Tag Archives: Trans-Tasman Resources

Public Right to be Informed on Experimental Seabed Mining

stop experimental seabed mining poster

Scoop | 22 November 2016

NGOs and civil society in Papua New Guinea demand that the PNG government and Nautilus Minerals make public key documents relating to the licensing of the Solwara 1 deep sea mining project. This follows a recent decision from the New Zealand Environment Court calling for transparency of seabed mining.

Jonathan Mesulam, Alliance of Solwara Warriors said, “We congratulate and stand in solidarity with New Zealand’s victory for the public’s right to information. We have been arguing for this same right in PNG for many years in regards to experimental seabed mining.”

Kiwis Against Seabed Mining, with the support of Taranaki iwi Ngati Ruanui and Talleys Fisheries Group, had a significant win in the New Zealand Environment court earlier this month against a secretive seabed mining application. It was ruled that the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) and seabed mining company, Trans Tasman Resources (TTR) must release hundreds of blacked-out documents from TTR’s application on the grounds of transparency.

Natalie Lowrey, Deep Sea Mining campaign said, “Very little information about the Solwara 1 project has been disclosed by the PNG Government or the project developer, Nautilus Minerals. Papua New Guineans have a right to see this information especially as their Government has invested heavily as a shareholder in this project. In the interest of transparency and informed debate the PNG Government and Nautilus should release the information requested by PNG civil society for the past four years.”[1]

The New Zealand Environment court Judge stated, “Ultimately we conclude that the crucial nature of the sensitive information … when combined with the public’s right to participate effectively in the consent process, outweigh any trade secret or business prejudice interest of Trans-Tasman by a considerable margin.”

Christina Tony, Bismarck Ramu Group in Papua New Guinea said, “As in New Zealand, there is a high level of community concern in PNG about experimental seabed mining. This should result in equally high levels of transparency from both the PNG government and Nautilus Minerals. Especially since this is the world’s first venture of this kind and our people are feeling like guinea pigs. Public access to information allows Papua New Guineans to better understand the potential environmental and social impacts of the Solwara 1 project.”

“Nautilus does not have the consent of local communities. We still don’t know what the impacts of this experimental mining will be. Furthermore, the Solwara 1 site is right in the middle of our traditional fishing grounds”said Mr. Mesulam.

“We are united in our fight against any destruction of our seas, culture and livelihoods. We are a strong and committed alliance demandingseabed mining to be banned.”

[1] In 2012 the Deep Sea Mining campaign sent a letter to PNG PM Peter O’Neill requesting the release of key documents relating to the Solwara 1 seabed mining project. No response was received and those documents are still not in the public domain. View letter here.

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Environment Court rules seabed mining company must release blacked-out documents

Redacted pages from TTR's mining application

Redacted pages from TTR’s mining application

Jeremy Wilkinson | Stuff NZ | November 8, 2016

A seabed mining company will be forced to reveal hundreds of pages of blacked-out information following a ruling by the Environment Court.

Trans Tasman Resources has applied to mine a section of seabed off the coast of South Taranaki of 50 million tonnes of sand per year, and extract the iron ore using a giant magnet.

The company applied to the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) for permission to conduct the mining and has submitted a lengthy application, some of which the EPA withheld from the public on the grounds it was commercial sensitive.

However, conservation group Kiwis Against Seabed Mining, Taranaki iwi Ngati Ruanui and Talleys Fisheries Group took the authority to the Environment Court, claiming that the public could not make a submission on the proposal without having unfettered access to the whole application.

On Tuesday in Wellington the court ruled in favour of Kasm, Ngati Ruanui and Talleys, meaning the blacked-out sections of the application will be made public.

In his decision, Judge Brian Dwyer said he did not consider the information a trade secret and the public interest outweighed that of Trans Tasman Resources.

The company said it would release all the redacted information as soon as possible.

The EPA had already bowed to pressure from Kasm and Ngati Ruanui and extended the submission period on the application by two weeks, but they declined to release the redacted information in October, which sparked the legal action.

Kasm’s chairman Phil McCabe said the decision was a massive win for the group.

“The court ruled that public interest outweighed any trade secret by a considerable margin,” he said.

“Yes having this information is important but I think the bigger win is confronting the issue of transparency.”

