Category Archives: New Zealand

Taranaki seabed mining would harm sea life, hearing told

Busloads of people have been protesting outside the Environmental Protection Agency as the hearings have continued. Photo: RNZ / Robin Martin

Eric Frykberg | Radio New Zealand | 25 May 2017

Opponents of a proposal to mine millions of tonnes of iron sands from the Taranaki seabed have resumed their attacks in the final day of hearings on the project.

Trans-Tasman Resources wants to dig five million tonnes of iron ore from the seabed every year for the next 35 years.

Two lobby groups, Greenpeace and Kiwis Against Seabed Mining (KASM), want the scheme blocked by the Environmental Protection Agency.

KASM representative Ruby Haazen told the EPA hearing this morning a plume of mined sediment would harm the sea and sea life.

“Marine mammals is the most egregious example but the most fundamental example is the plume,” she said.

“The applicant knew how central it was, yet this hearing was delayed and thrown out of kilter by the need to re-run a worst case scenario, which for reasons we have canvassed was not worst case.”

Ms Haazen said the worst case did not stack up economically either.

The company will make its final statement this afternoon.

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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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Shifting sands: Why seabed-mining dredges up such opposition

The South Taranaki Bight at Kaupokonui. Photo/Alamy

A second application for what would be the first seabed-mining permit in New Zealand is meeting heavyweight opposition from iwi, environmentalists and oil and gas interests. 

Rebecca Howard /  New Zealand Listener

The battle lines are again being drawn in the black ironsand of the South Taranaki Bight as Trans-Tasman Resources (TTR) makes a second bid for permission to mine a remote piece of seabed off the west coast of the North Island.

TTR, which describes the ironsand deposit as “world-class, with enormous, and currently untapped, economic benefit for New Zealand”, gained early government agency backing when it first began talking up the project in the late 2000s. Those opposed argue that the venture will do irreparable damage to the local environment and any benefits do not outweigh that cost.

In 2007, the company began investigating the deposits, most of which lie more than 20km west of Patea, within the 200km Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). Its aim is to excavate 50 million tonnes of seabed material a year and process it for export into up to five million tonnes of iron ore annually for 35 years. It is a seabed-mining version of the Taharoa ironsands export business, which has operated since the 1970s and was sold to Maori interests last month.

The material is mined using a slow-moving crawler, which creeps along the seafloor “vacuuming” up sand and seawater and pumping it to a vessel. The iron ore is magnetically separated and the residue sand, about 90% of the total, is immediately redeposited.

“It’s not sucked up, held on a ship for days and then put back. This is a continuous dredging operation where it’s coming in the front and going out the back while we’re mining,” TTR chairman Alan Eggers told the committee hearing TTR’s second application for a seabed-mining consent.

No chemicals are added and the iron ore never comes ashore; it is pumped straight to purpose-built vessels. TTR says this method of extracting ore is much cheaper than land-based mining. That insulates the venture from fluctuations in global ore prices, which tanked two years ago but have recovered somewhat lately.

The project, which the company estimates could make about $400 million in annual iron-ore sales, will cost US$550-600 million ($790-860 million) to develop.

The company says the vast majority of the redeposited sand will settle back on the seabed, filling areas already dredged. However, the process will form a “plume” in the water column, which will drift depending on tides, ocean currents and general weather conditions in an often turbulent part of the Tasman Sea.

The potential environmental impact of this plume was the reason TTR failed at its first attempt to be granted what would have been the first seabed-mining permit in New Zealand. In 2014, a committee appointed by the Environmental Protection Authority ruled that the effects of the proposal were too difficult to gauge on the evidence available. Under the terms of new and previously untested law governing the EEZ, that was grounds for rejection.

TTR, which has so far invested more than $70 million, decided not to appeal the original decision but rather submit a new application, which required a new committee. That second hearing has been under way since mid-February.

Opponents, including environmentalists, local iwi, Maori organisations, parts of the fishing industry and the Australian owner of the Kupe oil and gas field, Origin Energy, say TTR has failed to provide enough new evidence in the latest bid and there are still too many unknowns.

“TTR’s most recent application is simply the same old car with a new lick of paint,” said Robert Makgill, a lawyer for the fisheries submitters.

In a joint submission, Greenpeace and Kiwis Against Seabed Mining (Kasm) said the application “in no way overcomes the reasons the first application was denied”.

According to TTR, however, it has undertaken “significant new work to substantially improve knowledge of both the existing environment and the extent of the potential effects arising from the sand-dredging operations”. This evidence demonstrates that the effects of the proposal on both the marine environment and existing interests are “generally very small to negligible”, the company said.

However, expert witnesses for the project’s opponents take issue with the way the results of TTR’s modelling were interpreted, and the new committee asked TTR to provide more worst-case scenarios.

Danger to marine life

Ironsands support little marine life, but a plethora of opposition experts say the area covered by the application is home to creatures ranging from tiny organisms living in the bottom sediments to blue whales and the critically endangered Maui’s dolphin.

