Cloudy Bay Clams, the Federation of Commercial Fishermen, Southern Inshore Fisheries Management Company, Talleys Group, Te Ohu Kai Moana Trustee Ltd, and Trustees of Te Kaahui o Rauru, have appealed against the authority’s approval.

Trans-Tasman Resources is supporting the committee’s decision.

The hearing is expected to take about a week.

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