Good news for the Coast

24/05/2013

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

09/07/2012

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

24/07/2010

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 . . .

20/07/2010

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

17/06/2010

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

20/04/2010

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?

06/04/2010

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.


Why not mine ours?

23/03/2010

While voices are being raised opposing the idea of mining the odd packet-handkerchief sized corner of our vast conservation estate, Busted Blonde speaks softly in favour:

“We are confident and supportive of any attempt to mine in our back yard. Just as long as they sweep up the yard and put out the rubbish when they leave.”

What a pity Colin Espiner hadn’t read that before he wrote the parks are ours not mine.

Yes, we’re sitting on vast wealth. Yes, if we dug it all up we’d be rich. But what would we have lost? Our countryside. Our reputation. And possibly our souls. I know it’s tempting, Gerry, but sorry, you’re just going to have to leave it in the hills. There are other ways to make a dollar. 

What a lot of emotive claptrap. Our countryside, reputation and souls have survived the mining currently going on throughout the country – including on the conservation estate.

Interestingly most of the 39 comments on this post disagree with his view, including:

Typical NZ NIMBYs, we all happily consume the products of mining, we just don’t want any mining here.

and

IF we can do the mining without destroying the countryside and IF the benefits will go to New Zealand as a whole and not a select few or (shudder) overseas companies then it is worth mining.

I think the Government can show that mining is palatable. It is important they demonstrate the money will benefit everyone because most people seem to believe that multinational companies and a lucky few will be the big winners while everybody else loses out.

and

We want all the toys but expect others like sweatshop workers in Asia to pay all the nasty costs. We whinge on about Australia’s luck with minerals but stupidly leave ours locked up. Careful modern mining will bring income we seriously need if we are to maintain our standard of living and social services. Most of us will never ever go to these wilderness areas and neither will that naive tourist we keep prattling on about. In any case, human activity like mining is itself a tourist attraction – look at Coober Pedy and our own West Coast. Let’s proceed with the care the Government has given us the lead on and stop the crazy exaggerations and hype.

and

Colin, you say “It’s a no-brainer really. Mining is unpopular. End-of-bloody-story.” Really? On what basis do you make that assumption? On the basis of the press articles from Environmentalists?

I think you will find if you ask the general public that mining is not as unpopular as you think.

Here’s an analogy: A rich man owns land that contains a well of water. Outside his property are people who are dying of thirst. They ask him for some water. He says “No, because you will dirty my well”. The people die of thirst. Question: is the rich man being cruel, or is he a “good environmentalist”?

Cactus Kate posts on whining about mining:

The only downside to mining is that New Zealand isn’t enough of an economic powerhouse to have it’s own mining company that could be given the contracts to “drill baby drill” or Kiwislaver and the Cullen Fund were large enough to simply gobble a 100% shareholding in an established overseas mining company to do the work so all profits could remain in New Zealand which would end that argument. Anyway cheers to dreaming on that one.

Adolf at No Minister says dig baby dig.

Keeping Stock concludes a post mining the reaction with:

We know that there will be opposition, and we hope that last week’s jury verdict in Wellington doesn’t send a few tree-huggers over the top in their protests, believing that what they do is for the greater good. Right at the moment, we can’t think of ANY greater good than New Zealand’s economic future.

And Kiwiblog writes:

There is a segment of the population (and associated lobby groups) that is opposed to all mining, everywhere. You could apply to mine in the middle of a gorse laden field, and they’ll be against it, regardless of how much mineral wealth may be there.

That is a legitimate view to hold, but there is a cost – NZ has less money for schools, less money for hospitals, and lower incomes overall.

The previous government increased spending which we can’t afford. The current one can and should cut spending. It shouldn’t increase its income by increasing taxes but it could increase government income and economic growth by following through on this proposal to mine little patches of the conservation estate.


Mine a little conserve more

23/03/2010

Ministers of Energy and Resources and Conservation, Gerry Brownlee and Kate Wilkinson are right, it’s time to discuss maximising our mineral potential.

It’s too much to hope that the discussion will be calm and reasoned when the hysteria preceded the announcement.

But those who take the time to read the media release will find that no-one is suggesting digging up vast tracts of the conservation estate.

“Today the government is suggesting allowing potential access, with appropriate environmental mitigation, to a small percentage of that resource,” Mr Brownlee said.

The Government is proposing to remove 7,058 hectares of land from Schedule Four of the Crown Minerals Act, including some areas in the Coromandel Peninsula and the Inangahua sector of Paparoa National Park.

Mr Brownlee said it was important to view the proposal in context.

“7,058 hectares is just 0.2 per cent of Schedule Four land.  Moreover, if that land subsequently saw mining development, only around five per cent of the land might actually be mined – as little as 500 hectares.  This is nothing like the vast tracts of land suggested to date by the environmental lobby.

Five hundred hectares is a tiny amount of land to sacrifice for mining. It’s less than half the area of the farm I live on.

“In fact 500 hectares is smaller than what the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry describes as an average New Zealand sheep and beef farm (550 ha).

“However, it is 500 hectares across a number of potential sites that could have big economic benefit for New Zealand.  Mining in New Zealand is already a $2 billion industry, which contributes to export receipts and government revenue.

