Chatham Rock Phosphate (CRP) Ltd has been granted a 20-year mining permit for its ocean-floor phosphate project on the Chatham Rise but it still requires a marine consent before operations can start.
The permit is the first granted by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) under the amended Crown Minerals Act, which came into force in May.
It allows CRP to vacuum the sea floor for phosphate nodules (for use in fertiliser) from an 820 square kilometre area of the Chatham Rise - an area that is home to New Zealand's only known juvenile hoki nursery ground.
CRP managing director Chris Castle said approval of the permit to extract rock phosphate from the seabed in the Exclusive Economic Zone was significant for his company, the industry and the country.
"It means we're halfway to being permitted, so the permit significantly de-risks the company."
CRP's final hurdle was gaining a marine consent which it would apply for from the Environmental Protection Authority early next year.
"We've gathered a lot of new information with a particular focus on the best ways we can answer the key questions interested parties want to know.
"We've also had sections of our environmental impact assessment peer reviewed by overseas experts who have suggested improvements."
He was confident that concerns could be satisfied and that the company could demonstrate the environmental impacts of its operations would be minor and localised.
"We've also thought carefully about mitigation and monitoring and are continuing to talk to anyone with an interest in the project."
Castle said the approval also demonstrated the mining industry's important contribution to the wider economy. The project would make New Zealand $900 million richer and contribute $250m a year in exports and import substitution.
The proposed mining project had garnered criticism from within the fishing industry which raised concerns that it could create an environmental catastrophe at sea.
The mining application was assessed by MBIE's New Zealand Petroleum and Minerals (NZP&M) branch.
National manager minerals Sefton Darby said it was evaluated on criteria including the applicants' proposed work programme, technical and financial capability and understanding of the geological resource.
"The mining permit issued includes a detailed and public set of work programme requirements for the company to adhere to, before and during any mining operations."
It would be several years before mining began if a marine consent was granted, Darby said.
- Fairfax Media