Good news for the Coast

May 24, 2013

Conservation Minister Nick Smith’s decision to allow access to Bathurst Resources for its Escarpment Mining Project on the Denniston Plateau, near Westport is very good news for the West Coast.

“This approval is for an open-cast mine on 106 hectares of the 2026 hectares that comprise the Denniston Plateau. This area is not National Park, nor Conservation Park nor does it have any particular reserve status. It is general stewardship land, which is the lowest legal status of protection of land managed by the Department of Conservation. The area does have conservation values although there has been some disturbance from previous mining including roads, bulldozer tracks and an artificial reservoir. The area also has some infestation from weeds like gorse and broom,” Dr Smith said.

It’s not a big area and it’s not pristine land.

“The loss of conservation values is compensated by a $22 million package by Bathurst Resources. This will fund pest and predator control over 25,000 hectares of the Heaphy River catchment in the Kahurangi National Park, 4,500 hectares on and around the Denniston Plateau, as well as for historic projects on the Plateau itself. This is the largest ever compensation package negotiated by DOC for a mine or other commercial venture.

“I am also satisfied that the comprehensive conditions associated with this access agreement covering rehabilitation of the land, enhancement of water quality, health and safety, debris, rubbish and fire hazards, will minimise the adverse effects of the mine. The agreement also contains detailed provisions for monitoring environmental effects, bonds and insurance.

“I wish to signal, that in giving this approval, I do not consider it is acceptable to open-cast mine all of the Denniston Plateau. The plateau does have unique biodiversity and landscape values from its raised elevation, high rainfall and unusual land form. I wish to see some of the high value areas reserved and put into permanent protection.

“I am encouraged by the constructive discussions that have been taking place between mining companies, environmental, historic and recreational groups over recent months. A better way forward than having long protracted legal proceedings would be for the parties to come to a common agreement on the remaining areas of the plateau that should be set aside permanently for conservation and for mining.

“The Government will be working with all parties to try and find a ‘bluegreen’ long term plan for the whole Denniston Plateau that balances conservation protection with the need for jobs and development,” said Dr Smith.

While the usual suspects are unhappy with the decision, Economic Development and Energy Ministers Steven Joyce and Simon Bridges point out the benefits.

The decision today by Conservation Minister Nick Smith to approve the access agreement for Bathurst Resources’ Escarpment Mine near Westport is good news for jobs and economic growth on the West Coast, Economic Development Minister Steven Joyce and Energy and Resources Minister Simon Bridges say.

The announcement follows an interim decision by the Environment Court in March that it was likely to grant resource consent to the open-cast mine subject to appropriate conditions being agreed.

“The decision by the Minister under the Crown Minerals Act is a significant step forward for this project and will be welcomed by many West Coasters as balanced and pragmatic,” Mr Joyce says.

“Once open the Escarpment Mine is expected to create 225 direct jobs and approximately $100 million each year will go to employees, suppliers, contractors and transport providers.

“This will be a significant injection into the economies of Buller, the West Coast and New Zealand.”

Mr Bridges says the mine will produce high-quality coking coal that can be exported overseas for the production of steel.

“The project aims to inject almost $1 billion into the New Zealand economy over six years and provide $45 million each year in royalties and taxes that the Government can invest back into key infrastructure such as schools and hospitals,” Mr Bridges says.

“Unlike what opponents might say, this is exactly the type of business investment New Zealand needs to grow jobs and incomes for New Zealanders.”

The Coast has had a series of economic blows.

The ending of sustainable logging more than a decade ago led to a loss of employment. More recently there’s been the tragedy and subsequent closure of the Pike river mine, job cuts by Solid Energy and the downstream job losses which resulted from all of this.

This decision will bring economic and social benefits with the environmental cost mitigated by the compensation package and strict requirements on how the company operates.

 


Too poor to ignore potential riches underground

July 9, 2012

Quote of the day:

. . . Conservationist groups who argue against prospecting do their cause no good.

Even they should accept we need to find out what’s there first.

Then we can do the maths and have the discussion.

Our economy is in no shape to allow us the luxury of ignoring the potential riches beneath our feet.

It might not be possible, or desirable, to get them all out, but surely we can benefit from some of the bounty bestowed on us. – Herald On Sunday.

One of the reasons Australia is wealthier than us, with higher wage rates and other benefits from a faster growing economy, is its mineral wealth.