Experts for TTR claim there is a low likelihood of marine mammals being present in the proposed mining area. There was “nothing to suggest that the mining area is of any significance to any marine mammal species”, said scientist Simon Childerhouse of Blue Planet Marine New Zealand.

His view was disputed by zoology professor Liz Slooten, who blasted TTR for “poor information”, including an incomplete species list and a lack of data about the effect of noise.

“There is no way that we can estimate the number of individuals of each species that might be affected by noise, through physical injury or behavioural disturbance, or that might be impacted by other effects from the mining operation,” she said. Debbie Ngarewa-Packer of Te Runanga o Ngati Ruanui Trust told the committee that “there is too much uncertainty”.

Origin, concerned with the potential impact on its own offshore operation, hasn’t seen “sufficient difference” in TTR’s new evidence to justify a different result for this application and worries particularly about the potential for a collision at sea. Origin and TTR have agreed conditions if consent is granted, but “we would prefer not to have TTR operating in our area”, said Origin’s Martin Aylward.

The committee, headed by former Wellington deputy mayor Alick Shaw, has extended its deadline from the original April 13 to May 31, citing “a number of evidential matters still to be addressed”. Even that decision was fraught with controversy: submitters argued that the company had failed to dispel any of the uncertainties and should not be given more time to do so.

Greenpeace and Kasm argued the committee should have “returned the application as incomplete” and said it is crucial that the next closing submissions be final. Fisheries and iwi submitters say they will not bear the additional cost and effort “to address information gaps in TTR’s application during this hearing”.

Greenpeace and Kasm may apply for a judicial review of the TTR bid, arguing the process is flawed.

The critical question for TTR may be whether scientific uncertainty can ever be sufficiently dispelled for a new activity in a little-understood ocean environment. If the answer is no, it won’t be dredging any time soon.

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NZ seafood companies, iwi slam EPA over seabed mining application

Undercurrent News | May 16, 2017

Seafood companies have slammed the New Zealand Environmental Protection Authority’s (EPA) handling of the application to mine for 35 years 50 million metric tons of iron sand from the ocean floor off the coast of Taranaki.

The application by Trans-Tasman Resources (TTR) is opposed by Fisheries Inshore New Zealand, the New Zealand Federation of Commercial Fishermen, Talley’s Group, Southern Inshore Fisheries Management, and Cloudy Bay Clams.

A range of environmental groups have also submitted opposition to the bid.

TTR’s first application was refused in June 2014 after a decision-making committee appointed by the EPA found the application was premature and more time should have been taken to understand the proposed operation, its effects on the receiving environment and existing interests.

“TTR’s latest application is almost identical to the first, and does not address the EPA’s key reasons for refusing TTR consent in 2014,” Fisheries Inshore New Zealand’s chief executive, Jeremy Helson, said.

“TTR‘s 2014 application was refused due to inadequate information, and adverse effects on the environment and existing economic activity. It is hard to understand why the EPA allowed TTR to resubmit a largely unchanged application,” Helson added.

TTR’s latest application, lodged with the EPA in August 2016, has been dogged with controversy from the start, as the TTR sought to withhold information on the effects of the sediment plume from the public for reasons of commercial sensitivity, said the release.

The EPA’s decision to approve this withholding of information was overturned by the Environment Court, on the application of the seafood industry, iwi and environmental groups.

TTR has a responsibility to provide robust information to support its application. Its  failure to do so has seen the EPA directing those opposing the application to fill in the gaps, said the complainants.

“The extension of the process and continued re-submission of evidence has resulted in submitters incurring unreasonable costs to address the deficiencies in TTR’s application.”

The hearing began in February and was initially to have ended on April 12. Instead the EPA extended the hearing to May 31 to address further questions concerning the information provided by TTR in support of its application.

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Last-minute info request from seabed miner unfair say opponents

Kiwis Against Seabed Mining spokesperson Phil McCabe says it is clear the EPA had embarked on an exercise of completing and, in effect, proving the applicant’s case. Photo: RNZ / Robin Martin

Robin Martin | Radio New Zealand | 24 April 2017

Opponents of a proposal to mine millions of tonnes of ironsand from the seabed off the Taranaki coast say the hearings process has been biased.

They say the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has bent over backwards to help the applicant Trans-Tasman Resources prove its case, at the expense of those opposed to it.

Trans-Tasman Resources has applied for consents to dig up 50 million tonnes of the South Taranaki Bight seabed every year for 35 years, for a net return five million tonnes of iron ore annually.

The company says it will earn about $400 million in export earnings a year, with the government pocketing about $6m in royalties, and create about 300 jobs.

Opponents claim the technology is unproven and the project could do irreparable damage to sensitive marine environments.

Kiwis Against Seabed Mining (KASM) spokesperson Phil McCabe said a last-minute request for Trans-Tasman Resources to provide more information on the sediment plume and noise was unfair on other submitters.

“To call for brand-new information is just not OK, because that information needed to be at the front-end of the process and our view is that this call for new information makes this whole hearing process essentially null and void.”

