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Panel to discuss experimental seabed mining at AAAS Meeting

WHOI deep-sea biologist Stace Beaulieu will address potential environmental impacts from deep-sea mining on different types of ecosystems. These bamboo coral, located at a seamount in the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument, are an example of hard-bottomed ecosystems found at ferromanganese-encrusted seamounts. The expansion of the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monuments in 2014 provided protection against mining activities.

WHOI deep-sea biologist Stace Beaulieu will address potential environmental impacts from experimental seabed mining on different types of ecosystems. These bamboo coral, located at a seamount in the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument, are an example of hard-bottomed ecosystems found at ferromanganese-encrusted seamounts.

Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution | EurekAlert |  17 February 2017

Home to an immense diversity of marine life, the deep ocean also contains valuable minerals with metals such as nickel, copper, cobalt, manganese, zinc, and gold, and rare-earth elements used in electronic technology like smart phones and medical imaging machines. As demand for these resources increases and supplies on land decrease, commercial mining operators are looking to the deep ocean as the next frontier for mining.

What are the risks and environmental impacts of deep-sea mining on fragile marine ecosystems? Would seafloor mineral resources be enough to keep up with the evolving demands of modern society?

A panel of scholars including Stace Beaulieu, a deep-sea biologist at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI), will discuss these and other questions during the symposium, “Should We Mine the Seafloor?” scheduled on Saturday, February 18, at the AAAS meeting in Boston, MA. A news briefing for science journalists will be held at 4 p.m. on Friday, February 17, in room 103 of the Hynes Convention Center.

The speakers will examine the pros and cons of seafloor mining, its engineering feasibility, and its legal and societal implications with the goal of providing the best available, objective, scientific evidence to inform ongoing policy efforts on this important and timely topic.

“Our panel is unique in that we bring together knowledge of the demand for critical metals and the potential supply from known and yet-to-be-discovered seafloor mineral resources, and an understanding of deep-sea ecosystems, including a new perspective on ecosystem services that contribute to human well-being,” Beaulieu says.

Currently, there’s no mining occurring in the ocean deeper than the continental shelves, but the industry is moving forward quickly. Many of the engineering challenges associated with working in the deep sea have already been addressed by the offshore oil and gas industry. Different types of machines for mining have been built and the components for mining systems are currently being tested in deep-sea deployments.

About 27 countries have already signed contracts to explore for deep-sea resources with the International Seabed Authority (ISA), the organization that controls mineral exploration and exploitation in the area beyond national jurisdiction. And the first deep-sea mining project –Solwara 1 within the jurisdiction of Papua New Guinea–is scheduled to begin in 2019 by Nautilus Minerals.

Beaulieu’s talk will address potential environmental impacts from deep-sea mining and highlight new research on the vulnerability and resilience of deep-sea ecosystems. She’s also been working with social scientists to address the question of economic impacts from lost and degraded ecosystem services, such as the potential for new medicines from deep-sea, biological resources.

The symposium will also feature talks by experts Thomas Graedel, an industrial ecologist at Yale University, and Mark Hannington, a geologist at GEOMAR-Helmholtz Center for Ocean Research.

Graedel will examine how the demand for metals might evolve in the next few decades. Hannington’s talk will focus on estimates of the abundance of seafloor deposits targeted for mining.

The symposium will be moderated by Mindy Todd, a radio producer and journalist at WCAI – The Cape & Islands NPR Station.

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NZ Forest & Bird warns of seabed mining risks to marine mammals

Photo: Reinhard Dirscherl/ullstein bild via Getty Images

Scoop NZ | 16 February 2017

Forest & Bird is warning that the destructive practice of seabed mining would cause significant damage to the marine environment if allowed to proceed in the South Taranaki Bight.

The environmental organisation will be appearing at Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) hearings starting today, opposing the latest plans to mine for iron ore sand.

Trans Tasman Resources Limited (TTRL) has applied to undertake iron sand seabed mining in the region between South Taranaki and Golden Bay. The application area covers 65 km² of seabed, more than three times the size of Kapiti Island.

In their submission, Forest & Bird describe the significant damage that mining would cause to the seafloor, and to seabirds, fish and marine mammals.

“We know that the mining will have a significant impact on the seafloor and associated marine life, not just in the vast mine footprint, but on a much wider area due to suspended sediment plumes,” says Forest & Bird Chief Executive Kevin Hague.

“But what is equally important is what we don’t know about the long term and cumulative impacts on the habitat of threatened and at risk species.”

Thirteen whales and dolphin species are known to use the South Taranaki Bight, and whale stranding records show that impacts on a much larger number of species should be considered.

TTRL has also failed to provide a thorough description of noise from their proposed operations, making it impossible to assess the impacts on whales and dolphins in the region.

