MAC: Mines and Communities

New Zealand Rejects Mining Project on Pacific Seafloor

Published by MAC on 2014-06-19
Source:, Reuters

New Zealand's Environmental Protection Authority has sunk a plan to extract iron from the ocean floor, after protests by environmentalists, fisherfolk and Maori groups.

A domestic outfit, Trans-Tasman Resources. had claimed that its project would be the first commercial mine on the sea bed.

In fact, this isn't strictly true. Diamonds have long been extracted from oceanic deposits off Namibia, and recently a UK company proposed to extract tin offshore from Cornwall, left behind during the county's many years of mining.

Trans-Tasman would have separated iron, in the form of magnetite, from suctioned-up sands, "returning" 90% of it to the ocean floor.

"The iron sands are mainly inhabited by sandworms, which typically re-establish themselves after disturbance over a period of years" the company argued in its defence.

Well, that would have been alright then...or would it?

Interesting fact: Over 140 years ago, Charles Darwin devoted his final published work to the vital role that worms play in underpinning our ecology.

The Formation of Vegetable Mould through the Actions of Worms with Observations on Their Habits sold thousands of copies when published by John Murray in 1881.

New Zealand Rejects Mining Project on Pacific Seafloor


18 June 2014

WELLINGTON, New Zealand - A project to mine undersea iron ore deposits off the New Zealand coast has been rejected because of uncertainty about the environmental effects of the project, the country's Environmental Protection Authority said on Wednesday.

Trans-Tasman Resources, a New Zealand company formed to explore and develop the country's so-called iron sand deposits, had sought final approval to excavate but was turned down by a special committee set up by the environmental agency.

The major reasons for the decision "were the uncertainties in the scope and significance of the potential adverse environmental effects and those on existing interests," the environmental agency said in a statement.

The New Zealand decision was being closely watched by other governments and mining companies around the world looking to mine copper, cobalt, manganese and other metals on the ocean floor.

Diamonds are mined off the coast of Namibia, but the Trans-Tasman project was one of the more advanced being proposed.

Environmental groups, fishing companies and Maori tribes had opposed the project because of the possibility of damage to the environment, including marine mammals and fish stocks.

Trans-Tasman Resources said it was disappointed by the decision, having spent about 60 million New Zealand dollars, or $52 million, on the project so far, and having undertaken significant local consultation and scientific research.

Trans-Tasman's chief executive, Tim Crossley, said in a statement that the local community would miss out on hundreds of new jobs and an estimated increase of 240 million dollars a year in gross domestic product.

The company said it would study the ruling and look at its options. The decision can be appealed only on points of law.

Environmentalists called the outcome a victory for common sense.

During hearings on the project, it became clear that the company "had not done its homework on the full environmental impact of digging up 50 million tons of the seabed every year for 20 years," said Phil McCabe, the chairman of Kiwis Against Seabed Mining.

Another New Zealand deep-sea mining project was proposed last week by Chatham Rock Phosphate, which wants to mine the fertilizer component in waters up to 1,300 feet deep about 300 miles east of the country. The application will now undergo a six-month investigation period, including public and scientific submissions.

Elsewhere, Nautilus Minerals is working on a deep-sea project off Papua New Guinea that it wants to start in 2017.

New Zealand may approve underwater mine this week

Cecilia Jamasmie

16 June 2014

New Zealand may approve first underwater mine this week

New Zealand will announce Wednesday the fate of Trans Tasman Resources $70 million underwater iron sand project, which could become the world's first commercial metals operation on the ocean floor, off the country's west coast.

Backed by Australian, American and New Zealand investors, the mine will suck in iron-rich seafloor sands, to later extract the desired titano-magnetite for export to Asian steel mills, with about 90% of the sand being returned to the bottom of the sea.

According to Reuters, if South Taranaki Bight project is approved it will encourage others looking to mine copper, cobalt, manganese and other metals deeper on the ocean floor, but concerned about barriers to dig in Neptune's kingdom.

Backed by Australian, American and New Zealand investors, TTR aims to raise as much as US$550 million in debt and equity to fund the project, expected to begin production by 2016.

Kiwis Against Seabed Mining (KASM) led opposition to the initiative, claiming there was too much scientific uncertainty about environmental impacts of the proposal, as well potential effects on surf breaks and other coastal formations.

TTR argues the iron sands are mainly inhabited by sandworms, which typically re-establish themselves after disturbance over a period of years.

"Our view, supported by our science experts, is that between five and 10 years you will get almost full recovery of the area that's been mined - because the organisms and environment are already quite adapted and recover quickly," TTR Chief Executive Tim Crossley told Reuters.

Trans Tasman Resources already has a mining licence, but is awaiting a marine consent from New Zealand's Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Nautilus Minerals, the first company that began exploring the ocean floor for polymetallic massive sulphide deposits, reached an agreement with Papua New Guinea in April. The deal will allow Nautilus' Solwara 1 gold, copper and silver underwater project, located in the Bismarck Sea, north of Papua New Guinea, to finally move towards production.

The Canadian company, which is also in talks with New Zealand, expects to begin production at Solwara in 2017.

The push to explore the ocean for mining minerals is gaining momentum as ore deposits on land are on the decline, and demand for hard-to-find rare-earth elements needed for portable electronics and batteries for hybrid vehicles continues to grow.

Seabed miners to move into New Zealand sanctuary for endangered dolphin

Global Post

18 July 2014

The New Zealand government came under renewed attack Thursday over its custodianship of the world' s rarest and smallest dolphin after revelations it had issued mineral mining permits in a dolphin sanctuary.

The opposition Green Party revealed the seabed mining permits were issued for areas offshore from the west of the North Island in the habitat of the Maui's dolphin, which is estimated to have a population of just 55.

The permit areas were in a third of the Maui's dolphin sanctuary and followed revelations that permits had also been issued for oil exploration in the area, Green Party oceans spokesperson Gareth Hughes said in a statement.

There had been 254 sightings of Maui's dolphins within the areas where the mineral mining permits had been granted, he said.

The permits, five of which had been granted within the North Island Marine Mammal Sanctuary, were for a range of minerals.

"The dolphins' habitat would be degraded as a result of noise and pollution and there's a risk they'd be displaced into areas where they have no protection," Hughes said.

"The future survival of the Maui's dolphin is already bleak - there are only 55 left in the world. Mineral mining will push them closer to extinction," he said.

"This is the world's most endangered dolphin we are talking about here. We should be doing everything we can to protect them."

Energy and Resources Minister Simon Bridges told Radio New Zealand Thursday that the government knew enough to be able to grant the permits.

"We've seen over successive governments resource activity in this area. On an evidence-based approach there has been no harm to Maui's dolphins. We take the issue seriously, that's why we have followed the science and the scientists and the government has commissioned a lot of work in this regard," Bridges said.

Last month, International Whaling Commission (IWC) scientists issued a third report saying the Maui's dolphin is on the verge of extinction.

An IWC Scientific Committee report calling for immediate action is to be formally submitted to the IWC at its meeting in Slovenia from Sept. 11 to 14, and the IWC is expected to formally adopt its recommendations for the extension of fishing restrictions in the Maui's dolphin habitat off the west of the North Island in order to prevent deaths as bycatch.

The IWC report said the government's "current management situation falls short of that required to reverse the Maui's decline."

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