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Seabed mining bid was 'premature', says EPA committee

Seabed mining bid was 'premature', says EPA committee

By Pattrick Smellie

June 18 (BusinessDesk) - The bid by TransTasman Resource to mine the seabed in the south Taranaki Bight was "premature" and should have spent longer on understanding the impacts of its proposals on both the environment and existing users, the decision-making committee appointed by the Environmental Protection Authority says in its decision, released today.

The decision, the first in response to an application for seabed mining under the new regime governing activity in New Zealand's vast Exclusive Economic Zone, comes after a seven-year, $60 million effort to establish a new industry to dredge iron ore-rich sands between 22 and 36 kilometres off the coast of Patea and export around five million tonnes of ore to Asian steel mills on dedicated ships.

The operation would have required 45 million tonnes of sand annually to be returned to the ocean floor after the extraction of titano-magnetite ore, creating a sediment plume that would have stretched over an area around 50 kilometres by 20 kilometres, and was among key uncertainties that led to the proposal's rejection.

TTR said it was "extremely disappointed" with the decision and its chief executive, Tim Crossley, declined interviews today. However, environmental groups are delighted, with the Environmental Defence Society saying it gave some comfort that the EPA process was "robust and free from political influence."

Kiwis Against Seabed Mining (KASM), which rallied national opposition to the scheme, called it "a victory for commonsense."

No immediate statements were forthcoming from government ministers, who invested substantial political capital and parliamentary time in establishing the EEZ regime, in the hope that it would pave the way to new industry developments, or from the minerals industry lobby group Straterra.

The DMC's decision said the "major reason" the application for a marine consent was declined was "uncertainty around the scope and significance of the potential adverse environmental effects, and those on existing interests (such as the fishing interests and iwi).

"It (the DMC) was not satisfied the life-supporting capacity of the environment would be safeguarded or that the adverse effects of the proposal could be avoided, remedied, or mitigated, given the uncertainty and the inadequacy of the information presented."

While TTR had proposed a new adaptive management regime on the last day of the 25 days of hearings held on the application, "the DMC found that the conditions proposed by the applicant (including the adaptive management approach), were not sufficiently certain or robust for the application to be approved."

"There was also a lack of clarity about the extent of economic benefits to New Zealand outside of royalties and taxes and the economic value of the adverse effects."

TTR estimated a total of 420 direct and indirect jobs would be created by the initiative, that it would yield around $50 million a year in taxes and royalties and add around $150 million a year to export receipts.

On the sediment plume, the DMC said "one of the more significant impacts would be on the primary productivity. Modelling of the optical properties and primary production indicated a reduction of total primary production in the 12,570 square kilometres of the South Taranaki Bight could be in the order of 10 percent, and a reduction in energy input into the seabed ecosystem (through reduced sunlight reaching the ocean floor because of the sediment) of up to 36 percent."

"More time to have better understood the proposed operation and the receiving environment and engage more constructively with existing interests and other parties may have overcome many of the concerns we have set out in this decision," the DMC said.


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