Tag Archives: Trans-Tasman Resources

Phil McCabe: Seabed mining rebuffs send right message

People at Piha beach raise awareness of the threat of seabed mining. Photo / Michael Craig

People at Piha beach raise awareness of the threat of seabed mining. Photo / Michael Craig

Phil McCabe* | The New Zealand Herald

Among the fallout from the Environmental Protection Agency denial of a second application to mine the seabed for minerals in New Zealand waters, there have been cries from the mining industry and friends that our new legislation needs softening.

Really? Let’s go back a few steps.

The exploitation of mineral resources in our exclusive economic zone (EEZ) has been a major part of this Government’s economic growth plan. It established the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as an independent body to create public confidence in the decision-making process for activities such as mining, and its EEZ legislation was, in part, written to enable the industry to establish itself here.

The Government was aware of potential environmental effects. Then-Environment Minister Amy Adams described the new laws as sending “a clear message to companies operating in the EEZ that New Zealanders value their oceans”.

When Trans Tasman Resources failed the EPA test in its bid to mine the ironsands in the South Taranaki Bight, both then-Conservation Minister Nick Smith and Energy and Resources Minister Simon Bridges defended their “robust” framework.

Mr Bridges said our “world best practice” legislation had led to a decision that “shows that we have a strong process with very high environmental hurdles that have to be met”. But he also warned: “Not everyone can jump that high.” This was the case with both seabed mining applications.

Globally, the industry called “seabed mining” is still very much in development, an untested technology with no comparable projects anywhere else on Earth. The New Zealand Government opened our waters to this novel industry and the high levels of uncertainty have shone through with these negative decisions, at the expense of investors.

About $100 million was spent over seven years on the two failed proposals, during which time they reeled in willing investors. But did the companies over-promise their ability to get marine licences for this untested industry?

In the light of two failed applications under a regulatory framework designed to enable them, there are only two possible conclusions that can be drawn.

First, the companies could not prove their proposals were environmentally and economically acceptable.

Second, the Government underestimated the complexities involved in introducing into the marine environment what has been a wholly terrestrial commercial activity. It might be that large-scale mining in the marine environment is inappropriate for New Zealand altogether.

The EPA’s Chatham Rise decision states that the environmental effects on a rare and vulnerable ecosystem were a “major concern” and that economic benefits to New Zealand were “modest at best”.

In both applications, the EPA found the economic benefits wanting. The royalties payable would have been minimal for a resource 100 per cent owned by New Zealand.

What of the future investor in all of this and of the cries of New Zealand being “closed for business”? Such scaremongering by industry groups is disingenuous and self-serving.

Yes, these two decisions send a signal – but not that New Zealand is “closed for business”. That’s insulting to the many sustainable businesses operating successfully in New Zealand.

They send the right signal: that New Zealand will not accept high-risk developments that damage the environment and ecosystems while providing relatively little economic benefit.

New Zealand is, and should be, open to smart, sustainable, value-adding investments that provide jobs and livelihoods well into the future without compromising our values, environment, and our way of life.

The regulators and the legislation have done their job and delivered the best long-term outcome for New Zealand in fending off two unacceptably inappropriate and risky ventures.

Given Mr Smith has confirmed he is considering amending the legislation, we trust he will consult with all stakeholders across the community, from iwi to fishing interests and coastal communities.

• Phil McCabe is the chairman of Kiwis Against Seabed Mining

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Seabed mining dreams shattered by New Zealand latest decision

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Cecilia Jamasmie | Mining.com

The latest setback to seabed mining has alarmed companies involved in deep sea mining projects.

New Zealand’s recent decision to oppose another deep sea mining venture off its coasts has poured cold water on advocates of searching for and digging up valuable minerals including copper, gold and manganese from the ocean floor.

A decision-making committee appointed by the country’s Environmental Agency (EPA) thwarted Chatham Rock Phosphate Limited’s plans on Feb. 11. The authority argued that mining off the coast of Canterbury — where the operation was proposed — would cause “significant and permanent adverse effects” on the location’s seabed.

The case became the second mine application refused in less than a year. Last June the same body refused Trans Tasman Resources’ (TTR) application to mine iron sands off the North Island’s west coast, which would have become the country’s first operation of its kind.

While applauded by environmentalists, the latest setback to seabed mining has alarmed companies involved in the resources extraction model and pushed the New Zealand government to consider changing legislation to ensure it doesn’t block economic development.

