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Miners having a whale of a time

Written By: - Date published: 6:15 am, July 13th, 2018 - 59 comments
Categories: Environment, Mining - Tags: ,

 

Just as a beacon shines to announce that, perhaps, southern right whales are returning to frolic and feed close-in to coastal New Zealand we learn that a mining exploration company has quietly been given a permit to, among other activities, drill and extract bulk seabed samples from within the West Coast North Island Marine Mammal Sanctuary.

The sanctuary was established specifically to protect the all-but extinct Māui dolphins but is also frequented by blue, humpback, orca, pilot, and southern right whales.  Now, Ironsands Offshore Mining Ltd will be able to drill and extract bulk samples from within the sanctuary. The permit to do so was rubber-stamped by MOBIE’s New Zealand Petroleum and Minerals division. The exploration is allowed to proceed without further official consent because “mineral exploration” is a non-notifiable permitted activity under the Taranaki District Council’s coastal plan rules.

Ironsands Offshore Mining Ltd will need a resource consent to shift from exploring the area to actually mining the seabed, and obtaining that consent won’t necessarily be as easy as filling-in a MOBIE form.

The company is headed by Dr Neil Loftus and is one of a suite of front-of-house companies under the CASS group. It appears to have attracted investors from the United Arab Emirates, Singapore, Malaysia, and Australia. Dr Loftus is taking a below-the-radar approach to the exploration of the marine mammal sanctuary but seemed quite happy to talk up a potential “billion dollar” mine when seeking to prospect the coast off the pristine Waihi Beach.

And we can expect to see more of these exploration permits being handed out by New Zealand Petroleum and Minerals. This week it announced it is now open for applications, on a first come first served basis, for the mineral exploration of  33,006km² in the Otago region and 7,828km² in the Nelson region. Those areas had previously been under a moratorium for three years but, as of Monday, its open slather.

Its was great to feel proud of the fact that the Matariki fireworks were postponed for fear of upsetting a southern right whale which turned up in Wellington Harbour for a great big feed – but gobsmacked now. Greenpeace New Zealand Executive Director Dr. Russel Norman, pretty much, sums it up . . .

The idea that New Zealand would allow seabed mining in a marine mammal sanctuary is absolutely absurd – it beggars belief. As well as being a Māui dolphin habitat, this area is a winter shelter for Southern Right Whales. It’s a terrible irony that the next stop for the beloved ‘Wellington Whale’ could be the new site of a seabed mining operation.

Pressure from over fishing, pollution, and a warming climate means whole ecosystems are threatened. We’re part of nature, not separate from it – ocean life has to be protected, because without it, life on Earth cannot continue. It’s that simple, and it starts with the areas we have already supposedly protected.

 

59 comments on “Miners having a whale of a time ”

  1. DH 1

    I’d think there’s more to this than meets the eye. A permit to mine ironsand near that area was refused back in 2014. Why would a business want to spend significant sums on exploration when recent history suggests they’d be refused a mining permit.

    Link to last ironsand refusal;

    http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/BU1406/S00631/trans-tasman-resources-iron-sand-mining-consent-refused.htm

    I wonder where this would sit with the TPPA, can NZ be sued when/if the permit is denied.

  2. Tuppence Shrewsbury 2

    An outstanding display of verbal gymnastics to somehow blame this entirely on the company that is just doing its job and not at all on the government that approved this. In May. After banning all new mining and exploration. In March I think.

    • Puckish Rogue 2.1

      To be it politely this government does seem to be giving…mixed messages when it comes to the environment

      • Tuppence Shrewsbury 2.1.1

        That’s kind of you. I’d say it’s meaningless sloganeering at best and downright unethical lying at worst

        • Puckish Rogue 2.1.1.1

          I’m more the thought that Labour and the Greens didn’t actually expect to win the last election and so are trying to play with as much of their policies as they can

          Tell you what though its interesting watching it all play out

    • SPC 2.2

      The ban was to allow no more oil and gas expoloration permits. It did not cover other/minerals as well.

      • Tuppence Shrewsbury 2.2.1

        That you had to explain that and rely on semantics to make this ok shows how far out of touch the government is

        • SPC 2.2.1.1

          It is not their fault you do not realise that a ban on new oiland gas exploration did not include minerals.

          • Tuppence Shrewsbury 2.2.1.1.1

            I’m sure it’s not labour or the greens fault that very few people, except there most ardent supporters, split hairs that finely.

            • dukeofurl 2.2.1.1.1.1

              Oil and gas exploration restrictions was about low carbon future

              Your bicycle cant be built without ‘minerals’. But of course doesnt have to be in sensitive areas

  3. SPC 3

    A three year moratorium on mineral exploration of 33,006km² in the Otago region and 7,828km² in the Nelson region ended on Monday.

