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Namibian green light for marine phosphate mining

Namibian green light for marine phosphate mining “hugely significant”

Chatham Rock Phosphate chief executive Chris Castle today welcomed as “hugely significant” the decision by Namibia’s Ministry of Environment and Tourism to issue an environmental clearance to extract phosphate off the Namibian coast.

“It’s a major step forward as Namibia has effectively removed the “first mover” risk hindering other similar marine phosphate mining applications in New Zealand and Mexico. The catch cry “it’s never been done before” goes out the window with this decision”.

Mr Castle said it also opens the door for Chatham to advance its own Namibian permit applications.

Chatham applied in 2012 for prospecting permits over 5 distinct areas well offshore Namibia, some not far from the area held by Namibian Rock Phosphate. These 2012 applications were lodged with the confidence that, based on research undertaken to date, this area of the seabed likely contains substantial quantities of rock phosphate.

“Perhaps even more significantly it signals the recognition that, with the appropriate environmental requirements, marine sources of phosphate will be an important contributor to supplying the world’s needs for this mineral that is critical to meeting the increasing demand to grow food.”

He said the Namibian government requirements appear to be set at an appropriate level of rigour.

Namibian Marine Phosphate was awarded mining permits by the Ministry of Mines and Energy to extract marine phosphate 120 km southwest of the port of Walvis Bay but mining was delayed by a moratorium while environmental issues were considered.

Environmental Commissioner Teofilus Nghitila said the licence was issued based on the environmental impact assessment and management plan submitted by the company and serves as an environmental clearance certificate for the project to commence. Nghitila said the information is sufficient as it made provision for environmental management regarding the proposed phosphate mining.

Among the requirements are:
regular environmental monitoring and evaluation on the project with targets established and monitored including seabed and water monitoring and quarterly reports provided to the environment ministry
the ministry reserves the right to attach further legislative and regulatory conditions during the operational phase of the project
the clearance is valid for three years
the company should obtain further environmental clearance for onshore processing plants
an annual report on the implementation of the environmental management plan
the company should fund the establishment of a centre of excellence to monitor the impact of phosphate mining on the marine ecosystem, through which generic standards and guidelines for monitoring marine phosphate mining, processing and beneficiation in Namibia could be developed
data generated must be shared with the competent authority to contribute to the body of knowledge in the field of marine ecosystems and phosphate mining
technology used should be top-of-the-range to avoid causing unnecessary environmental impacts
the proposed mining and processing techniques must be reviewed jointly by the company and the regulator against the results of annual environmental monitoring
The environmental clearance certificate will be withdrawn should negative environmental impacts associated with phosphate mining be observed.

Environment minister Pohamba Shifeta said the public is free to appeal and he will then decide whether it is based on merit before agreeing with Nghitila's recommendations. Public objections should be directed to his office within a set period.

“Namibia appears to be adopting an adaptive management approach not inconsistent with that included in Chatham’s earlier application for a marine consent”.

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