McCabe said TTR had bullied the EPA into allowing certain parts of its application to remain secret.

“Secrecy is not okay particularly in a public process about a publicly owned resource,” he said.

Ngati Ruanui general manager Debbie Ngarewa-Packer said Environment Court had “done the right thing”.

“To be honest it was quite a nerve-racking process, we didn’t know which way the judge would go,” she said.

“TTR should have done the right thing a long time ago, they shouldn’t have forced three parties to come together and oppose this.”

Ngarewa-Packer said the iwi wasn’t opposed to big business – they’ve worked with oil and gas companies for years – but transparency was lacking in TTR’s application.

However, Kasm and Ngati Ruanui aren’t stopping the fight there, they’re going to petition the EPA to again extend the submission period so the public had more time to view the newly released information.

A TTR spokesperson said it was inappropriate to comment on the EPA process and could not confirm whether they would appeal the court’s decision or not.

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NZ Activists take seabed miner to court

seabed-mining-protest

Simon Hartley | Otago Daily Times | 8 November 2016

The  first of what is likely to be many challenges by environmentalists against a seabed mining proposal started in the Environment Court yesterday, with Kiwis Against Seabed Mining taking Trans Tasman Resources to task over redacted documents.

Trans Tasman recently made its second application to the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) to mine the South Taranaki Bight seabed for iron sands. Its first application last year was declined by the EPA, after Trans Tasman spent $66million on research and development.

However, the basis for the court challenge by KASM was prompted after Trans Tasman was successful in lobbying the EPA to redact large swathes of its second application from public scrutiny.

While KASM has been mobilising thousands of individuals to make submissions on the application, its chairman Phil McCabe said yesterday Taranaki iwi Ngati Ruanui and Talley’s Fisheries had both made submissions supporting KASM’s case in the Environment Court.

Mr McCabe said the “hundreds of pages of redactions” included details of the content of the Bight’s seabed sediment, the modelling, and detail, of the sediment plume which would be spread across the Bight from seabed mining, as well as economic data.

“We were forced to take our case to the Environment Court because the redacted documents provide crucial information about the potential environmental impact of digging up 50 million tonnes of the seabed a year for 35 years,” Mr McCabe said in a statement.

Both Trans Tasman and separate seabed mining proposer Chatham Rock Phosphate had their respective first applications turned down by the EPA, meaning every step of the legal process becomes precedent-setting.

Mr McCabe noted no information was redacted in either Trans Tasman or Chatham’s first, unsuccessful, applications and saw no reason for that to have changed.

He said the redacted documents could only be viewed if a party signed a confidentiality agreement, which severely restricted distribution and discussion of the content and put signatories at risk of civil and criminal penalties if they breached that agreement.

The hearing is expected to last for two days.

In mid-October, the EPA extended the public submission period by a month to November 14, following requests for more information. The extension meant the formal application would now begin no later than January 31.

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NZ DOC face backlash from Taranaki iwi for backing seabed mining company

seabed-mining-protest

“I just don’t understand how the heck DOC signed this off.”

Jeremy Wilkinson | Stuff NZ | October 28 2016

Backlash against the Department of Conservation is mounting after they gave the green light to a seabed mining company. 

Trans Tasman Resources (TTR) have applied to mine a 66 square kilometre area in South Taranaki of 50 million tonnes of iron-ore laden sand from the seabed per year. Their first application was rejected in 2014. 

The public can now make submissions for or against the mining application but DOC have chosen to refrain from submitting, saying in a statement that they’re satisfied all conservation measures have been met. 

One of Taranaki’s eight iwi – Ngati Ruanui – have said DOC’s decision not to submit may have cost the government a fast resolution to ongoing treaty settlements around Mt Taranaki with Ngati Ruanui and other iwi.

“There was no engagement, thats the real sadness in all of this, as treaty settlement partners we are supposed to work together,” Kaiarataki of Te Runanga o Ngati Ruanui, Debbie Ngarewa-Packer said. 

TTR’s project overview video, explaining how the mining will work.

“They can ring and tell us when they’re releasing a kiwi but they can’t ring and tell us when they’re making a radical decision that will directly affect us.”

Ngarewa-Packer said as a result of DOC backing TTR and the lack of consultation the department had with iwi on the matter, treaty settlement negotiations in Taranaki with Ngati Ruanui would be impacted. 