    And a belated report of consent to explore in a Taranaki marine reserve area, signalling a cavalier approach to approving requests once they are made.

    That a green minister approved that, and the Green Party did not inform interested parties about the matter, but kept in very much in house suggests

    1. Green Ministers do not keep Green MP’s informed about their ministerial decisions.
    2. If informed, Green MP’s are expected to keep it to themselves.

    Thus the green movement is not better informed about government activities when the Green Party has closer connection to government, and thus they should not be complacent just because there is a Green Party support for the coalition and a Green Minister handling such matters.

    • Koff 3.1

      The permit was issued by New Zealand Petroleum and Minerals, which is part of MBIE. The permit was not issued by a Green Party Minister. However, it does seem that Eugenie Sage as Minister of Conservation was aware of this particular permit back in March as DOC passed on the info. to her.

      • SPC 3.1.1

        The problem appears to be that exploration in marine reserves does not require the consent of the Conservation Minister (or is not simply banned outright on the grounds that mining is not going to be allowed in marine reserves).

        • dukeofurl 3.1.1.1

          Then why did you say earlier
          ‘That a green minister approved that”

          and then say
          ” does not require the consent of the Conservation Minister”

          Confused much?

          • SPC 3.1.1.1.1

            I made the assumption that it would have been policy to require consent
            from the Conservation Minister before one could explore in a marine reserve.

            Apparently not.

            As Koff explained, the Conservation Minister only need be informed and consent can occur at another ministry.

            I am still wondering why the Green Party did not inform conservation groups about this, so they could launch a campaign to get government to make legislative change as to mining in marine reserves.

            • JC 3.1.1.1.1.1

              Believe IS covered this succinctly yesterday … sure Blame the “Govt “… but have a look at Legislation that allows this .. And Review that Shit ! Immediately,!

              (along with the Rest!)

              http://norightturn.blogspot.com/2018/07/we-need-to-protect-dolphins-from-mining.html

              Quietly Hopeful all you Doom-sayers out there! …

              • Koff

                As IS points out in the post you linked to, a change in the law ensuring marine mammal sanctuaries have the same protection as conservation estate on land could prevent ironsand mining off the Taranaki coast.

                This is a copy of an email I received from Eugenie Sage yesterday which seems to suggest that is what she wants to do.

                “Like many of us, I feel a deep connection to our oceans. The rich marine life that surrounds our shores is what makes our place in the world so special and why we’re so passionate about protecting it.

                There are only 63 of the unique Māui dolphins left in the world. Only 63. And they and other marine life are under threat from potential seabed mining off the Taranaki coast in the exact area of a marine mammal sanctuary. Mining in a sanctuary is not acceptable.

                I’m really disappointed that in 2018 there are new proposals for seabed mining and an exploration permit has been granted by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment. We need to update the law to better protect our oceans.

                Let’s be clear – the Green Party does not support exploration or mining in marine mammal sanctuaries and has consistently campaigned against seabed mining.

                Last year we stood arm in arm with Taranaki locals and declared our commitment to creating a whale sanctuary. We stand by that and I’m working hard to make it happen.

                We’ve expressed our concerns around the impacts of exploration activities like seismic surveys to the Energy Minister. I am actively working to fix the Marine Mammals Protection Act to give dolphins and whales the protection they need.

                As a part of this Government, we’ve taken a strong stand opposing all new offshore oil and gas exploration and we’re doing the work to implement the Government commitment to a policy of no new mines on conservation land. Seabed mining has no place in marine sanctuaries either.

                Changing the laws so they protect our natural treasures isn’t a fast or easy task. But the Green Party has been a political force for two decades now and working for change has always been at the core of what we do and always will be.”

  4. Chris T 4

    What are the Green Party doing in govt again?

    • Robert Guyton 4.1

      The Zero Carbon Bill for starters. The cessation of new exploration permits for oil and gas as a topper. Plenty of other environmentally-protective stuff as well, ChrisT. Attempts to paint them as hypocritical or ineffective are nothing more than ignorant attacks by naive right wingers, Imo, looking for any possible chink in the Green/Labour suit-of-Government. Eugenie and James in particular, are doing an excellent job within the legal/political restraints that reality presents. I rate them and trust that they’re doing everything possible to turn the ship of Government in an environmentally-supportive direction.

      • Chris T 4.1.1

        You missed helping to expand foreign water bottling companies.

        I’m not painting them as hypocritical

        I’m pointing out how irrelevant they are now they are actually part of the government

        • SPC 4.1.1.1

          Do you know who the parties to the coalition are and who is not?

          Apparently not.

