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First EEZ seabed mining application heads to consent hearings

Monday 11th November 2013

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A company seeking to mine ironsands from the seabed off the southern Taranaki coast will be the first to test the new marine resource consent process for commercial developments in the Exclusive Economic Zone.

Trans-Tasman Resources was notified on Friday its application to the Environmental Protection Authority for consents had been accepted, paving the way for the first public hearings on the increasingly politicised and novel issue of seabed mining.

Another such proposal had previously been expected to be the first application to the EPA, which has responsibility for regulating all economic activity in the EEZ, which stretches from the 12 mile nautical limit out 200 kilometres from land.

However, Chatham Rock Phosphate's bid to mine rock phosphate nodules on the Chatham Rise, had been expected to go first, but the company withdrew its application for a marine consent after the process for obtaining the necessary mining licence took longer than expected.

TTR is proposing to mine between 22 and 36 kilometres offshore in an area totalling 65.76 square kilometres in water depths of 20 to 45 metres in the South Taranaki Bight, offshore from Patea.

The Kiwis Against Seabed Mining lobby, a grouping of advocates on environmental and coastal impact issues, is already promising to submit against the plan.

TTR proposes to extract up to 50 million tonnes of sediment per year for processing aboard a floating processing storage and offloading vessel (FPSO). Around 5 million tonnes of iron ore concentrate will be exported annually, the company said in a statement.

"The remaining sediment will be re-deposited on the seafloor in a controlled manner, usually backfilling previous mined areas."

The process will extract titano-magnetite, an alternative raw material to iron ore for producing steel. Its main likely export destinations are in China and India.

The seafloor in the area is covered in metres deep deposits of black ironsands, washed from North Island volcanoes over millennia. Sea life most affected would be sand worms, which environmental impact assessments suggested would re-establish within six to 24 months.

"Since 2009, TTR has spent approximately $8 million on a detailed baseline study programme and modelling of the potential environmental effects using New Zealand and international experts," said chief executive Tim Crossley, who said the company's Environmental Impact Assessment deliberately covered a "worst case scenario."

"The project will not adversely affect the nearshore and coastal environment, including public access and surfing," he said. "No rare or vulnerable ecosystems or habitats of threatened species, including Maui's dolphin, have been identified as being potentially affected."

The company says analysis from the New Zealand Institute of Economic Research suggested the project would contribute approximately $302 million to GDP and TTR would pay around $54 million in taxes and royalties, each year.

It will generate some 250 jobs, including 200 to operate the offshore mining and export vessels and another 50 in support, engineering, administration, environmental and other contracting roles.

The application will be published on the EPA website, followed by a public submission process. The company is to hold a public information day in Hawera on Nov. 20.

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