Offshore ironsands miner confident of consent

Tim Crossley

A company seeking permission to mine ironsands off the coast of Patea in New Zealand's Exclusive Economic Zone says it is "confident" the project "can proceed."

The statement from Trans-Tasman Resources follows today's formal closing of the marine consent hearings by the Decision-Making Committee appointed by the Environmental Protection Authority to consider the application.

The DMC unexpectedly adjourned rather than closed the hearings on the last day of submissions, 10 days ago, while it considered whether it had all the information it required.

The last week of hearings were marked by the publication of a report from EPA staff that raised serious concerns about whether there was sufficient information available to draft effective regulations to reduce the environmental impacts of the project.

TTR chief executive Tim Crossley said: "While it is easy for submitters and technical experts to identify further work that could be done, there is also a limit to how much information can realistically be expected of an applicant before consent is granted.

"Based on the independent expert evidence and the joint witness statements, we continue to be confident that the local and national benefits of our project substantially outweigh the perceived adverse effects."

The proposal is for mining some 22 to 36 kilometres offshore in the southern Taranaki bight, in water depths of between 20 and 45 metres. The company would dredge around 50 million tonnes of sand from the seafloor annually to a depth of about five metres, from which it would extract around five million tonnes of iron ore for export to Asian steel mills.

A similar onshore operation has been operating at Taharoa, on the west coast south of Auckland, for three decades.

Unused sand would be returned to the seafloor, with worm-fields and other aquatic life on the seafloor recovering to its original state within a decade.

Opposition to the proposal focused on concerns about the impact of sediment plumes on marine life, potential impacts on migratory species such as blue whales and Maui's dolphin, and the potential to have an impact on wave action.

The application is the first under a new regime regulating economic development in the EEZ. A proposal to mine phosphate nodules on the Chatham Rise, to the east of the South Island, was lodged by Chatham Rock Phosphate last week.

A decision on the TTR application is due within 20 working days. The company, backed by US, Australian and New Zealand investors, was established in 2007 and has spent some $50 million to understand the resource, engineering requirements for mining and environmental issues.

(BusinessDesk)

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