        • Robert Guyton 4.1.1.2

          Irrevalent? Why mention them then? The Greens are not disabled, as you would have us think; they are doing what’s possible, in the circumstances. I rate them.

    • Gabby 4.2

      Picking their way through the gnatz road apples christy.

    • JC 4.3

      Endevouring to turn the Ship around! ….

      How about that for an Idea …….

  5. RedLogix 5

    Absent more information it’s hard to quantify exactly what the risk to the Sanctuary is going to be. Seabed mining using suction dredges is potentially at the lower end of the disruption scale … the biggest risk has to be around the discharge tailings stream creating a plume of sediment in the water column near the surface, disrupting the phytoplankton/krill/food chain in the wider area. I would definitely want to see exactly how the proposed process dealt with this issue, it could be quite an intractable problem, but not insoluble.

    There shouldn’t be any chemical or toxic waste involved, I would expect any concentration process would use gravity separation only.

    The other may be excessive acoustic noise, although that can be controlled for. Marine mammals generally don’t seem to mind the presences of boats and ships per se, indeed they’re often attracted to them.

    And there is an obvious physical impact directly on the seafloor in the immediate extraction zone; but I’ve no real sense of how this would impact the wider protection zone. It could be trivial, it could be the show-stopper.

    On the face of if DoC have reservations there must be good reason to take a strong precautionary approach to this. It would be helpful to see any documents or reports that may have been done already.

    • Draco T Bastard 5.1

      Seabed mining using suction dredges is potentially at the lower end of the disruption scale … the biggest risk has to be around the discharge tailings stream creating a plume of sediment in the water column near the surface, disrupting the phytoplankton/krill/food chain in the wider area.

      I believe that they don’t discharge near the surface any more. I’m pretty sure that they discharge back into the channel that the previous suction produced with minimal spread.

      There shouldn’t be any chemical or toxic waste involved, I would expect any concentration process would use gravity separation only.

      All I’ve read says that they use magnetic separation.

      No toxic waste produced in the extraction but all living things caught up in the sand will be killed.

      The other may be excessive acoustic noise, although that can be controlled for.

      The noise seems to be the problem:

      The effect of underwater noise pollution is more painful than anything else for the animals. Most animals are alarmed by the alien sounds. The deaths can occur due to hemorrhages, changed diving pattern, migration to newer places, and damage to internal organs and an overall panic response to the foreign sounds.

      Depth charges work on submarines not because they hit the submarine but because of the pressure wave carried by the water.

      • RedLogix 5.1.1

        Of course iron ore will likely exploit magnetic separation … doh. Otherwise yes I can’t see any inherently obvious problems that can’t be solved.

        Yeah noise is of course a real problem, especially explosions and high intensity sounds … but again I can’t see why suction dredging should necessarily cause this kind of sound. In general marine mammals seem to tolerate normal ship noises to a fair degree, and with care I can’t see why an operation like this could not be designed to substantially minimise it.

        • RedLogix 5.1.1.1

          PS; That was a Homer /doh moment btw 🙂

        • dukeofurl 5.1.1.2

          Its exploration not full extraction

          • RedLogix 5.1.1.2.1

            Yup … I was assuming the exploration phase would be reasonably benign. I’d expect they’re only interested on what is on or close to the surface so there wouldn’t be any need for explosive surveys.

            More information needed.

        • lprent 5.1.1.3

          Depends if they are also looking at other minerals. Titanium comes to mind. Which aren’t magnetic.

          There is considerable amount of titanium in those west cost sands – mostly concentrated further south. But if you are going to pick up sand then extracting higher value ores become viable.

          • Draco T Bastard 5.1.1.3.1

            The titanium seems to still have issues:

            The typical composition of the magnetite is 82% iron oxide, 8% titanium dioxide and 8% silica; 0.015% sulfur, and 0.015% phosphorus. In 100% concentrations of magnetite this had a maximum potential to yield ~ 58% metallic iron, although the titanium is unrecoverable by modern techniques.

            Which explains why it’s sold for use in paint.

            Although, that not last much longer:

            The scientists used xylene as a model compound to test the titanium dioxide nanoparticles’ ability to eliminate VOCs from the air. From their results, they hypothesised that UV radiation activates the nanoparticles, causing them to emit hydroxyl radicals. These radicals attack both VOCs in the air, as well as organic compounds in the paint. So while the paint eliminates xylene, the reactions behind this process create a series of new VOCs and also degrades the surface of the paint, releasing nanoparticles. Formaldehyde is among the new VOCs they identified, which is an irritant and classed as a carcinogen.

            My bold.

            • lprent 5.1.1.3.1.1

              Probably the main use of titanium is as a whitening agent in paint, plastics, and many other things like toothpaste (titanium dioxide). It doesn’t surprise me that it has problems as a building material. Virtually every component of paints and every other building surface system does, from paint to brick to roofing iron. If you think about the job that they are trying to perform of protecting one enclosed area for decades from weather, then that is simply inevitable.