“To say we are bitterly disappointed is an understatement. We are aghast,” Chatam Rock’s managing director Chris Castle told The New Zealand Herald. “The entire government process, and the EPA in particular, seems afraid to say yes to any project that involves any kind of environmental impact and that is simply not good enough if we are to provide a future for our country’s young people.”

UN support

Meanwhile, the United Nations’ International Seabed Authority (ISA) continues supporting the activity. It has so far issued 26 exploration licences to governments and companies, authorizing them to operate in international waters.

According to the Sunday edition of Financial Times (subs. required), New Zealand, Namibia and Papua New Guinea have also granted licences for seabed mining exploration, while diamond giant De Beers uses ships for extracting the precious gems off the coast of Namibia, at depths of up to 140 metres.

But it is Canada’s Nautilus Minerals  the one leading the race to open the first seabed mine. In a deal arranged outside the ISA system, the company overcame several difficulties until it reached last year an agreement with the Papua New Guinea government to move forward with its Solwara 1 gold, copper and silver underwater project, located in the Bismarck Sea.

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Deep sea mining hopes hit by New Zealand decision

Jamie Smyth | Financial Times

A decision to block a deep sea mining venture off the New Zealand coast has cast a shadow over an emerging global industry that proponents say could revolutionise how minerals are extracted.

The sea floor is rich in copper, nickel, manganese, cobalt, zinc and a host of other minerals used in technology products. Improvements in undersea extraction technology have now put these within reach of miners.

New Zealand has lead the way in developing sea floor mining. But progress has now stalled following this month’s rejection by environmental regulators of a proposed project by Chatham Rock Phosphate off the coast of Canterbury, the second mine application refused within a year.

The decisions were welcomed by green groups, who fret that mining would damage vulnerable undersea ecosystems, which are relatively underexplored. But their delight is not shared by companies eyeing deep sea prospects.

“To say we are bitterly disappointed is an understatement,” said Chris Castle, Chatham Rock Phosphate’s managing director. “This will make it even harder, if not impossible for companies to attract capital for new projects in New Zealand.”

For almost 20 years deep sea mining has been flagged as a commercial opportunity. David Cameron, UK prime minister, claims it could be worth £40bn to the UK over a 30-year period.

The International Seabed Authority, a UN agency, has so far issued 26 exploration licences to governments and companies enabling them to operate in international waters. New Zealand, Namibia and Papua New Guinea have awarded national licences for seabed mining exploration. De Beers uses ships to recover diamonds off the coast of Namibia at depths of up to 140 metres.

But scant deep sea mining has taken place. The world’s largest mining groups are sidelined, apparently deterred by the uncertainty of both economics and the environmental impact of the activity, which has prompted authorities to order moratoriums on mining in Namibia and the Australian state of Northern Territory.

Richard Page, contributor to a Greenpeace report on sea floor mining, says:

“It is difficult to contain mining waste on land. Imagine the problems of stopping the spread of pollution in an ocean environment. The local communities have every right to be, and indeed should be, concerned.”

Campaigners say cutting into the ocean floor or dredging to recover minerals that will be pumped on to a floating processing vessel will kill marine life and smother neighbouring areas with sediment or plumes.

New Zealand’s Environmental Protection Agency concluded that Chatham Rock’s proposed phosphate mining project near Canterbury would cause “significant and permanent adverse effects on the existing benthic [sea floor] environment”.

The decision has alarmed proponents of sea floor mining and prompted the New Zealand government to consider amending legislation to ensure it is not a barrier to economic development.

“The act is flawed,” says Alan Eggers, chairman of Trans-Tasman Resources, a company proposing to mine iron sands off the New Zealand coast.

Last year the EPA blocked it from mining the sea floor — the first time the regulator had ruled on a seabed mining application.

The setback to seabed mining in New Zealand comes as a plan to begin mining copper and gold off the coast of Papua New Guinea moves a step forward. This month Nautilus Minerals, the first company to be awarded a deep sea mining lease anywhere in the world, signed an engines contract for a mining support vessel, which will process minerals off the coast of PNG.

The Canadian company, which counts Anglo American among its shareholders, has partnered the PNG government and is on schedule to begin mining at a depth of 1,600m by 2018.

Mike Johnston, chief executive of Nautilus Minerals, says: “I believe 30 per cent of the world’s mineral production could in the future be mined from the sea floor.”

Nautilus Minerals has also been awarded exploration licences in international waters by the ISA. The UN agency is working on a legal framework to begin issuing sea floor mining leases — a process that could start by 2016. Mining royalties under these licences would be paid to developing countries.

