Trans-Tasman Resources gets green light to mine iron sands
By Rebecca Howard
Aug. 10 (BusinessDesk) - Trans-Tasman Resources has been given the green light to mine iron sands from the ocean floor in New Zealand's Exclusive Economic Zone in the South Taranaki Bight, in a split ruling by the decision-making committee.
“The decision is to grant consents, imposing conditions that provide an appropriate degree of caution,” said Allan Freeth, chief executive of the Environmental Protection Authority.
Freeth said two committee members, including chairman Alick Shaw, voted in favor of the project and there was a “strong dissenting view” from the other two. As a result, Shaw used his chairman casting vote in favor of granting the consents, said Freeth.
Freeth underscored it was highly “complex and challenging” for the EPA and the fact that there was a split decision does reflect that complexity.
An appeal is now possible within a 15-working day period, but must be on question of law, he said. Both the applicant and the submitters have the right to file an appeal. The consent will not commence until any appeals have been resolved, something he said could "take a considerable amount of time."
TTR has sought permission to extract 50 million tonnes of seabed material a year to export up to 5 million tonnes of iron sand per year twice now. It was first rejected in 2014 when a committee ruled the environmental impacts of the proposal were too difficult to gauge on the evidence available. The company went back to the drawing board and a second hearing was held between February and May this year.
The project has sparked controversy as those opposed argue it will change the physical, chemical and biological nature of the seawater and degrade the quality of the oceans as a whole. According to Freeth, there were more than 13,000 submissions opposed to the project.
Lobby groups Kiwis Against Seabed Mining and Greenpeace and local iwi are among those who voiced strong opposition.
Kiwis Against Seabed Mining said it will appeal today’s EPA’s decision to "greenlight a dangerous seabed mining proposal in the South Taranaki Bight."
The sand is mined using a very slow moving crawler which creeps along the seafloor “vacuuming" up sand and seawater and pumping it to a vessel. The iron ore is magnetically separated and the de-ored sand, about 90 percent of the total, is immediately re-deposited.
According to TTR, the vast majority of the redeposited sand will settle back on the seabed and effectively fill areas previously dredged by the crawler. However, the process will form a "plume" in the water column, which will drift depending on tides, ocean currents and general weather conditions in an often turbulent part of the Tasman Sea. In both hearings, the main focus was on the impact of that plume.
The decision was welcomed by Chatham Rock Phosphate, which failed to get clearance to mine phosphate nodules from the seabed on the Chatham Rise and is now working on a new application following legislative changes that came into effect last month.