At least $50 billion in minerals lies beneath Nelson's Kahurangi National Park, papers prepared for the Government reveal. The Government faces opposition to mining national parks as it does a stocktake of New Zealand's mineral potential.
Forest & Bird Nelson-Tasman chairwoman Helen Campbell said today $50b of mineral deposits had been taken into account when the national park was designated. "So what's changed? How poor are we that mineral values now overtake our conservation values?" she asked.
The $50b assessment, which includes zinc, copper, nickel and tungsten, is in papers prepared by the Ministry of Economic Development for Energy and Resources Minister Gerry Brownlee and Conservation Minister Tim Groser.
Mr Brownlee proposed the broad stocktake of the country's estimated $140b of mineral resources, 70 per cent of which is on the conservation estate.
In advice to Cabinet, the Economic Development Ministry identified certain minerals, such as oil in Fiordland, that are "highly prospective".
They could be exploited if protection for conservation land under Schedule 4 of the Crown Minerals Act was relaxed.
"Land with the best potential for metals such as zinc, lead, copper, molybdenum, nickel, rare earth elements, tin and tungsten is located in areas included within Schedule 4 (eg, Kahurangi National Park)," it said.
The advice, released under the Official Information Act, shows the Conservation Department saw merit in looking at areas such as the east of Paparoa National Park. However, reviewing the Coromandel and Kahurangi "would be likely to provoke a strong negative reaction from parts of the community".
Environment Minister and Nelson MP Nick Smith said today mining in national parks was very unlikely except in Paparoa, where there was no impact from underground mining.
However, two-thirds of conservation land was not in national parks and the Government needed to take a hard look at the inclusion of those kinds of areas in Schedule 4.
"The review is in a very early stage, but I think New Zealand is missing out on economic opportunities by taking a blanket approach to what is off-limits, and we do need to take a look and see if there are opportunities," he said.
The Government was keen to review the schedule because of opportunities for economic development and jobs, but any plan for mining would have to meet 21st-century environmental standards, said Dr Smith.
The greatest immediate opportunities for Nelson were in exploring mineral resources between Nelson and Taranaki, with opportunities for Nelson's marine industries, he said.
A new oil well was proposed to be put down off d'Urville Island in February. The rig was expected to be in the region for a month, with more than $20 million being spent. If that well was successful and there was further exploration, there was enormous capacity to transform the Nelson economy, he said.
Mr Brownlee expected to receive a report on the stocktake at the end of the month.
The Tourism Industry Association said opening the conservation estate to mining could put the $20b tourism industry at risk.
Green co-leader Metiria Turei said the advice exposed the Government's plan. "They already know what they want, and they're preparing to steal it from the public. Far from not wanting to mine in national parks and only being interested in `low value' areas, the officials' advice shows they are keen to mine our most precious parks."
Mr Brownlee yesterday played down that likelihood, but did not rule it out.
"The question was, `Do you have a stocktake that ignores the national parks?' My view was strongly, `No, let's have a look at it'."
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