“Our chair said at our last meeting after a unanimous call, that we will not go back into settlement with a government that endorses this type of activity.”

“This may have a huge follow on effect to other iwi engaged in settlement. I think they’ve underestimated the effect.

“I just don’t understand how the heck DOC signed this off.”

In TTR’s first application to the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) DOC submitted against the company on the grounds more information was needed on the effects of mining-related noise on marine mammals and the potential destruction of habitat. 

A DOC spokesperson said the department had viewed TTR’s newest application to the EPA and its experts suggested several amendments to address effects on the marine environment.

“TTR accepted all the revised conditions and amendments to the monitoring and management plans requested and the department does not consider that further conservation gains will be made by submitting on the application,” the spokesperson said. 

DOC also highlighted several important differences between TTR’s first failed application and its current application in a report which stated TTR’s management conditions were “significantly more robust”.

One of the key reasons TTR’s first application was declined was due to a concern that sand stripped of iron ore wouldn’t return to the seafloor and would impact marine animals and organisms as a result.

DOC’s scientists concluded that fine sand would clump together and descend to the seafloor faster than originally thought, however Ngarewa-Packer said DOC were relying on theoretical data that hadn’t been tested in the field. 

A spokesperson for mining company Trans Tasman Resources said it would be inappropriate for the company to comment on EPA process. 

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$3.7m study to reveal deep-sea mining impacts in New Zealand

A new $3.7 million study will assess potential impacts on seafloor life from proposed seabed mining operations.

A new $3.7 million study will assess potential impacts on seafloor life from proposed seabed mining operations.

New Zealand Herald | 11 October 2016

The potential environmental impacts of controversial deep-sea mining will be investigated in a new multi-million dollar study.

Dr Malcolm Clark, a fisheries scientists at the National Institute of Water and Atmosphere (Niwa), said a lack of knowledge about life on the seafloor and how it could be affected had been one of the major factors that led the Environmental Protection Authority to refuse the two off-shore mining applications lodged so far.

There were particular concerns around impacts from sediment plumes, created by disturbance to the seafloor and mining operations discharging the processed water back into the ocean.

Clark is now leading a $3.7 million programme to tackle the questions.

While the Government has stated a strategic priority to reap benefits from seabed resources, the sustainability and integrity of the natural environment also had be maintained, he said.

What we know about the structure of deep-sea communities remained limited, Clark said; it’s estimated that only 20 to 30 per cent of the seafloor species have been formally described.

“Of particular importance, however, is a lack of knowledge of the key species or communities that drive ecosystem function, and when human activities could tip a system from the one we know to something different.”

In deep sea environments, this was especially tough to study, given the cost of funding the large ships and technology needed for the research, and the fact that the ecosystems themselves were so large.

Of those research expeditions that had been led, nearly every survey had recorded new species, and there was much more to discover.

Global estimates of the number of known marine species total 250,000 – but scientists believe this figure is only about one quarter of what is believed to really be out there.

Members of Ngati Ruanui iwi, of Patea, last month presented to Parliament a 6000-signature petition opposing seabed mining, following a fresh bid by Trans-Tasman Resources. Photo: Mark Mitchell

Members of Ngati Ruanui iwi, of Patea, last month presented to Parliament a 6000-signature petition opposing seabed mining, following a fresh bid by Trans-Tasman Resources. Photo: Mark Mitchell

While we know more than 15,000 marine species inhabit our coastal waters and ocean territory, it’s estimated there may be a further 50,000 yet to be found.

“This means that extensive and detailed biodiversity surveys are required to characterise the baseline conditions of any proposed area before mining can be considered.”

The study would test the belief that life is highly sensitive to sedimentation stirred by seabed disturbance, and investigate specific impacts, any differences in resilience and prospects for recovery.

Clark said we already knew what general effects could be expected from seabed mining, ranging from physical damage to the seafloor as it was mined, to those that could affect a wider area, through sediment plumes that could bury animals, or eco-toxic releases that could contaminate environments.

Yet, because deep-sea mining had not yet taken place anywhere in the world, the actual effects were uncertain.

Most studies to date had focused on the direct impact of disturbance, and there had been little work looking at the effects of sedimentation from deep-sea mining.

