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‘Green’ mining encouraged, but barriers remain

‘Green’ mining encouraged, but barriers remain

First published in Energy and Environment on June 6

Energy and Resources Minister Megan Woods has encouraged the mining sector to look at NZ’s strategic mineral potential after the release of a GNS Science study.

Her comments come as the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment opened previously closed areas for prospecting. Despite these moves there remain significant hurdles to mining exploration and further development.

The results of the Mineral Potential Studies into lithium, rare earth elements (REE) and nickel-cobalt were released at the Minerals Forum in Queenstown last week. Woods said there was “sky-rocketing demand” for minerals used in clean-tech and “which can aid our transition to a low carbon economy”.

In November 2017 GNS Science was contracted by MBIE to produce three reports on the potential of 'green' minerals in NZ (Rare Earth Elements, Lithium, and Nickel-Cobalt).

Woods said the reports revealed lithium potential in the central North Island and the Hohonu Range on the West Coast of the South Island, nickel-cobalt potential in Nelson-Tasman-Marlborough and Southland regions while REE potential exists on the West Coast.

One of the problems for miners is many of the areas identified in the reports are on the Conservation estate. With the Government moving towards a ban on new mines in these areas it is difficult to picture anyone investing money in exploration. Much will depend on the detail of the ban and whether it will cover all the conservation estate including stewardship land. It also matters whether there is any appetite in Government for reviewing whether all the conservation estate should be tightly held.

Either way the idea of Conservation Minister Eugenie Sage signing off a mine on the conservation estate just because the targeted mineral is termed ‘green’ seems farfetched. Lithium mining can be done to minimise environmental impact, but like any mine there is an impact.

NZ Petroleum and Mineral’s commercial analysis and investment manager David Darby said “The potential of NZ’s strategic minerals was largely unknown, but now we have areas of interest identified”.

The Data Pack’s release came as it was announced restrictions put in place almost three years ago on mineral prospecting permits in two areas of the South Island will be lifted.

The two areas of land cover 33,006km2 in the Otago region and 7,828km2 in the Nelson region. Both areas will have their restrictions removed on 8 July. The restrictions were put in place to set aside the land while regional aeromagnetic surveys were undertaken and to develop an allocation strategy for the areas.

Acreage will be allocated on a first-come first-served basis. The first application to meet the criteria for an acceptable work programme will be granted the permit for the area.

Interest in the areas will be a gauge of the state of the mining sector now. There may be some wariness about spending as investors mull over the wider implications of the Government’s moves on oil and gas exploration. Of course some may seek the acreage just to prevent others getting it, but there will be further wariness about what the coming changes to the Crown Minerals Act will mean for the sector. (These changes were covered in last week’s Energy and Environment)

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