Seabed mining hearing in March
The Taranaki Daily News Online
Feb 24 2014
A landmark seabed mining hearing set down for next month could finally draw a line in the sand over the controversial practice.
Trans Tasman Resources (TTR) will face off against thousands of submitters who oppose their plan to extract iron sand from the sea floor, offshore of Patea.
The hearing held by the Environmental Protection Authority’s (EPA) decision-making committee is scheduled to run from March 10 to early May.
Of the 4702 submissions received only eight fully support the proposal.
Those fighting to stop it dead in its tracks have cited concerns relating to effects on marine and coastal ecology, erosion and consequential effects on local communities.
While the handful backing the proposal say it was a worthwhile investment that would contribute to the country’s economic growth.
If given the green light the operation would cover an area of 65.76 square kilometres, near the Kupe oil rig.
TTR proposes to extract up to 50 million tonnes of sediment per year and process it aboard a floating processing storage and offloading vessel. About 5 million tonnes of iron ore concentrate will then be exported.
Last week the EPA released all the submissions made on the South Taranaki Bight project.
A sizeable chunk of those opposing the plan used a form set up by Kiwis Against Seabed Mining (KASM).
KASM chairman Phil McCabe said the outpouring from outside of Taranaki also highlighted people’s fears that, if granted, it would open the floodgates to identical operations around the west coast.
It is the first application for a marine consent to be heard by an EPA-appointed committee, and the largest response since the authority began in 2011.
Mr McCabe said for the process to have weight some hearings needed to be heard outside of Wellington and everyone who wants to speak needs to be allowed to.
An EPA spokeswoman said despite the scope of the hearing they had a “robust processes in place to handle this type of situation”.
“It should be noted, that while 2000 people initially indicated they wished to speak to their submission, the final number may be a lot less.
“If people have not yet confirmed they would like to speak, we encourage them to let us know as this will help with our planning and preparation for the hearing.”
She said some parts of the hearing would be “held in other places in New Zealand and/or other venues in Wellington”.
These details are still to be confirmed. The EPA also commissioned and released 10 independent reviews of technical reports and one report that considers the impact of TTR’s marine consent application on the recreation and tourism.
That report found the direct effects of the iron sand mining were “relatively minor with little impact on specific recreation and tourism activities along the southern Taranaki coast”.
And that overall, TTR had “applied robust methods to identify the nature of potential effects in their assessments of social impacts, recreation and tourism effects.”
However, the report also states there were some inadequacies in the approach for assessing direct effects, “especially the lack of a strong baseline situation for recreation and tourism, against which the effects can be assessed”.
“The implication is that the significance of effects could be under-stated, or over-stated,” the report states.
“The TTR assessments have focussed on the intended or expected effects of the mining activity, and have not considered the implications of unintended outcomes, such as ship collisions and oil spills, which are identified as low possibilities elsewhere in the TTR technical reports.”
A SNAPSHOT OF THE PROPOSED PLAN
Seabed material will be extracted using a single undersea sediment extraction device, known as a crawler. It will then be pumped by a slurry delivery pipeline to a floating processing, storage and offloading vessel to extract iron ore. De-ored sand will be re-deposited on the seabed generally into previously worked areas. Processing on the slow moving vessel involves separation of the ore from the seabed material using screening and magnetic processes, and does not involve the discharge of any chemicals. The iron ore concentrate from the processing vessel will be unloaded to another where it will be de-watered and stored ready for transfer by a bulk carrier for export to world markets. Transfer will take place near the project area, although during bad weather, it will take place in a sheltered location in the South Taranaki Bight or nearby. The project is likely to use a number of different ports to support its vessels depending on the services required and the method of delivering them. The ports of Whanganui, New Plymouth and Nelson are the closest to the mine site in that order and each may offer the project support in different ways, according to their capabilities. About 200 people will be required to operate the vessels. With about 50 more fulltime equivalents employed as administration, engineering and environmental staff, and contractors.