Michael Lodge, ISA legal counsel, says:

“We have issued exploration licences for areas that cover 1.2m sq km of ocean — about the size of Mexico. In the past, state organisations were the main applicants but in the last three years private companies have become more active.”

US defence group Lockheed Martin and G-TEC Sea Mineral Resources, a Belgian company, have both received licences.

But companies hoping the ISA is likely to favour commercial exploitation above environmental protection may be disappointed.

“We are legally bound to protect the environment, which must take precedence,” Mr Lodge says. “We can only allow commercial exploitation to take place provided there are safeguards.”

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Sand ‘masterpieces’ mark experimental seabed mining victory

Bruce Mercer / Stuff.co.nz

Bruce Mercer / Stuff.co.nz

Sand creatures, castles and campervans

Florence Kerr | Waikato Times | Stuff.co.nz

Inaugural Raglan Sand Sculpture building competition hosted by Anti-mining group “Kiwis against Seabed mining (KASM). 47 teams participated in the competition, held to celebrate KASM’s win against Trans Tasman Resources.

BRUCE MERCER / Fairfax NZ

BRUCE MERCER / Fairfax NZ

They were a small core group of New Zealanders that took a stand against a large mining company and won, and for their efforts they put on a celebration that incorporated the sea, the sand and the people.

Kiwis Against Seabed Mining (KASM) held its inaugural sand sculpture competition on Kopua beach in Raglan yesterday to celebrate its win against Trans Tasman Resources (TTR) which wanted to mine 50 million tonnes of iron sand from the seabed off the West Coast.

TTR planned to appeal the decision handed down from the Environment Protection Authority that rejected its application, but withdrew in December last year.

KASM chairman Phil McCabe said a sand sculptor competition was a fitting way to celebrate their victory.

“It is about our beach, our water and about the people.

“It’s a very fitting way to incorporate everything while having fun,” he said.

McCabe paid tribute to the many supporters of KASM that came from all over the country.

Forty-seven teams made of of families, friends and youth groups took part in creating sand sculpture masterpieces for prizes donated from local businesses in Raglan.

“We wanted to hold a celebration with the community and it was at our AGM that someone came up with the idea of a sand sculpture competition so we ran with it, it was a great idea.”

Locals and visitors set to work creating mythical creatures, castles, campervans as well as messages supporting KASM.

Amelia Penfold with friends Ella McLeod-Edwards and Maiterangi Brown created a 2-metre-long tuatara.

“Ella and I started down here at 9 (am) then Mai came along and she was just looking and said ‘oh this is cool, you know you could add some eggs to it,’ so we said ‘do you want to join our team’ and, yeah, then we had this.”

Friends Peata Jones and Garbi Klapka did not hold back when describing the actions of those who chose to ignore the issue of seabed mining. They sculpted a person lying on the sand with their head in a hole, with a message designed with seashells that read: “Take a stand, don’t dig your head in the sand”.

Klapka said they wanted to do something a little different.

“We thought we would put someone’s head in the sand to represent those that don’t support KASM.”

McCabe said KASM was pushing for a moratorium on seabed mining.

raglan 2

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NZ: Is this the end for seabed ironsands mining?

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Pattrick Smellie | Yahoo Finance

A certain sort of fog of war tends to reign in battles between industrial developments and environmentalists.

Both sides are inclined to talk up their prospects and overstate their positions. Often what’s happening is that both sides are simply preserving their positions with supporters.

The most recent example is the triumphal reception given by the lobby group Kiwis Against Seabed Mining to the announcement by Trans-Tasman Resources that it is dropping its appeal against the rejection of its bed to mine ironsands off the seabed floor in the Exclusive Economic Zone.

KASM called the decision a “victory for commonsense”, but failed to notice that all TTR has announced so far is the abandonment of an appeal, not the abandonment of the project.

In fact, what TTR has said is that it doesn’t see the point of pursuing the appeal because even it succeeds, it will take too long to reconvene hearings with the original decision-making committee, appointed by the Environmental Protection Authority.

It would rather preserve its cash and consider launching a fresh application altogether. From TTR’s perspective, that may be preferable anyway, since it was very surprised and unhappy with the conclusions of the original committee, which found too many uncertainties about the environmental impacts of the project to allow it to go ahead.

At least with a fresh committee, the issues would be considered anew and with fresh eyes.

Of course, TTR could just as easily be bluffing. While it has an unspecified amount of cash in the bank and looks capable of mounting another application, it’s hard yakka being the first applicant under a new regime trying to undertake a controversial new type of economic development.