Work that had been carried out in shallow water couldn’t be applied to what might be expected in deep-sea habitats, where effects would vary between sites and depths.

But Clark said it could still be assessed how ecosystems responded to decreased light levels, how their feeding or respiration was affected and whether such effects were lethal or could be tolerated for certain periods of time.

The Niwa-led study would combine in-situ observations on the effects of sediment deposition with lab-based experiments.

Areas of the seabed would be disturbed, then closely monitored by ship-based surveys, with sampling to be repeated over time to determine which seafloor communities were more affected than others, and whether species and communities could eventually recover.

The churned-up sediment itself would also be assessed to refine plume models that predict spread, while back in labs, experiments would use live deep-sea coral and sponge species to assess their resilience.

Ultimately, the research would define the levels at which sediment impacts became ecologically damaging and offer insights into how such impacts might be reduced.

Clark expected the study would be mainly used by mining companies as part of impact assessments and management plans, but also by fisheries companies assessing effects of bottom trawling.

But he said the science wasn’t being carried out in support of what remains a controversial industry.

“The work is not about advocating for a new industry, but to provide environmental managers with information that is needed to evaluate the nature and extent of potential impacts on deep-sea communities, and what measures could be needed to reduce these effects if mining was allowed to proceed,” he said.

“Science around environmental effects of any activity is balanced with social and economic issues, and that is one of the roles of the EPA that requires more information on the long-term sustainability of affected ecosystems.”

The study comes as company Trans Tasman Resources (TTR) has drawn fresh protest with a second attempt to mine ironsands on the South Taranaki Bight, two years after its first bid was rejected by the EPA.

TTR executive chairman Alan Eggers has described the area where it wants to extract 50 million tonnes of seabed material each year, in waters 20m-42m deep, as “a largely featureless area of naturally shifting sands and sediments colonised by hardy species of common forms of marine life of no unique or special ecological significance”.

Off-shore mining in New Zealand

• No application to mine on New Zealand’s sea floor has succeeded. Trans Tasman Resource’s first bid failed in 2014 after the EPA raised concerns about the impact on the environment, iwi and fishing interests, and its economic benefits.

• Last year, an application by Chatham Rock Phosphate Limited was also rejected, with the EPA concluding its operation would cause “significant and permanent adverse effects” on the seabed environment at its proposed site on the Chatham Rise off the coast of Canterbury.

• Last month, TTR lodged a second application, prompting a protest hikoi led by Taranaki iwi Ngati Ruanui and delivering to Parliament a 6000-signature calling for a moratorium on seabed mining.

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New Zealand seabed mining company’s Chinese investor was caught up in 2010 bribery scandal

Rock Check Steel Group is based in Tianjin, China, and headed by president Rhonghua Zhang.

Rock Check Steel Group is based in Tianjin, China, and headed by president Rhonghua Zhang.

Jeremy Wilkinson | Stuff NZ | October 10 2016

A Chinese company once caught up in a multi-million dollar bribery scandal is a key investor in a New Zealand company proposing to mine iron ore off the South Taranaki coast. 

The Tianjin Rock Check Steel Group is a Chinese company with a 6.6 per cent share and a place on the board of directors at mining company Trans Tasman Resources, TTR.

TTR has applied to mine iron ore in a 66 square kilometre area of seabed off the South Taranaki coast. It is the company’s second application after being denied in 2014 because not enough was known about the potential environmental impacts of the mining on the area.  

In 2010 its Chinese investor Rock Check was embroiled in a bribery scandal that involved millions in bribes being paid to employees of Rio Tinto, one of the world’s largest mining companies.

Rock Check was one of 20 Chinese companies implicated in bribing four Rio Tinto employees to obtain iron ore pricings that allowed the companies to gain a bidding advantage over their competitors. 

Rock Check purchased shares in Trans Tasman Resources in 2011.

Rock Check purchased shares in Trans Tasman Resources in 2011.

Rock Check’s then-president Xiangqing Zhang was named in court documents reported on by the Sydney Morning Herald and China Daily as being one of the biggest benefactors of the espionage. 

Court details revealed by Melbourne newspaper The Age and reported in the Sydney Morning Herald stated the Shanghai No. 1 Intermediate People’s Court verdict detailed how Xiangqing was one of two Chinese steel billionaires who both gave bribes to Rio Tinto salesman Wang Yong and credited him for helping to build their steel empires.

