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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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CEO explains experimental undersea mining

In the article below Nautilus’ CEO paints a rosy picture that is very much at odds with the REAL STORY in its financial filings. Follow the links to read the true picture: 

Nautilus admits serious questions over Solwara 1 viability and future

Nautilus admits environmental impacts of experimental seabed mining unknown

The National aka The Loggers Times | May 25, 2017

THE first undersea mining in the country will take place in New Ireland and operated by Nautilus Minerals. Chief executive officer MIKE JOHNSTON explained to The National’s Business Editor SHIRLEY MAULUDU the nature of the project. He also discussed environmental aspects of the project.

MAULUDU: Tell us briefly about the company Nautilus Minerals.
JOHNSTON: Nautilus is listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange and is the first public company to explore the deep ocean floor the world’s future mineral resources. Nautilus was granted the world’s first exploration licence for deep sea mineral resources in 1997. Our first mining lease and environment permit were granted in 2009 and 2010 respectively.
MAULUDU: Tell us about the Solwara 1 project in New Ireland.
JOHNSTON: The Solwara 1 project is located in the Bismarck Sea, Papua New Guinea, 30 kms from the coast of New Ireland and 1600 meters below the surface. The project uses technologies from the offshore oil and gas industry, and terrestrial underground mining to produce high grade copper and gold. The planned extractions area is very small at 0.1 km2.  Additional benefits include that no tailings are produced, no landowners are required to be moved, and there is no impact from mining above 1300m water depth. The project is being developed in partnership with the PNG Government. It is fully permitted and has strong local and national support.
MAULUDU: Which communities, wards or the district in New Ireland will be directly impacted by the project?
JOHNSTON: As Solwara 1 is located at 1,600m water depth in the ocean, 30km from land, no one is directly impacted by the project. There is also no requirement to clear land, and no impact on tuna or coastal fisheries. An area known as the “Coastal Area of Benefit” (CAB) has been established by the provincial and national governments, where communication and community benefit programmes are focussed. The CAB comprises seven wards on the west coast of New Ireland. Only last week, Nautilus, in partnership with the NIPG, and with the assistance of Abt Associates and the New Ireland Provincial Health Authority, completed a health patrol and data collection programme (began in Oct 2016). The team estimated during this programme that they saw 7000-plus patients, out of a population of around 8500. These programmes will be ongoing.
MAULUDU: What sort of tools will be used to carry out the mining?
JOHNSTON: The production system uses existing technology from the offshore oil and gas sector, combined with rock cutting and materials handling technologies used in land-based operations.
The three main components of the Seafloor Production System are:
l Seafloor Production Tools comprising auxiliary cutter, bulk cutter and collecting machine;
l riser and Lifting System; and,
l Production Support Vessel.
The mining tools cut the rock material, which is then transferred to the Production Support Vessel as a “sloppy slurry” via a very large pump and steel pipe (riser) system.  On board the vessel the high grade rock is separated from the water by gravity methods. The resulting rock is stored in the ship’s hull, to be later transfer to a bulk cargo vessel, then shipped directly to China.
MAULUDU: How will the minerals be mined from under the sea?
JOHNSTON: Rock is cut on the seafloor by the AC and the BC, and then pumped to an adjacent stockpile area. The third machine, CM, then collects the cut material, sucking it up and transferring it as seawater slurry to the main pump, situated at the bottom of the steel riser system. The riser system comprises a rigid steel riser pipe supported from the vessel which delivers the slurry to the surface. The large subsea pump is situated at the bottom of the riser pump, just off the sea floor.  The entire riser and pump system is suspended directly beneath the support vessel. On the deck of the Production Support Vessel, the slurry is dewatered using gravity. The solid material is stored temporarily in the PSV’s hull, and then discharged to a transportation vessel moored alongside. Filtered seawater is pumped back to the seafloor through the riser pipes and provides hydraulic power to operate the RALS pump. Discharge of the return water at the seafloor from where it came eliminates mixing of the water column, and minimises the environmental impact of the operation.
MAULUDU: What minerals in particular will Nautilus be mining for?
JOHNSTON: Copper and gold.
MAULUDU: Environmental issues have been raised by individuals, groups, regarding the Solwara 1 project. How will Nautilus avoid causing any impact on the environment within which it will operate?
JOHNSTON: There are many significant environmental benefits to mining in the deep sea. And our systems try to use these benefits as much as possible. These include effectively no mine tailings, minimal pre-stripping of sediment, low fresh water needs, no vegetation stripping or fresh water catchment issues, minimal rehabilitation costs with no permanent on-site infrastructure such as roads, power lines, buildings and so on. At Solwara 1 we were able for example to design our riser system as a fully enclosed pump and pipe system to extract the mineralised material from the seafloor. There is no mixing of the water column and there is no impact from mining shallower than 1300m water depth at Solwara 1 (more than 1000 meters below where most tuna, whales etc live)
MAULUDU: How is Nautilus doing with its awareness programme in educating the impact communities on the nature of the project?
JOHNSTON: Nautilus has always and continues to ensure that the communities located closest to its Solwara 1 Project (and the wider community in PNG) are fully informed about the Solwara 1 Project. During the development of the Solwara 1 Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), we visited a number of villages and towns in PNG to ensure the views and concerns of local communities were heard. The specific villages and towns were determined in consultation with PNG national and provincial governments. Our commitment to the community does not end with the completion of the EIS or granting of the Environment Permit. Community engagements have continued to take place since the Environment Permit was granted by the then Department of Environment and Conservation (DEC) in December 2009. Representatives from the national and provincial governments accompany Nautilus Minerals during these community engagement campaigns. To date, Nautilus Minerals has recorded the attendance of around 30,000 people at engagements/awareness campaigns held in 46 locations within PNG. Both numbers are still growing. We plan to continue with our community engagement campaigns in New Ireland and East New Britain as we move into the operations phase of the project. We have and will continue to focus our engagement programme on the villages located nearest to the Solwara 1 Project site, the CAB. This area covers the communities who have the greatest interest in understanding the project and this will be where many of our CSR programs will be implemented.
MAULUDU: Give an update on the progress of the Solwara 1 project.
JOHNSTON: Nautilus has taken delivery of the Seafloor Production Tools (SPTs). They are currently undergoing submerged trials in PNG. The Riser and Ancillary equipment is completed and currently in storage. The Subsea Slurry and Lift Pump is completed and Nautilus will take delivery of it later this year. The Production Support Vessel is currently being built in China and is progressing to schedule.