We do need to find out what riches might be waiting underground, and undersea and then find out the costs and benefits of extracting them.

Modern mining techniques can limit damage to the environment and eventually leave the land in as good or better state than it was.


One step back two steps forward

July 24, 2010

If the government had carried on with plans to investigate mining potential on schedule 4 conservation land it would have been accused of not listening to the people.

Now that it has taken heed of the vociferous opposition to the plan and not only said there will be no mining on this land but added more to it, it’s been accused of doing a u-turn.

It’s one of those damned if they did, damned if they didn’t situations but Trans Tasman has found some positives in it for the government:

. . . Brownlee says “NZers have given the mineral sector a clear mandate to go and explore that land, and where appropriate…utilise its mineral resources for everyone’s benefit.”

Therefore, on his analysis the biggest backdown since National came to office was “a valuable exercise” and he could be right. It hasn’t lost anything which really matters, it listened and it learned, and its opponents have been cut off at the knees. And the industry, far from being disappointed, says it’s getting what it has wanted for a decade-aero magnetic surveys of regions expected to yield deposits worth billions.

One step back from schedule 4 land has led to a couple of steps forward in other areas. Northland MP John Carter and West Coast Tasman MP Chris Auchinvole are showing a lot of enthusiasm for the possiblity of mining in their electorates.

And Grey District Mayor Tony Kokshoorn said city people shouldn’t use his region to ease their environmental consciences:

 . . . Aucklanders need to deal with what he calls “the mountain of carbon emissions” their highways are spewing out before blocking a small amount of mining on the West Coast.

He says it is not right that urban people should stop the region’s development.

Mr Kokshoorn says the area proposed for exploration was only “a few thousand hectares” out of the two million hectares of conservation land on the West Coast.

He said there is a currently a balance between eco-tourism and mining on the West Coast and further mining would not compromise the environment.

He said the Government’s decision not to mine on schedule four conservation land was hugely disappointing.

People who marvel at natural beauty as they drive through it at 100 kph or take a closer look on an occasional holiday have a right to their views. But while they stand up for the environment they forget the sustainability stool has two other legs – the economic and social ones.

Local people need work which mining could provide and the infrastructure and services which would come with it.

They have a far greater interest than visitors in ensuring mining doesn’t come at the cost of the environment because it will be done in their backyard, and no-one’s suggesting mining at any cost.

The Resource Management process will be able to ensure mining is done with minimal disruption and damage and the requirement to leave the land in the same or better state when the work is finished.


It’s not what you do . . .

July 20, 2010

If mining is already being undertaken on conservation land without a fuss, why did plans to allow prospecting on a further 7000 hectares cause such a fuss?

It looks like the plans will now be scrapped because it’s not what you do it’s the way that you do it.

Those opposing it grabbed the emotional high ground and no-one had enough facts for a counter attack.

Government’s which don’t listen to public opinion are doomed, but sometimes potentially unpopular policy can be accepted if it’s backed up by strong arguments.

This one wasn’t.


Goose, golden egg

June 17, 2010

In New Zealand we’ve had thousands of people marching in protest at the suggestion that the potential for mining on conservation land be investigated.

When we were in Australia a couple of weeks the papers were full of stories on the government’s proposal to levy a super tax on mining, almost all of which were in support of the mining companies.

Here’ we’d probably have people saying sock it to ’em. There people understand the part mining plays in the economy and what it contributes to the country’s wealth.

The tax is seen as the government’s attempt to kill the goose which lays the country’s golden eggs and most people recognise that hurting mining hurts them too.


Short term mining could leave long term beauty

April 20, 2010

Why the surprise that opinion is divided  on government plans to mine small, low value parts of the conservation estate?

Opposition has been strong of voice but high volume isn’t always a reliable indicator of the numbers who share a view.

If there were plans to touch areas of high conservation value I’d be joining those opposed. But providing it’s only a few,  small areas  of low value land that would be mined, the benefits will outweigh the costs.

It may not be pretty while it’s happening, although that doesn’t mean it won’t be interesting. In Kalgoorlie, mine visits are a tourist attraction and while I’m not keen on enclosed, underground spaces I found it fascinating.

Consent conditions will also require the companies granted licences to ensure that they leave the land in a better state than they found it.

That’s what’s happening around Macraes in East Otago and there are other examples where people have created beauty after minerals have been extracted.

We visited two former quarries while on a farm tour of the North Island last month.

