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TTR retreads rejected argument in second bid to mine iron sands, opponents say

Friday 17th February 2017

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Fisheries groups have teamed up to oppose Trans Tasman Resources' second bid to mine iron sands from the ocean floor in New Zealand's Exclusive Economic Zone, and were joined by Origin Energy Resources Kupe NZ - on behalf of the Kupe oil and gas joint venture partners - and the Royal Forest and Bird Society.

Like environmental lobbies Greenpeace and Kiwis Against Seabed Mining (KASM), the submitters argue the latest application doesn't add anything new.

The hearing marks the second time TTR has sought permission to mine titano-magnetite iron sands on the seafloor off the coast of Whanganui. The company, which is 55 percent New Zealand owned, proposes extracting 50 million tonnes of seabed material a year in order to export up to five million tonnes of iron sand per year for up to 35 years. Once the iron sand is extracted, the remaining material is returned to the seabed.

“They have serious reservations in light of their expert evidence that TTR’s most recent application is simply the same old car with a new lick of paint,” said Robert Makgill, a lawyer for the fisheries submitters.

The original bid was rejected in 2013 because of a lack of information about environmental impacts. At the time, much of the decision-making committee’s concern related to the way surplus sand that didn't contain iron ore would be returned to the ocean floor. In particular, there were issues about how plumes of sand returning to seafloor would behave in the often turbulent waters.

The Fisheries Submitters were “concerned about the adequacy of TTR's assessment of potential effects on both the environment and existing interests,” and that the company failed to address the potential impact of its activities on fishing activities as opposed to the potential impacts of its proposal on the biophysical environment, Makgill said.

“TTR has not established sufficient baseline information for their existing interests to be able to determine with any degree of certainty that fisheries interests will not be significantly affected by the proposal,” he said.

The submitters included Fisheries Inshore NZ, the New Zealand Federation of Commercial Fishermen, Talley's Group, Southern Inshore Fisheries Management, the Cloudy Bay Clams group of companies including Cloudy Bay Holdings, and Ant Piper.

Not all in the fishing sector are opposed, with NZX-listed fisheries company Sanford due to speak in favour of the project.

Origin Energy representative Bronwyn Carruthers said Origin is calling for consent to be denied as it was previously and hasn't seen “sufficient difference” in the new evidence presented by TTR to warrant a different outcome.

Carruthers underscored that Origin does not have “certainty or comfort” the project won't impact its infrastructure which overlaps the same area where TTR is seeking to operate. She said a potential collision or impact on the Kupe pipeline, umbilical or platform could cause losses of $1 million a day of stopped production or losses in the billions of dollars if damage is beyond repair. She also noted the possibility of an uncontrolled hydrocarbons spill.

If consent is granted Origin is calling for a raft of conditions, including a 1.5km exclusion zone around its platform infrastructure.

While she said Origin’s formal position is that consent should be declined she did note TTR has made contact regarding the potential for amended conditions to address the company’s concerns. A first draft was received yesterday and is being reviewed. An update will be provided when Origin’s evidence is presented on March 16, she said.

Forest and Bird lawyer Peter Anderson said the environmental lobby “considers that the application should be declined.” Its main concern relates to potential harm to cetaceans (whales and porpoises), said Anderson. 

The area contains threatened species such as the blue whale and the Maui dolphin and, among other issues, they will be adversely impacted by noise from the project, he said.

There are also significant technical issues related to adaptive management, which Anderson said is broadly defined to include any approach that allows an activity to be undertaken so its effects can be assessed and the activity discontinued or continued with or without amendment, on the basis of those effects. “You need to have good information about the effect before you grant consent.”

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