Dogged determination sends big business packing

CELEBRATION: Kiwis Against Seabed Mining chairman Phil McCabe (centre, with bottle) and fellow members hail their ‘‘victory for common sense’’ after the Environmental Protection Agency declined a plan to mine iron ore on the seabed of the South Taranaki Bight.
CELEBRATION: Kiwis Against Seabed Mining chairman Phil McCabe (centre, with bottle) and fellow members hail their ‘‘victory for common sense’’ after the Environmental Protection Agency declined a plan to mine iron ore on the seabed of the South Taranaki Bight.

Big business faltered against a rising tide of people power as the Environmental Protection Authority sank a bid to carve millions of tonnes of iron sand from the ocean floor.

As Kiwis Against Seabed Mining (KASM) supporters celebrated on Raglan beach, chairman Phil McCabe claimed a "victory for common sense" after Trans-Tasman Resources' (TTR) application to mine the South Taranaki Bight was declined.

"It's really pleasing to see the decision fall on the side of caution," said McCabe.

KASM led a 10-year campaign against seabed mining with two years' focus on TTR's bid to take 50 million tonnes of iron sand on the sea floor from an area between 22 and 36 kilometres off the Patea coast that covers 65.76 square kilometres.

The company planned to separate about 5 million tonnes of iron ore from the extracted material on a floating processing ship and export directly offshore. The tailings were to be dumped back on the sea floor.

The EPA-appointed decision-making committee said the application was uncertain and inadequate. While McCabe said the applicant failed to do its homework, he had only given himself a 50-50 chance of winning.

"If you look at what went down in the hearing and the information that was provided, you would've said it has to be denied," he said.

"But if you are thinking about what the Government wants to do, the massive expansion of this coast for seabed mining, then you would've thought it could've gone the other way."

The committee received more than 4800 submissions with more than 4600 opposed to the application.

Trans-Tasman Resources chief executive Tim Crossley was "extremely disappointed" with the decision that he said put jobs at risk and stymied economic growth in the region.

"The bottom line is our New Zealand staff and consultants now have a very uncertain future and the local community will not benefit from hundreds of new jobs and an estimated $240 million dollars increase in GDP annually," he said.

The company spent more than $60 million on sustainable mining and Crossley said the ruling could mean changes were on the way for their business.

"We will be carefully analysing the decision over the next few days and will take our time to consider what this means for the South Taranaki Bight project and for the company."

Last December, customary fisheries forum Nga Hapu o Te Uru co-chair Angeline Greensill joined McCabe and an estimated 700 protesters against seabed mining and oil exploration by Texan giant Anadarko.

Anadarko pulled out of the Taranaki Basin in March after an unsuccessful campaign, but Greensill said success was found in the paperwork.

"We could have been out doing stuff on the beaches, not bothering to actually write anything and we wouldn't have had this victory," said Greensill.

Communities preparing to face the same issues in other parts of the country could feel confident their voices would be heard, she said.

"It's great that we've got a first victory and it will hopefully help with those who are fighting further north of us against the same sorts of things."

Last week, an application from Chatham Rock Phosphate Ltd to mine phosphate nodules from the Chatham Rise in a 10,000 square kilometre area east of Christchurch was publicly notified.

Forest & Bird Advocacy Manager Kevin Hackwell said the committee's decision on iron sand was an indication consent was "unlikely to ever be approved" for the Chatham project.

Energy and Resources minister Simon Bridges said TTR would be disappointed but they didn't meet the high standards set by the National-led Government.

"I have always said that we need to be at world's best practice, and the National Government has significantly lifted environmental standards for mining and exploration," he said. "Today's decision shows that we have a strong process with very high environmental hurdles that have to be met. Not everyone can jump that high."

But the Green Party's ocean's spokesman Gareth Hughes said the minister had advocated wrongly for the Trans-Tasman proposal and didn't do his homework.

It added to a succession of gaffes by the minister, including the opening of the 200,000 hectare Victoria Forest Park for oil and gas drilling without his knowledge and opening the Maui's dolphin sanctuary for oil drilling, he said.

"He has been an absolutely terrible minister who has presided over rising electricity prices; he's not on track to meet the 90 per cent renewable target; he's spending all of his focus on drilling, mining and fracking.

"He is not a good energy minister and I wouldn't support him being the energy minister."

Waikato Times