Eco effects of ironsand mining ‘uncertain’

The environmental impacts of plans to mine ironsands off the ocean floor in New Zealand’s South Taranaki are too uncertain for regulators to know how to draft rules to manage them, Environmental Protection Authority staff say.

 
 

TransTasman Resources (TTR) is seeking a marine consent under new law governing New Zealand’s exclusive economic zone to suck sands rich in iron ore from the ocean floor between 22 and 36 kilometres offshore for export to Asian steel mills.

The process would return the 90 per cent of sand that is not iron-bearing to the seafloor.

Final submissions on the application will be delivered in Wellington over the next two days to the decision-making committee (DMC) appointed by the EPA to recommend or decline a marine consent, after a month of hearings around the country.

The EPA staff say in their report to the DMC that a lack of information in some areas has meant they’ve been unable to develop conditions that are measurable and enforceable.

“In particular, we have been unable to develop environmental performance objectives to guide an adaptive management approach.”

Many of the submissions to the DMC have concentrated on how the sand plumes created by the mining process could affect marine life, and the impact on wave action of the pits and trenches the mining process would create.

“The EPA staff agree with submitters to the application that, notwithstanding the further information provided in response to the EPA’s requests, the application continues to leave uncertainty about the effects the proposed activities might have on the environment.

“Many of the effects of the proposed activities cannot be accurately evaluated until after baseline monitoring proposed by TTR has occurred,” the report says.

While TTR submitted it could take an “adaptive management” approach, which would see it adapt the process as its impacts were learnt, the report says EPA staff do not consider a small scale or short term adaptive management approach would “favour the caution and environmental protection that the EEZ Act requires”.

TTR also identifies such an approach as a “significant commercial issue for its operation”.

 
 

 
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