Investigators found RMB99m (NZ$20m) in Yong’s bank accounts.

It was reported  Xiangqing  suffered no consequences from the case.  

Before his death in 2014, Xiangqing was well known in China as a tycoon with a “tender heart and steel spirit”. It was reported in China Dailythat in 2008 he donated RMB100m (NZ$20m) for the rescue and rehabilitation of victims of the Sichuan earthquake in May that year.

Rock Check is headed now by Xiangqing’s wife Ronghua Zhang. 

Trans Tasman Resources formed in 2011, one year after the Rio Tinto scandal, and launched a bid in late 2013 to mine a 66 square kilometres patch of seabed off the South Taranaki coastline of 50 million tonnes of iron ore laden sand per year.

Their bid was rejected in 2014 by government’s Environmental Protection Agency on the grounds not enough was known about the environmental impact of the proposed mining activities. 

TTR would not answer questions about whether they knew of Rock Check’s involvement in the 2010 bribery scandal. 

A spokesperson for the company said Rock Check had acquired their shares in TTR by investing in the company when it was formed in 2011, the same as any other investor. 

” They initially acquired a board position and a conditional offtake agreement to purchase iron ore, which was subsequently terminated several years ago,” the spokesperson said. 

“TTR has no commercial arrangements or contracts with Rock Check.

“They remain a shareholder and entitled to a board seat but do not participate in, or control, the management or operations of TTR.”

The spokesperson said Rock Check still had interests in New Zealand as “a significant customer” of NZ Steel’s Taharoa operation.

Several attempts were made to contact the Tianjin Rock Check Steel Group through their website and via phone over the course of several days. They were unsuccessful.  

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Anti-mining activists taking NZ government agency to court over confidential documents

Redacted pages from TTR's mining application

Redacted pages from TTR’s mining application

Jeremy Wilkinson | Stuff

Activists are taking a government agency to court over its refusal to release blacked out documents related to plans for a huge mining scheme off the South Taranaki coast.

The Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) has stood by its decision to allow parts of an application by Trans Tasman Resources (TTR) to remain confidential. 

The company wants to mine 50 million tonnes of sand from a 66 square kilometre area in order to extract iron ore.

Ngati Ruanui of Patea are the iwi most affected by the proposed mining and are staunchly opposed to it. MONIQUE FORD / Fairfax NZ

Ngati Ruanui of Patea are the iwi most affected by the proposed mining and are staunchly opposed to it. MONIQUE FORD / Fairfax NZ

But it has kept hundreds of pages blacked-out in its consent application to the EPA.

Kiwis Against Seabed Mining (KASM) chair Phil McCabe said the group would filing proceedings with the Environment Court against the EPA on Friday. 

A public submission period is currently underway for people wanting to have their say on TTR’s application, its second since the EPA rejected an earlier effort in 2014.

At that time the EPA said the environmental impact of mining was still unknown. 

KASM has made a submission to the EPA to reveal the documents, but the authority ruled on Wednesday they would be kept under-wraps to preserve the commercial sensitivity of the information. 

Kasm delivered a 6000+ signed the petition calling for a moratorium on seabed mining to parliament in September.

“It’s not a good decision, this is meant to be a public and transparent process,” McCabe said.

“It’s not possible for the public to make an informed submission if there are hundreds of pages of vital information missing.”

TTR has maintained that the information contained within the redacted sections was commercially sensitive and the EPA’s decision making committee (DMC) chair Alick Shaw agreed.

“The DMC remains satisfied that an order protecting the sensitive information is necessary to avoid disclosing a trade secret or avoid causing unreasonable prejudice to TTR’s commercial position,” he said. 

People wanting to view the confidential sections can sign an agreement with TTR, but McCabe said it was unrealistic to expect thousands of people to sign.

“It’s hardly confidential anymore anyway if that were to happen,” he said. 

At present several organisations, such as the Iwi Fisheries Forum, DOC, Fish and Game NZ and the Taranaki Regional Council have all signed the agreement, but affected iwi have stonewalled any consultation with the company, including signing the agreement. 

A TTR spokesperson said the company could not comment on the EPA’s process and had nothing to add.

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