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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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BRA unites as Bougainville waits for referendum

Bougainville Revolutionary Army fighters look down on the Panguna mine in 1996

The National aka The Loggers Times | May 19, 2017
FACTIONS of the Bougainville Revolutionary Army have signed an agreement to work together as the province looks ahead to the 2019 referendum.
Hundreds of people yesterday witnessed a reconciliation event at the Arawa Independence Oval in Buka.
The BRA factions signed a memorandum of joint commitment to work together toward the Bougainville referendum.
On Monday, a reconciliation ceremony was also held at the Roreinang United Church Mission ground. It was where the A company broke away from the rest of the army to form Me’ekamui in 1997.
On Tuesday, there was another reconciliation ceremony held in Panguna. The events were witnessed by officials from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the Autonomous Bougainville Government and the people of Bougainville.
ABG Minister for the Department of Peace Agreement and Implementation Albert Punghau said the unification of the BRA factions was vital for the region if it wanted to achieve the referendum.
Former BRA Chief of Defence Ishmael Toroama said it was a day to be united and to remember “loved ones we lost”.
“This is the day when the Government declared the state of emergency.
“Today we stand and remember our loved ones during the civil war in Bougainville.
“We remember that we fought to take care of our people and our resources,” Toroama said.

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Local firm gets mining licence

The National aka The Loggers Times | May 18, 2017

A LANDOWNER company in Enga has been granted seven alluvial mining licence leases by the Mineral Resources Authority.
It allows the Koekam PM Holdings Ltd in the Kompiam-Ambum district to engage exploration companies on their tribal land.
Company chairman Peter Malix, while thanking the MRA for granting the licence, said it had taken a long time and resources to finally receive the mining licence.
He thanked Mining Minister Byron Chan, the Mineral Resources Authority and those who had done a lot so that the landowner company “can have a say in the development of resources in our own land”.
The licence will allow investment in development of the mineral-rich Koekam area where alluvial mining activities are on a small scale.
“Now we have the five-year mining leases,” Malix said.
“I appeal to people from the five council wards to work together so that we can get maximum benefit from the mining development,”
The impact areas will cover Poreyalin, Aiyal, Malipin, Liu-Tip and the Kukin-Kalimb tribe from the Kompiam Local Level Government.
Alonge Alupi from Koekam said he was happy that they would now look for investors to develop the alluvial mining.