“The South Taranaki Bight has been recognised as an important blue whale foraging ground, possibly one of only five known in the Southern Hemisphere outside of Antarctica,” says Mr Hague. The blue whale is listed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as internationally endangered.

“This is a terrible proposal, not just in terms of environmental impacts, but also due to the potential damage to the New Zealand’s ‘clean green’ reputation and tourist industry,” says Mr Hague.

A total of 13,733 submissions were received on this application, the highest number of submissions the EPA has received on any application since it was established in 2011.

“There is a huge amount of community feeling against this destructive practice,” says Mr Hague.

“We are urging the EPA to decline the application.”

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Strong opposition to NZ seabed mining proposal at EPA hearings

seabed-mining-protest

Kiwis Against Seabed Mining | Scoop NZ | February 15, 2017

When seabed mining hearings open in Wellington today, the strength of opposition will be apparent to the Environmental Protection Authority, said Kiwis Against Seabed Mining (KASM) today.

The EPA is hearing a renewed application by mining company Trans-Tasman Resources to dig up 50 million tonnes of the seabed a year in a 66 sq. km section of the South Taranaki Bight – for 35 years. The EPA refused the company a consent in 2014. They have now re-applied.

“It is clear from the hearing schedule and the more than 13,500 individual submissions that there is little support for this proposal,” said Phil McCabe, KASM Chairperson.

“While the EPA has not released its analysis of the submissions as it did last time yet, it is clear that the vast majority of those who spoke out are against this destructive practice.”

There are three times as many submitters as for the first application.

Members of the public opposed to the application will gather outside the venue at the Westpac Stadium in Wellington, when the hearings open.

Inside, the first day will see opening statements in opposition from KASM, whose lawyers will also represent Greenpeace, from almost the whole of the country’s fishing industry, including fishing giants Talley’s and the Maori Fisheries company Te Ohu Kaimoana, and from the Royal Forest & Bird Society and Origin Energy.

The strength of Maori opposition will be evident at the hearings in New Plymouth, the only venue outside Wellington, on 6 March.

“All the local Iwi are opposing this proposal. KASM has supported calls by the Iwi for hearings in the communities that would be most affected by the seabed mining.”

The process has been marked by extensive procedural wrangling. KASM late last year applied to the Environment Court to force release of crucial environmental information that had been withheld by the EPA. The Environment Court agreed, ordering release of the material.

“KASM will continue to fight for public participation,” said McCabe. “Most recently we objected strongly to the decision of the committee not to allow cross examination. If anything, in light of the fact that the EPA has turned down two applications, there should be more scrutiny than ever on this proposal.”

McCabe also slammed the Department of Conservation for refusing to make a submission, when, in the first application by Trans Tasman Resources in 2013, DOC made extensive submissions, particularly on the conditions for any consent, which was ultimately refused

“DOC has ditched its responsibility to protect the world’s most endangered dolphin, the Maui dolphin, despite the mine site being in its southern habitat. DOC’s lack of engagement in this process is shocking,” he said.

KASM experts will be giving evidence next week. These include:

• Blue whale expert Dr Leigh Torres (Tuesday February 21), who has been studying the presence and behaviour of blue whales in the South Taranaki Bight. Dr Torres is out in the Bight right now, on another research expedition where she is looking for confirmation of her theory that the Bight is not only a feeding ground for the blue whales, but could also be a breeding ground for a New Zealand-specific population. See her evidence here.

• Dr John Cockrem of Massey University (Wednesday February 22), one of the country’s leading experts in the little penguin – Korora, or Blue Penguin – whose populations are in decline. The plume from the seabed mining could affect the food and feeding grounds of these birds, and others. See his evidence here.

• Economist Jim Binney (Thursday 23 February) has challenged the methodology Trans-Tasman Resources has used to extrapolate its economic benefits and job creation from the proposal. He argues they should have used the Treasury’s recommended cost benefit analysis methodology and that they should have valued environmental and social costs. See his evidence here.

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Study: Seabed mining causes long-lasting ecological damage

Metal-rich nodules can be found in abundance on large swaths of the ocean floor. Photo by National Oceanography Center/University of Southampton

Metal-rich nodules can be found in abundance on large swaths of the ocean floor. Photo by National Oceanography Center/University of Southampton

Brooks Hays | UPI | February 10, 2017

Analysis by scientists at the National Oceanography Center in England suggest deep-sea mining operations will have long-lasting ecological consequences.

Researchers reviewed the available scientific literature on small-scale sea-floor disturbances and found clear and measurable impacts to marine ecosystems lasting decades.