Waitakaruru Arboretum and Sculpture Park near Hamilton has become a 42 hectare place of beauty.

Wrights Water Garden, south of Auckland, featuring native and exotic trees, water lilies and lotus flowers.

The end result of mining tiny patches of conservation land could be economic growth with the social gains that will bring and when the mining’s finished the land could be returned to the conservation estate in a much better condition than it was.


How much debt do we want to leave our grandchildren?

April 6, 2010

We’re borrowing about $240 million a day.

Some of that is for infrastructure which will help economic growth and serve several generations.

Some of it is for services which will make the population healthier, better educated and more secure.

Some of it will benefit our grandchildren and some of it won’t.

It’s not unreasonable to expect future generations to pay something towards things from which they will benefit, but some of the $240 million we’re borrowing is paying for things which will have little or no worth for our descendents.

If we don’t want to leave an unreasonable amount of debt for our grandchildren we have three choices:

We could spend less and the government is working hard to reduce public spending and make the rest more productive.

We could pay more tax but our tax system is already complicated and inequitable. Besides, higher taxes are unpopular and often counter productive.

We could increase economic growth which is by far the best option.

One way to do that is by mining and Gerry Brownlee explains the benefits of that in today’s NZ Herald.

. . . Mining in 2008 was a $2 billion industry and contributed $1.1 billion to exports.

Including oil and gas, the mining industry employs around 6000 people – and those jobs are highly productive and highly paid, relative to other sectors of the economy.

Mining is an important part of regional economies such as the West Coast and the Coromandel.

The Government is currently borrowing around $240 million a week and we have more than 100,000 people unemployed. The tradables sector of the economy has been in recession for the past five years.

That is unsustainable and the Government accepts the challenge of improving our economy and living standards.

We need to do some things to improve the income side of the ledger.

The suggestion that a tiny part of the conservation estate might be opened up for mining has been greeted by a level of hysteria which ignores the benefits:

. . .  mining already takes place on conservation land in New Zealand. There are 82 mines operating on conservation land and 118 permits for mining are at present active over conservation land.

Some people argue that New Zealand would not see any benefit from increased mining and that all the profits go overseas.

Yet the largest mining company in the country, Solid Energy, is 100 per cent state-owned. All its profits go straight towards spending on government services. There are also many New Zealand-owned mining companies active on New Zealand land.

The average ownership structure of resources companies listed on the NZX is 57 per cent New Zealand and 43 per cent overseas ownership. Others that are fully overseas-owned pay both company tax and royalties in New Zealand.

Some argue that the royalties from mineral mining are small, meaning it’s not worth it for New Zealand. But royalties are just an added bonus from mining.

The real benefits from mining are the jobs created and economic activity generated inside the country. That activity generates company tax revenue for the Government as well as economic growth.

The economic benefits are clear but it is important that this doesn’t come at a high cost to the environment.

Many New Zealanders are rightly concerned about protecting our natural environment and some say mining is inconsistent with that goal. The Government shares this concern and we will make sure any mining on conservation land in New Zealand is done responsibly and carefully.

Mines in New Zealand are subject to strict environmental tests. The higher the conservation value of the land concerned, the stricter the test. That fact will rule out open-cast mines on Schedule Four land.

Modern mining is totally different from its image in the past. Companies are required to rehabilitate the land after they leave and mitigate the effects of their activities as much as possible.

A good example of a responsible mining company is Pike River Coal in the Paparoa Ranges, which won an award from the Department of Conservation for the environmental consideration it displayed in developing its underground mine.

Some have also argued that mining puts New Zealand’s clean and green image at risk and that tourism may be affected. But the Government is proposing only a small increase in mining activity for quite large economic gain.

Tourism numbers rose between 2000 and 2008 while the mining sector grew and mining permits were issued for conservation land.

Other countries are able to marry their environmental image with a strong mining industry – for example, Canada. There is no reason New Zealand cannot do the same.

 The proposal to open up a tiny part of schedule 4 land to mining is not a foregone conclusion.

The government is calling for submissions on the discussion document.

Most of the response to the proposal so far has been negative and comes from people who are well organised.

It’s important that those of us in favour of the proposal make submissions too, not just for our own sakes but for those of our grandchildren.

We have a responsibility to ensure  economic development doesn’t come at the cost of the environment. We also have a responsibility to ensure that emotive and ill founded concerns about the environment don’t stop economic development.

P.S. Kiwiblog and Keeping Stock also discuss this issue.


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