OPINION: Mining has re-emerged into the national and local spotlight with a flurry of surveys and exploration projects – and a flurry of environmental worries.
The Government has confirmed that aeromagnetic surveys for minerals on the West Coast, from Haast to Karamea, include parts of a world heritage area.
Prime Minister John Key has quickly moved to rule out any mining in such areas, but it begs the question, why bother surveying them?
Mr Key's speed to douse this potential fire follows the public backlash two years ago over ill-conceived plans to allow mining in protected conservation areas that led to a Government backdown.
But just as he dampened one potential hotspot, the news emerged that the Government was permitting oil companies to explore in marine mammal sanctuaries, drawing more criticism.
Mining invokes such passion because it goes to the heart of our clean, green self-image – a brand also heavily promoted by Government tourism bodies.
There is also a strong environmental movement with a sharp political edge led by the Green Party. It argues finite natural resources should not be mined by overseas companies for short-term profits.
On the other side of the debate are those who argue mining could provide a much needed boost to the local economy.
Grey district mayor Tony Kookshorn is one who welcomes the mineral stocktake, saying if the country wants good health and education in the future, it needs to create economic development.
Although our mineral potential is a tiny fraction of that across the Tasman – a resource that has allowed Australia to sail through the global downturn – the Government case is that we should at least find out what lies underneath.
After the phony war over the stocktake, the real argument will come when specific sites are identified and resource consents sought, pitting economic benefits against environmental impacts.
Resource industry group Straterra says instead of the current polarised debate in the media, the focus should be on the pros and cons of proposals at specific sites. It argues mining has a small footprint in New Zealand, and can be carried out in an environmentally responsible way.
Against this backdrop, a test case for mining may be looming in Golden Bay.
West Australian-based MOD Resources has announced exploration drilling at Sams Creek in Golden Bay has shown the presence of a third more gold than previously thought.
The estimated 1 million-ounce resource, worth $2 billion, involves only 15 per cent of the permit area surveyed.
The company is carrying out more exploration before deciding whether to seek consents for Sams Creek which is on conservation land, but outside the Kahurangi National Park. If it does proceed, the company will face challenges to extract the gold from its rocky prison, but also from a range of opposition in an area known for its strong, green values.
Providing jobs will be an attraction, but it will have to mount convincing environmental arguments to win approval.
- © Fairfax NZ News