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Company confident experimental PNG seabed mining project on track

Nautilus CEO falsely claims communities have given their free prior informed consent to experimental seabed mining – a COMPLETE LIE. 

He also fails to mention the company doesn’t yet have the funds to start mining!

Radio New Zealand | 15 May  2017

A Canadian mining company says it is confident that a controversial seabed mine will be operational off Papua New Guinea in 2019, as planned.

There have been ongoing concerns about what the impact the Solwara 1 project off the coast of New Ireland Province will have on the environment and local communities.

Nautilus Minerals was granted an environmental permit in 2009 to develop the mine, but it is still yet to be built.

Nautilus chief executive Michael Johnston said the company has conducted robust consultations with a range of groups about the impact of the mine, and he says these had been factored into their planning process.

He said the company had run various hearings and workshops in New Ireland, Kokopo, Rabaul and Port Moresby and any issues that were raised at the meetings were recorded and, where appropriate, were attached as conditions to the company’s licences.

“I know NGOs around countries like Australia and New Zealand jump up and down about free and prior informed consent, but you actually have a system in PNG where it’s actually obtained.”

There had been concerns raised about the process mixing the water column and the potential for it to cause plumes, but Mr Johnston said that the mining process had bee designed so that this wouldn’t be an issue.

“We designed our system taking that on board and have a system where we take the water up on to the vessel, separate the ore-bearing material. It then goes through a de-watering plant which is basically a series of screens, cyclones and eventually filters to remove the ore material and we filter it to 8 microns and then the filtered water is then returned in pipes.”

He said that the technology the company would use, was not new, and been used the the oil and gas industry for years.

“Deep water is anything over about 2000-25000 m. The machines that we are deploying are basically a modification of oil and gas of an oil and gas trenching machine.”

The company is confident the project will be on track to start extracting ore in the first quarter of 2019, he said.

“So that’s the budgeted first ore date and we’re tracking to that schedule at the moment so I don’t see any reason why it won’t achieve it.”

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BCL Working Closely With ABG

Bougainville Copper Limited (BCL) Has Been Engaged In Planning And Implementing Agreed-Upon Activities In Bougainville Since 2012, BCL Chairman Rob Burns Said This Week.

Post Courier | May 12, 2017

Bougainville Copper Limited (BCL) has been engaged in planning and implementing agreed-upon activities in Bougainville since 2012, BCL chairman Rob Burns said this week.

Mr Burns said in a statement this had been at the invitation of the Autonomous Bougainville Government and the nine landowner associations involved in discussions on the future of the Panguna resource.

“BCL meets routinely with the ABG and the landowning associations to review these plans and agree on further activities,” he said.

He reiterated his statement at the recent annual general meeting on April 27, outlining some of the progress regarding the Panguna project that had been achieved with the support of Panguna landowners and other stakeholders.

Mr Burns said this in relation to an article in Post-Courier on May 3 in which a landowner group claimed that BCL wanted to get easy access to the Panguna mine.

“BCL is now a predominately locally owned company with landowners at the core of its operations,” he said, adding that the Panguna project had the support of Prime Minister Peter O’Neill and Bougainville president John Momis.

Mr Burns noted that one interest group from the Panguna area recently petitioned the ABG to cancel BCL’s exploration rights.

“This group purports to represent all Panguna landowners, and questions the ABG and national government support for BCL.

“As noted by president Momis in his interview with Radio New Zealand last week, the group has a separate commitment to an Australian resource company, which is in pursuit of mineral rights at Panguna, of which BCL has been granted tenure.”

Much of the public discourse in the media regarding resource development at Panguna must be viewed in terms of competing commercial interest in Panguna’s mineral rights.

He said that differing views on the future of the Panguna project, especially from the customary landowners, should be respected.

However, when those views do not reflect the broad support from landowners, these views are being driven by personal ambition at the expense of customary landowners and the economic security of Bougainville.

“There is still much work to do to strengthen alignment between stakeholders on the range of issues affecting project progress.

“BCL will continue to engage with the landowning groups at Panguna who have continuously provided support in finding a pathway through the many issues that confront us  all.”

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