Mr McCabe said the call for new information came on top of an earlier extension to allow the company to get more data, for an application that he said should have been rejected in September last year on the basis of being incomplete.

He feared there were other factors in play.

“It’s clear to us that there is downward pressure upon the EPA, being placed upon the EPA, to get this application over the line.

“It’s obvious with three ministries MBIE [the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment], MPI [the Ministry of Primary Industries] and DOC [the Department of Conservation] all giving it the tick and the go-ahead.”

Mr McCabe said KASM would seek a judicial review of the process, a declaratory statement, or an appeal on the basis of a flawed process.

“It is demonstrably clear that the EPA has embarked on an exercise of completing and, in effect, proving the applicant’s case. This is an unlawful exercise of power which also significantly prejudices submitters in opposition to the application.”

The group was not alone. Fisheries submitters, Ngāti Ruanui and Forest and Bird were also angry, and all wrote to the EPA to say so.

Ngāti Ruanui chief executive Debbie Ngarewa-Packer said if the Trans-Tasman Resources application was not clear it should have been rejected. Photo: RNZ / Robin Martin

Ngāti Ruanui chief executive Debbie Ngarewa-Packer said when it wanted more time or information the authority put up road blocks, but it had done the complete opposite for Trans-Tasman Resources.

“Our general view which has been emphasised throughout this whole ridiculous process has been if the information wasn’t clear in the application at the beginning it shouldn’t have been accepted.

“And this behaviour, this need for them to have more information, further validates our concerns.”

Ms Ngarewa-Packer said the iwi was also planning a legal challenge and she feared there would be backlash among her people if the application was approved.

“I think they’ll be incensed, I think they’ll be furious and there’s a large degree of being resigned to being ripped off and treated poorly.

“I think that they are absolutely appalled at the disregard they’ve faced as the little people and there’s very much the sense of David versus Goliath.”

In its response to the submitters’ criticism, the chairman of the authority’s decision-making committee, Alick Shaw, said the Exclusive Economic Zone Act imposed an obligation on it to seek information throughout the hearings process and provided wide powers for it to do so.

“The requests for further information are made with due consideration to the obligation to establish a procedure that is appropriate and fair. The DMC [decision-making committee] has always taken steps to ensure that there is a process allowing parties an opportunity to respond, and this will continue to be the case.”

The EPA has received more than 14,000 submission on Trans-Tasman Resources’ application, the overwhelming majority against the project.

The hearings are now due to end at the end of May, and a decision on whether it is approved is due 20 days later.

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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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NZ Maori blasts EPA decision to extend seabed mining hearing

The New Zealand Herald | 28 March 2017

Te Runanga o Ngati Ruanui Trust has blasted a decision to extend the hearing into Trans Tasman Resources’ plan to mine ironsands from the seabed off South Taranaki.

The Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) hearing was due to finish on March 20 but has been extended until May 31. It then has 20 days to make a decision.

The EPA delayed the completion date after more investigation was needed into sediment plume modelling, and working out worst case scenarios.

Te Runanga o Ngati Ruanui kaiarataki Debbie Ngarewa-Packer said the trust along with the several fisheries organisations, including Talley’s Group Limited and

Fisheries Inshore New Zealand, opposed the extension because it “unreasonably added cost, time and effort to an application that was already seen as inadequate”.

She said there had been “a clear one-sided advantage throughout the whole process”.

Ngarewa-Packer said there was an allowance under law to extend the hearing but the scales were tipped in the wrong direction.

“Trans Tasman Resources are set up to focus on one thing, while the hundreds who oppose this can only draw on a finite amount time and money.

“As it stands, TTR have failed to dispel any of the uncertainties brought up during the hearings to date.

“So why give them more time to address the numerous gaps in their own information?

“If it doesn’t stack up now the project should be rejected outright.”

She said the delay was another “questionable act by the EPA” which had previously “refused to hold the hearings in the area that would be affected most”.

It had also wrongly redacted information, she said.

Te Runanga o Ngati Ruanui chairman Haimona Maruera Jnr said it “appeared the authority was doing everything it could to get the project over the line”.

“Moving the goal posts to suit one side is shameful and highlights the unfortunate trend of playing games with our community’s future.”

He called the process “shambolic and often confusing”.

“….we have lost all faith in the EPA and doubt it can uphold the fairness the authority should stand for.

“Our people have fought hard and fairly, yet the burden is again placed on us to exhaust further time, money and effort to protect our rights,” Maruera said.

In announcing the extension, EPA chair Alick Shaw said its Decision Making Committee (DMC) had taken into account the interests of the parties to the hearing, including the additional time and costs.

“However the DMC is conscious of its obligation [under law] to base its decision on the best available information and consider that the extension serves the interests of the community in ensuring that the DMC is able to achieve an adequate assessment of the application.”

He said the DMC “thanked all parties for their contributions to the hearing up to this point.

“The DMC have received a considerable amount of information and heard a wide range of views from a large number of submitters and expert witnesses.

“Much time, effort and thought has gone into the evidence and representations that have been heard,” Shaw said.

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