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Widespread says fertilizer groups bite at Chatham Rise plan

Monday 28th July 2008

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Widespread Portfolios, an investor in mineral ventures, said it has interest from fertilizer companies and miners for a proposal to extract rock phosphate from the seabed in the Chatham Rise.

Widespread Portfolios and partner Widespread Energy last year applied for a prospecting permit over 3,048 square kilometres in an area 600 km east of Christchurch, the company said in a statement.

The prospect is at a very early stage because it can't move until the government has developed law to regulate environmental effects in the nation's exclusive economic zone. A bill is expected to be introduced by the end of August.

Miners and fertilizer companies are interested in a new source of the raw material at a time prices are soaring worldwide because of demand from biofuel developers.

The prospect was first explored in the 1980s by Fletcher Challenge and other companies. Advances in technology for extraction of underwater minerals and soaring prices meant the proposal was now economically viable, managing director Chris Castle said.

The phosphorite resource may exceed 100 million metric tons, with a market value of NZ$46 billion, he said.

Widespread plans an initial two-year work programme followed by more detailed exploration and a feasibility study.

An Auckland-based company, Chatham Phosphate Ltd. has made an application for a 71,750 sq km area surrounding Widespread's prospect.

By Jonathan Underhill

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