As metals become scarce on land, the mining industry has turned its attention to the deep sea floor, where vast expanses of nodules rest. Nodules are potato-sized rocks featuring significant amounts of high-quality metals like copper, manganese and nickel.

No commercial deep-sea mining operations are yet underway, but the International Seabed Authority has issued several exploratory mining licenses to companies from multiple countries.

Scientists have been conducting sea-floor disturbance experiments since the 1970s. The predictive value of a single experiment is limiting, but by surveying a variety of these experiments, scientists at NOC were able to identify broader patterns.

All of the experiments analyzed by NOC researchers were much smaller than an actual mining operation.

These studies will underestimate the impacts of mining,” researcher wrote in their paper, published in the journal PLOS ONE. “Many would not even represent one month’s work for a full-scale commercial operation, which might last for twenty years.”

The longest experiment included in the survey lasted 26 years. Though the disturbed site showed some evidence of recovery, biodiversity and abundance remained diminished.

Because the deep sea floor is still poorly understood by scientists, researchers say environmental officials must be extra vigilant in regulating deep-sea mining operations.

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Iwi criticises lack of notice by NZ EPA of ironsand mining application hui

ttr-application-map

Trans Tasman Resources have applied to mine iron ore from a 66-square kilometre area off the South Taranaki coast.

Stuff NZ | February 10 2017

Taranaki iwi say they were not given enough notice of a conference being held today ahead of a hearing on plans to mine millions of tonnes of iron-laden sand off the southern Taranaki coast.

More than 13,733 submissions have been received over Trans-Tasman Resources’ (TTR) bid to mine the seabed off Patea.

Next Thursday the Environmental Protection Agency will begin its hearing on the application in Wellington.

Today, Friday, the EPA is holding a pre-hearing conference at the Westpac Stadium – but iwi say they only had a week’s notice as the hearing was announced on an EPA website the day the long Waitangi Day weekend began.

“Announcing a hui to consider critical matters of the hearing process with only a week’s notice, requiring RSVP only two working days later, speaks volumes to the very concerns iwi and others in the South Taranaki community have about the EPA process,” Kaitumuaki Cassandra Crowley, of Te Korowai o Ngāruahine Trust, said.

She said iwi found out about the pre-hearing conference while searching for updates on the application.

“At such short notice, it is difficult for iwi and many other Taranaki community-based submitters and individuals to attend a hui in Wellington.”

Crowley said critical technical submissions would be determined at the conference.

The iwi questioned whether the EPA had sufficient resources to properly assess the application, she said.

They also wanted to know why hearings were being held away from the affected area and where the most affected people were based.

EPA principal communications advisor Helen Corrigan said the EPA did have sufficient resources to process the TTR application.

She said the decision-making committee advised on February 3 that a pre-hearing conference would be held on February 10  at the Westpac Stadium in Wellington.

This was posted on the EPA’s website on February 3 and all submitters and the applicant were notified the same day.

Submitters who indicated in their submission they could receive electronic correspondence were emailed on February 3 and submitters who had indicated in their submission they could not receive electronic correspondence were sent a letter on the same day.

TTR first lodged an application to mine off the South Taranaki coastline in 2013. This was subsequently rejected by the EPA.

The current application was lodged last year and, like the original application, has been met by strong opposition within South Taranaki.

Local iwi Ngāruahine, Ngaa Rauru and Ngāti Ruanui have expressed concerns about the EPA process throughout the latest application.

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Scientists Fear Experimental Seabed Mining

subsea mining equipment

subsea mining equipment

The Maritime Executive | 5 February 2017

Scientists fear that even before one of the last frontiers of exploration, the ocean deep, has been properly studied it will already have been exploited and damaged by commercial deepsea mining looking for rare metal and minerals on the ocean floor.

Around 70 percent of the world’s surface is covered by ocean and more than half of that is designated as international waters. Currently less than 0.05 percent of the ocean floor has been mapped at a level of detail where objects a few meters in size can be discerned. Marine biologists estimate that there are around 750,000 marine species yet to be identified, many of them likely to be found in the deep sea.

The mining industry has been developing technologies to extract metals and minerals at depths of over 500 meters, and it’s expected that commercial mining will start for the first time in 2018 off Papua New Guinea with the Solwara 1 project.

One mining method is to use a conveyor belt system of buckets to bring soil containing metal and mineral deposits from sites on the sea floor up to a mining ship for processing. A second method is to use pipes to hydraulically suck up soil from sites on the sea floor, also to a mining ship for processing.

But before that happens the MIDAS project, which is made up of scientists, industry figures, NGOs and legal experts from 32 organizations across Europe, gathered data to gain a good picture of what damage might be done by mining and so inform regulators of what needs to be put in place to protect the deep sea environment.

