Seabed ironsands miner to appeal resource consent knockback
By Pattrick Smellie
July 1 (BusinessDesk) - TransTasman Resources, the company seeking to mine ironsands off the ocean floor in the Exclusive Economic Zone, will appeal the rejection of its marine consent application by the decision-making committee appointed by the Environmental Protection Authority.
TTR is the first company to seek a marine consent under new legislation governing economic activity in New Zealand's vast EEZ, which extends from the 12 mile nautical limit out to 200 kilometres from the coastline and had applied under the new, six-month process to dredge up to 50 million tonnes annually of sand rich in titano-magnetite, a type of iron ore, for export to Asian steel mills.
The EPA-appointed committee rejected the application late last month, saying the environmental effects were not well enough understood, stakeholder consultation had been inadequate, and questioning the commercial viability of the project, which TTR has spent six years and $70 million investigating ahead of an investment of more than $500 million, should it have got the go-ahead.
"We have made a decision to appeal," TTR chief executive Tim Crossley told BusinessDesk. "We do think there are strong grounds. The basis of an appeal can only be on points of law, but we think there are strong grounds on certain points."
Crossley declined to elaborate on the issues the appeal would focus on, but the TTR board continued to believe it was "a great project for New Zealand, albeit it's a costly road forward" on what he said was a "very uncertain period."
"The outcome of an appeal could fall a number of ways. It could set aside the current decision and you go to a rehearing, which could be completely new, or a partial hearing," he said.
Crossley said he was focusing now on who the company both needed and could afford to fund while the appeal process occurred.
Talks with a major investor, which had been ready to invest in the event of a successful consent application, were also continuing.
"We were in advanced negotiations with a potential strategic investor, which would been conditional on a successful EPA decision. The decision no doubt has dented confidence not just in our project but in any project, and it has dented confidence if you are an existing investor to see your way through an appeal and whatever else might be in front of you."
"That being said, the investors we have are supportive enough to believe there's enough merit to go for an appeal."
TTR has backing from a range of local, Australian and American investors.
While reluctant to pass comment on the new EPA process for EEZ marine applications, Crossley said the company's biggest surprise had been the "binary" nature of the process. In Australia, his experience had been that consent applications were a forum for negotiating mutually acceptable outcomes that allowed a project to proceed while meeting environmental concerns "as opposed to an on-off switch."
Having been granted a mining permit, TTR had assumed the process would be "giving effect to that while protecting the environment."
Watching the process carefully is Chatham Rock Phosphate, whose application for an EEZ marine consent to mine phosphate nodules on the Chatham Rise, some 400 kilometres east of Christchurch, is currently lodged with the EPA and open for public submissions.