The TTR iron sand mining decision report: 10 points

The decision to mine iron ore from the seabed was met with hesitance from the residents of Patea.

The decision to mine iron ore from the seabed was met with hesitance from the residents of Patea.

Confused at why a proposal to mine tonnes of iron sand from the South Taranaki Bight has been given consent?

Coming in at 368 pages long, the report detailing why the Environmental Protection Agency decided to approve Trans-Tasman Resources' (TTR) plan makes for heavy reading. Here's 10 areas of the report summarised into bite sized pieces. 

It's important to note it was a split decision to grant TTR consent. Two members of the decision making committee voted for it and two voted against, with the chairman making the casting vote to give it the green light.  

That means there are still some aspects of the report which are up for debate and the report includes 42 pages of counter arguments about why it should have been declined.

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Economic Benefit: The operation involves big money and the report found there would be a direct bump of $59 million to the country's gross domestic product (GDP), or $159m if indirect and induced effects were taken into account. "There will also be royalties of about $6.15m a year, $310m in export earnings and government taxes," the report said.

Jobs: A big promise from TTR was that it would bring jobs to the region. TTR will employ 61 people in the area, 167 in the region and 230 in New Zealand in total but the report said only some of those jobs will be new jobs and economic analyst Jason Leung-Wai said about 80 per cent of those jobs will be filled by people from outside the area.

Plume: The plume is the spread of fine sediment that muddies the water and blooms out from the mining operation. The report found there would be a plume but said with the extraction conditions it had put in place around the size of the sand grains that are likely to plume, it felt the risks from it could be managed although the effects from it will be felt across a wide area.

However, the two committee members who were against the application said there hadn't been enough importance given to the underwater areas such as the Patea Shoals. 

Diving: Some diving spots in the South Taranaki Bight could be affected by the plume created by the mining. The Crack and The "Project Reef", two popular diving sites, could both see major reductions in the number of days with high visibility that make great diving conditions.

Iwi: Ngati Ruanui opposed the application and the group considering that acknowledged that in its report. It set a number of conditions on TTR, including that it offer to set up a Kaitiakitanga Reference Group to liaise with iwi. The two dissenting members said there hadn't been enough effort from TTR to engage with iwi through the application process. 

Conditions: The decision included a number of conditions that TTR will have to follow. They include studying the marine area for two years before starting mining, mining noise and plume levels will need to be monitored, and it will also have to take out $500m in insurance to clean up the seabed after it has finished operations. 

Surfing: One of the concerns raised by those opposing the application was that it could have an effect on some of Taranaki's top surfing beaches. But Dr Terry Hume, a marine geologist, coastal geomorphologist and coastal oceanographer who prepared a report for TTR, said there would only be small changes in wave conditions close to shore."He qualified the maximum change as 10cm in wave height and mostly less an 5cm," the report said.

Beaches: Taking a whole bunch of sand of the seafloor means the sand from South Taranaki beachs will disappear to fill the hole, right? Not according to the report. Hume said the sand on the beaches comes from the rivers and cliffs in the area, at a rate of 6 million tonnes a year from the rivers and 1.3 million tonnes a year from the cliffs.

Whales: The South Taranaki Bight, which covers the area of sea from Taranaki down the coast to the top of the South Island, has a large variety of whales; 33 species have been found it its waters. The biggest threat to the whales from the mining will be noise and the effects on their food sources. 

Southern right whales and Hectors dolphins are the most likely to be affected by the noise from the operation, with up to 43 per cent of the Southern right whale habitat in the Patea Shoals affected. Orca could also be affected through the disruption or destruction of habitat preferred by one of their favourite meals - the eagle ray.

Developments: As part of the application TTR has offered to build a training facility and heliport in Hawera, and a geotechnical and monitoring facility in Whanganui, which the report said could have a positive economic impact on South Taranaki.

 - Stuff


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