MIDAS scientists have released a summary of findings late last year and plan to release more technical papers in 2017. They found that new environmental issues need to be considered, such as the large surface areas affected by nodule mining, the potential risk of submarine landslides through sediment destabilization in gas hydrate extraction or the release of toxic elements through oxidation of minerals during mining.

There is a risk that the mining process will release metal ions into the water column, either in the benthic plume created by mining vehicles or, following dewatering on the surface vessel, in a mid-water plume. Such plumes can potentially travel hundreds of kilometers, carrying potential toxicants with them. Mid-water plumes may impact photosynthetic microalgae or animals within the water column.

Despite considerable sampling and study of the deep sea over the past century, knowledge of species distribution across most spatial and temporal scales is still very poor, say the scientists. Hence, current levels of biogeographic knowledge are not sufficient to make accurate predictions of the consequences of mining.

Currently the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) governs activity on the seabed. UNCLOS states that international waters are the “common heritage of mankind” and that the International Seabed Authority (ISA), based in Jamaica is the body responsible for administering it. The ISA has signed a number of mining deals and is in the process of drawing up a mining code to govern deep-sea mining before 2018.

The MIDAS summary report is available here [pdf]

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Outrage over limited hearing locations for NZ seabed mining decision

Nga Rauru Kitahi general manager Anne-Marie Broughton compared the hearing locations to tactics employed against Maori in the 1800s.

Nga Rauru Kitahi general manager Anne-Marie Broughton compared the hearing locations to tactics employed against Maori in the 1800s.

Jeremy Wilkinson  | Stuff NZ | January 25 2017

Hearings which will decide whether a company can mine the seabed off the coast of Taranaki will only be held in two locations – to the outrage of opposition groups. 

Trans Tasman Resources has applied for the second time in as many years to mine ore from sand 36 kilometres off the coast of Patea. A previous, similar application was denied in 2014. 

The Environmental Protection Authority will host hearings in New Plymouth and Wellington in mid-February, but Kiwis Against Seabed Mining (Kasm) is arguing that opposition to the mining is far more widespread and hearing locations should be tailored to reflect that. 

Nagti Ruanui, the other iwi whose territory TTR has applied to mine iron sand in, protested at parliament in late 2016.

Nagti Ruanui, the other iwi whose territory TTR has applied to mine iron sand in, protested at parliament in late 2016.

“When the authority held their hearings last time around there were hearings in Hamilton and Whanganui so people all over the country could at least make one,” Kasm’s secretary Cindy Baxter said. 

Baxter said of the more than 4000 people that submitted through Kasm, 118 were in Raglan, 65 in Auckland, 38 in Whanganui and 26 in New Plymouth.

“Where they’re holding hearings doesn’t reflect where the majority of submissions are coming from,” she said. 

The 66 square kilometres off the South Taranaki coast where Trans Tasman Resources have applied to mine iron ore.

The 66 square kilometres off the South Taranaki coast where Trans Tasman Resources have applied to mine iron ore.

“They’ve said people can Skype in to the hearings, but that’s not really the same thing.”

As for why people from all over the country have submitted against TTR and want to be heard at the hearings, Baxter said it was the precedent the proposed mining activity would set. 

“It’s the black sand that links us,” she said. 

“People are very protective of it. That’s how I got involved with Kasm, because I live at a black sand beach in Piha and I was worried once they were done with Taranaki they would move north.”

Kasm estimated that more than 17,000 people had submitted against TTR’s latest application, a number later confirmed by the Environmental Protection Authority as 13,733 total submissions – with those for and against yet to be confirmed. 

This was the highest number of submissions the EPA has ever received on any application since it was established in 2011. The second highest being 4850 submissions on TTR’s similar application in 2014. 

It’s not just Kasm that is unhappy with the decision. Nga Rauru Kitahi – one of the iwi which TTR’s proposed mining activities will affect – has said the decision to not hold hearings within the territory of tangata whenua was “appalling”.

“It’s a serious insult to not hold hearings on one of Ngati Ruanui or Nga Rauru Kitahi marae or at an absolute minimum, within one of our rohe (territory),” Nga Rauru Kitahi’s general manager Anne-Marie Broughton said. 

She compared the the decision to “behaviour deployed on Maori in the 1800s when the Native Land Court convened sittings regarding Maori land in distant locations creating barriers of time and cost to owners”.

“Consequently, many Maori owners were unable to attend court hearings, resulting in the loss of their lands.”

Broughton said it was appalling that this behaviour was continuing in 2017.

The hearing will begin in the Member’s Lounge in Westpac Stadium, Wellington, at 9am on February 16. 

Dates and times for the New Plymouth hearings have yet to be confirmed. 

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