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Pike mine would cause major environmental damage

Pike mine would cause major environmental damage

The Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society says it will continue opposing the proposed Pike River export coal mine and calls on the Minister of Conservation to reject the disastrous mining proposal.

Society field officer, Eugenie Sage said Forest and Bird had decided not to pursue an expensive Environment Court appeal against the West Coast councils' decision to grant resource consents for the coal mine.

"The resource consents are nothing without an access agreement from the Minister of Conservation."

Ms Sage said the Society could not see how the Minister could grant consent to the mine on the edge of Paparoa National Park, and potentially under the park in future.

"Expert technical analysis by independent experts for the Department of Conservation and by departmental staff shows the mine risks major environmental damage."

"This damage includes a high risk of subsidence and land movement from underground mining, over more than 300 ha on the crest of the Paparoa Range and in the steep headwaters of Pike Stream, and water pollution problems from acid mine drainage."

"The company's claims of a low impact proposal are wrong. They understate the impacts of bulldozing a 12 kms access road up the heavily forested and scenic Pike valley, taking up to a third of the summer flows in Pike Stream for mining and fluming coal, and polluting a now pristine waterway with discharges from the coal dewatering plant."

"The mine will ruin a river used by endangered whio/blue duck."

"Forest and Bird hopes that the Minister will show more care for an outstanding natural area than local councils have."

"It is disappointing that the West Coast Regional Council has left the work of protecting water quality and quantity and investigating water pollution issues to DoC, despite these being the Council's statutory responsibilities under the Resource Management Act."

"The Regional Council is well aware of the devastating pollution and acid mine drainage problems which mining has caused in tens of kilometres of West Coast streams. Yet it presented no technical evidence on water management at the resource consent hearings. Instead it has passed the buck to DoC."

Note to media

The Pike River Coal Company (PRCC) (75% owned by NZ Oil and Gas Ltd) wants to develop New Zealand's second largest export coal mine in the headwaters of the Pike River on the eastern slopes of the Paparoa Range.

The company wants to mine around 10 million tonnes from underneath conservation land outside Paparoa National Park, and in around 5 years mine under the park. The Department of Conservation, as landholder is currently considering the company's application to access conservation land.

The major issues of concern to Forest and Bird include:

* The mine would require a 12 km access road through the Saxon Ecological Area and up the unroaded Pike valley through pristine forest and forest which has regenerated strongly after selective logging in the 1970s. The forest is habitat to at least six threatened species, including kaka and great spotted kiwi. For much of its length the road will be within 100 metres of the river with a risk of spoil and debris falling into the river. The road and the construction of 12 bridges will destroy the area's wild character.

* Effects on Pike River which is suitable habitat for the highly endangered whio/blue duck. One or two birds have been recorded. Currently the Pike is a pristine river with very high water quality.

* Hydraulic mining, where coal is removed by a high pressure water jet and then flumed out of the mine and down the valley to a dewatering plant and loadout point, requires large volumes of water. These abstractions will reduce the flows in Pike Stream by at least a third in summer.

* The risk of water pollution from acid mine drainage. Acid mine drainage occurs when sulphide bearing minerals (such as pyrite) in coal measure mudstones or coal oxidise releasing sulphuric acid. The extent and severity of likely acid mine drainage is unknown because of limited investigatory work by the company.

* Discharges from the coal dewatering plant polluting Pike River.

* The very limited environmental investigation undertaken by the company and the major shortcomings in understanding of the mine's potential impacts and measures to address them. eg in their March 2003 newspaper supplement PRCC denies that acid mine drainage will occur.

* The "trust us" approach being adopted by the company. Their approach has been to seek consents and leave much of the mine design and other work till later so it cannot be scrutinised and reviewed as part of the consent process.

* Risk of subsidence and land slips over at least 300 ha of conservation land in the upper Pike catchment and on the plateau at the crest of the Paparoa Range. Severe subsidence and slumping has occurred at the Strongman Mine on the Paparoa Range to the south-west. This has includes a major landslide in Doherty Creek in 1998 and a slip in Waterfall Creek in 2002. Together these have dumped more than 60,000 cubic metres of material in Ten Mile Creek and created a 400 me lake. Mining there also occurred under steep slopes and escarpments.

* Damage to the integrity of the dramatic west-facing escarpment on the crest of the Paparoa Range which forms the boundary between conservation land and Paparoa National Park. Four tunnels and emergency exits are to be drilled through the escarpment. The company has not described the damage to be done by helipads, structures, vegetation clearance and helicopter activity associated with the exits. Underground mining too close to the escarpment also risks slumping and damage to it.

* Increased helicopter activity on the plateau associated with mining. The area is currently weed free with a high degree of naturalness and integrity. Regular landings, transport of people and equipment risk weed introduction, destruction of natural quiet, loss of remoteness and will compromise the current tramping experience.

* The inadequacy of proposed mitigation. As part of this $65 million project the company proposes to spend around $40,000 annually on limited stoat control in a narrow strip up Pike Stream (plus around $70,000 as part of the access agreement PRCC seeks from DoC) on blue duck somewhere else.

The company's original 1998 mining proposals were poorly researched and developed. Its 1998 consent applications were granted by Grey District and West Coast Regional Council in June 1999. DoC appealed the Council decisions to the Environment Court on the basis of inadequate information and inadequate assessment of potential effects.

After changing the location of major elements of the project, including the access road and mine entrance, PRCC had to apply for a suite of new resource consents from the Buller and Grey District Councils and West Coast Regional Council. The 2002 consent applications (granted by the Councils in late May 2003) will replace some but not all of the 1998 consents.

Information Forest and Bird has obtained under the Official Information Act indicates major information gaps in PRCC's access application to the Department of Conservation. The Minister allowed the company extra time to undertake a drilling programme on the crest of the Paparoa Range to obtain basic information about the geology and geochemistry of the Paparoa coal measures.

The company initially opposed the need to do such drilling but undertook it earlier this year. Forest and Bird understand that analysis of the results has yet to be completed.

Any claims of "delays" in the Minister's decision on access therefore, are of the company's making.

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