TTR will be watching very closely the decision now pending on the application by Chatham Rock Phosphate for a marine consent to mine phosphate on the Chatham Rise. If the CRP bid fails too, it would have to be an odds-on bet that seabed mining efforts will go on the backburner for quite some time, if not permanently in New Zealand.

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NZ: Seabed mining sets very high bar

seabed mining

Howling News

During the passage of legislation establishing a new regime for activity in New Zealand’s exclusive economic zone, environmentalists fretted that the Government had got the balance wrong. Economic considerations would ride roughshod over environmental protection, they complained.

They can now rest far more easily. On the evidence of the first response to an application for seabed mining, those seeking consent for economic activity in the 200-mile zone will have to clear a very high hurdle.

The applicant was TransTasman Resources (TTR), which wants to dredge iron ore-rich sand off the South Taranaki coast and export about five million tonnes of ore a year to Asian steel mills.

Its plan was roundly rejected last week by the Environmental Protection Agency, which described it as premature. The company should, said the agency, have spent longer on understanding the impacts of its proposal on the environment and existing users.

TTR estimated that its project would generate $147 million a year in exports for New Zealand, and said the local community would benefit from hundreds of new jobs.

That tallies very well with the thinking of a Government that is keen to see new offshore oil, gas and mining industries. But the EPA’s decision-making committee found every reason under the new legislation to reject it.

There were, it said, uncertainties in the scope and significance of the potential adverse environmental impacts and those on existing interests, such as fishers and iwi.

In such circumstances, it was required to favour caution and environmental protection. Even an adaptive management approach advanced by TTR late in the hearing process did not alter the picture.

Additionally, said the agency, there was a lack of clarity about the extent of the economic benefit to New Zealand outside royalties and taxes and the economic impact of the adverse effects.

The latter finding is particularly relevant. Environmentalists worried that economic benefit would take priority over protecting biological diversity and suchlike when an application was considered. That has not proved to be the case. Indeed, it is clear that any such benefit will, itself, have to be argued comprehensively and convincingly.

TTR’s application was opposed, either fully or in part, by the vast majority of 4702 submissions. Included in that number were fishing companies Sanford and Talley’s.

Sanford said the operation could affect its economic wellbeing, diminish the value of its quota assets and reduce its access to public water space. But that view was effectively rejected by the Ministry of Primary Industries, which, while taking a neutral stand, said there was likely to be a “negligible or non-existent” impact on fishing.

The Department of Conservation, however, opposed the proposal in part, asking for further information about its effects, including those on threatened species.

That highlighted the uncertainty which persuaded the agency that caution must be exercised. But it also raised the question of what degree of certainty could ever be achieved for a project that would take place 22km to 36km off the coast of Patea.

Little research is available on the impact of seabed mining on deep-water environments. Could applicants for projects in the exclusive zone, therefore, have any confidence that a bar of the height implied by the agency’s decision would ever be hurdled in terms of permissible risk?

It is little wonder that the Environmental Defence Society hailed the decision. Late changes to the exclusive economic zone legislation have clearly tilted the scales in favour of the environment. Too much so for the Government’s mining ambitions.

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NZ: Seabed fight now for legal fees

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Laird Harper | Taranaki Daily News 

Anti-seabed mining campaigners and a South Taranaki iwi say a decision to finally scuttle a massive ironsand mining operation is a “victory for common sense”.

Last week, Trans-Tasman Resources (TTR) dropped its attempt to reverse the Environmental Protection Authority’s decision to decline consent to extract 50 million tonnes of sediment per year, across 65.76 square kilometres.

Te Runanga Ngati Ruanui Trust chief executive Debbie Ngarewa- Packer said that as the only iwi in litigation opposing the appeal, they were confident it would not get off the ground.

“This has been an arduous exercise for nothing and now we are in another battle as our lawyers will be fighting to ensure TTR pay our legal costs, not just the EPA as they are proposing.

“We have watched a company, with no practising experience, come into New Zealand, get Government support, promise the world and literally come apart at every challenge.”

Kiwis Against Seabed Mining chairman Phil McCabe said “the biggest seabed mining experiment in the world” had failed.

“The EPA was right when it rejected this shonky application for an awful proposal that would destroy the local environment, and the company has finally made the right decision by walking away.”

However, it may not be so clear-cut with TTR’s chief executive, Tim Crossley, signalling the company was still considering its options, including submitting a new proposal.

McCabe said the economics of the project at best were dodgy, and the benefits to New Zealand tiny.

“This should send a strong message to the Government and to investors that seabed mining is the wrong horse to back.

“It is now time that they considered our call for a moratorium on seabed mining in New Zealand waters,” he said.

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