“It’s also worth noting that in productivity terms, workers in the mining sector return an average of $360,000 of GDP per worker, nearly six times the national average.”

 The economic gains are obvious and they will bring social benefits because we’ll be able to afford more of what we need to make New Zealand a healthier, better educated and more secure country.

What about the environment?

Any mining will be subject to the resource consent process and the government is proposing to more than compensate for the land which will be mined by adding a greater areas to the conservation estate:

Ms Wilkinson said it should be noted that while the Government was proposing removing 7,058 hectares from the 4.6 million hectares in Schedule Four under the Crown Minerals Act, it was also proposing to add a further 12,400 hectares – a net gain in protected areas of 5,342 hectares.

“The areas being considered for removal are small and any mining on conservation land is subject to strict environmental tests.  It has been made clear that any future mining applications will be considered on a case-by-case basis and conservation and environmental management remain a key consideration. . .

Ms Wilkinson said the Government is also proposing to create a dedicated Conservation Fund based on a portion of future royalties it receives from mining in public conservation areas.  The budget for the fund would be 50 per cent of royalty revenue from minerals (other than petroleum) from public conservation areas, with a minimum of $2 million per annum for the first four years and a maximum of $10 million per annum.

Let’s look at those figures again: The proposal is to remove 7,058 hectares from the 4.8 million hectares in Schedule Four, only a tiny amount of which may be mined, and add a further 12,400 hectares.

That makes economic and environmental sense to me.


How else are we going to pay?

19/03/2010

Borrowing billions of dollars to stay still isn’t good economics.

The government can change that by spending less or taking more tax and it’s making progress on both those fronts.

But there are limits to spending cuts if it’s to keep its election promises – and it is determined to do that.

It has also said any tax changes will be fiscally neutral.

That leaves finding new ways to make money and extracting some of the mineral wealth which lies under our land could be part of that.

That idea isn’t universally popular and it’s no surprise that the leaked cabinet papers on possibilities for mining have been greeted with shrieks of outrage.

But a lot of that opposition is based on emotion not facts. If there is any mining it will be on a tiny amount of land and any applications will be subject to the safeguards of the resource consent process.

As Grey Distrct mayor Tony Kokshoorn said:

. . . there were “huge areas of the DOC estate that could be mined.

“The bottom line is that we are not going to let anybody ruin the West Coast, and the RMA [Resource Management Act] protects it,” he said.

Applicants will have to go through the consent process and that will ensure that any economic and social benefits from mining don’t come at the expense of the environment.

Emotion put an end to sustainable logging on the West Coast.

I hope it doesn’t put paid to new jobs and other wealth creating opportunities which could come from mining a small amount of land with low conservation values there. 

Because if we’re not allowed to mine then how else are we going to pay for the services which we’re borrowing so much to fund?


Fruit Rots for Want of Pickers

24/06/2008

Australia is borrowing our ideas to help solve their problems with a shortage of seasonal workers:

FRED Tassone is one of scores of operators of orchards, market gardens and vineyards across the country who cannot find enough workers to pick their produce.

Despite more than 460,000 people being officially unemployed in Australia, the chronic labour shortage in the horticulture industry has reached the point where fruit has been left rotting on trees, and vegetables are left in the ground.

The federal Government is evaluating a recently completed trial of a seasonal workers program in New Zealand, generally regarded as successful by government and industry alike. Soon the sight of Pacific Islanders in fields across Australia may be commonplace.

A decision on a pilot of a program allowing Pacific Islanders short-term visas of up to six months is expected in the next few weeks. Pacific leaders have long advocated the freer movement of labour.

The use of Pacific workers helped orchardists in Central Otago last summer, and also added vibrancy to the community. A group of workers, with beautiful voices, used to busk at Wanaka’s Sunday market.

The mining boom in Western Australia has attracted many people who might once have been prepared to do the hard physical work in the orchards and vineyards.

“It doesn’t matter whether the unemployment rate is 5 per cent or 50 per cent, Australia’s unemployed don’t want to do our work,” Mr Tassone said.

“Unskilled workers can make up to $1200 a week, but Australians just don’t want to do it.”

Jonathan Nathundriwa, 30, from Fiji, who works on a farm next to Mr Tassone’s, said local unemployed people were not interested in the hard physical work required.

On the other hand, the Islanders would be delighted to earn a decent income, Mr Nathundriwa said.

“My family back in Fiji are busting their chops for $10 a day,” he said.

“I would love to be able to give them employment.”

He could also be talking about the dairy industry here.

 Gay Tripodi, who runs stone-fruit operation Murrawee Farms at Swan Hill, in Victoria, said backpackers were not a solution.

“For God’s sake, they’re a nightmare,” she said. “It’s not their fault – most are good kids, but 99 per cent have never been on a farm.

“We need workers who can stay with us for the duration of the season, five to six months.

“We can train them up and then they return to us the following year. We have been really struggling. The situation is dramatic.”

We have a similar problem with people unaccustomed to farms who think they want to work in dairying. It would be great to be able to employ seasonal workers on dairy farms in the same way orchards do. If we could we might look further than the Pacific Islands. We’ve had good workers from Argentina and Chile and neighbours are equally positive about workers from Uruguay.


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