Govt mining figures 'misleading' - geologist

BY DAVID WILLIAMS
Last updated 05:00 26/03/2010

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The Government is misleading the public with "made-up" figures of mineral wealth in national parks, an exploration geologist says.

People have until May 4 to comment on a discussion document released this week by the Government.

It suggests removing 7058 hectares of conservation land – on Great Barrier Island, the Coromandel Peninsula and part of the West Coast's Paparoa National Park – from schedule 4 of the Crown Minerals Act, which bans mining in conservation areas.

The Government will spend $4 million investigating mineral-rich areas in other protected areas of the conservation estate, including an estimated $7 billion of "rare earth elements", gold, nickel and platinum in part of Stewart Island's Rakiura National Park.

Wanaka-based consultant geologist Stephen Leary, who has worked in New Zealand, Australia, Europe, Canada and South America, said he had read two of the Government's geological reports, which were "desktop" studies.

The Stewart Island figure was "misleading" because it was "wildly optimistic" and had not been backed by exploration, he said. "The numbers they're throwing around, the value of the mineral wealth in Stewart Island and Great Barrier Island – it's basically just made up," Leary said.

"People might go, `Well, maybe it's worth mining Stewart Island because $7b is a lot of money', whereas in fact there's basically no way there's $7b worth [of minerals] there. What it's doing is misleading the public."

He said there was probably nothing of economic value on Stewart or Great Barrier islands. "There might be $7b of minerals there, but New Zealand might win the next soccer World Cup – but we're not going to. It's just fantasy."

Leary said that without open-pit mining on Stewart Island it would be "physically impossible" to extract $7b of minerals.

A spokesman for Energy and Resources Minister Gerry Brownlee said the Government would not enter a "tete-a-tete between geologists".

"We've been very open about this; that by no means was this utterly comprehensive. We can't at present get in there to explore to the full extent of the potential," he said.

Asked about Leary's claim that the Government was misleading the public, the spokesman said the geologists who had input into the paper on which the Government's discussion document was based "would probably find that a little unfair".

Labour conservation spokesman David Parker said Labour opposed National's "stupid decision" to mine New Zealand's most beautiful areas.

Prime Minister John Key promised in Parliament this week that there would be no opencast mining in the Coromandel.

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Green Party MP Kevin Hague said Key's exclusion of Paparoa National Park meant opencast mining could be expected there.

Federated Mountain Clubs executive member Richard Davies said the group was concerned at the mining plans.

"If they're going to take 7000ha here, what's to stop them taking a bit more in the future?" he said.

- The Press

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