              Incidentally I remember looking aghast at the list of possible breakdown products for untreated NZ native woods like many of the older Auckland villas when I was more interested in building materials back in the early 1980s. That included formaldehyde (ie embalming fluid) as one of them. I was working at Ceramco at the time and there was some concern floating around about silicosis from some types of house bricks. I simply don’t know of an inert building material. Hell – the breakdown products of rocks have issues.

              However ultimately the trade off for humans is between having a substantial building and that of having one lets the weather in. And it isn’t exactly hard to find the issues with buildings that have leaks.

              However the growing area for titanium is as a alloying metal. It has a number of properties that lend themselves

              The reference in the wikipedia article is somewhat old (1906 is old even by my standards – it was 53 years before my birth). I think that the only viable method for a long time was the Kroll process which is what they would have been referring to. There are a number of other newer techniques developed in very recent years simply because of the utility of the material.

              https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Titanium#Production_and_fabrication

    • soddenleaf 5.2

      Iron, like whale excrement, helps boost the biological processes of the sea?
      I heard that one way to help the planet was fertilize it with iron. Am I missing
      something, is iron sand mining actually aside from the sound and othe immediate effects a ecological good?

      • Andre 5.2.1

        There’s plenty of info easily available about iron fertilization of the ocean.

        In short, if iron is the limiting trace nutrient then increasing the bio-available iron does increase the growth of phytoplankton. It’s not the case that all the oceans are iron deficient, however. In some cases, this could even be too much of a good thing, leading to problems such as algal blooms and flow-on problems from that.

        It’s a complex issue, and even just considering the iron aspect of it there’s a good chance that just stirring up more iron into the waters off Taranaki as a side effect of ironsands mining will do more harm than good. The complexity of the issue and the poor state of understanding is one reason why there’s international agreements against deliberate iron fertilization.

      • Stuart Munro 5.2.2

        Any dredging or seafloor interference tends to cause damage by fine particle smothering. Mitigation techniques for this are not well developed.

  6. SPC 6

    The comments section on the link displays how those who support National operate on comments sections on media sites. It is to undermine confidence of voters in Labour/Greens and reduce turnout in 2020 – which is how they win.

    thus https://www.stuff.co.nz/national/105428150/mining-exploration-permit-inside-marine-mammal-sanctuary-is-slammed

  7. Gabby 7

    I suppose the management of the company could be held personally criminally liable for any wildlife deaths in the course of their exploration. Though that might break the I’m in a suit I’ll do as I please rule.

  8. Draco T Bastard 8

    We need to stop this extraction and exporting of our resources. It’s making us poorer and will end up with us not being able to support ourselves.

    Economics is about resources – not money. By exporting our resources we’re exporting our economy.

    • Puckish Rogue 8.1

      You have Labour and the Greens in government, what more do you want?

      • Draco T Bastard 8.1.1

        An economic system that actually works. Labour is still tied to the delusional capitalist one that doesn’t.

  9. McFlock 9

    So Sage was told about it in March, but if a MBIE unit approved it why didn’t Parker know about or stop it?

    And why the fuck doesn’t DoC have a say?

  10. SaveNZ 10

    Disgusting! The RMA and council rules need to be strengthened ASAP because it’s open slather in NZ of our natural wonders and resources.

    Get rid of MOBIE’s New Zealand Petroleum and Minerals division.

    The pillage of NZ resources by morons has to stop.

    Sand mining: the global environmental crisis you’ve probably never heard of
    https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2017/feb/27/sand-mining-global-environmental-crisis-never-heard

  11. SaveNZ 11

    It’s happening all over NZ.

    Opinion: Mining new threat to rare dolphins

    http://www2.nzherald.co.nz/the-country/news/article.cfm?c_id=16&objectid=11905588

  12. marty mars 12

    Another gray industry slowly dying but just not fast enough. Ironsands, fracking and the rest are the last death rattles of unsustainable, polluting, and destructive mining/oil/energy industries.

    The defenders of these industries are gray too.

  13. adam 13

    It’s looking more and more the first thing this government should have done when it came to power was repeal the Reserve Bank Act 1989.

    Otherwise we just left with the message these are the same devotees of hard right economics. And we will keep getting more of these terrible decisions.

  14. soddenleaf 14

    Iron, like whale excrement, helps boost the biological processes of the sea?
    I heard that one way to help the planet was fertilize it with iron. Am I missing
    something, is iron sand mining actually aside from the sound and othe immediate effects a ecological good?

  15. mosa 15

    While we are focussing on animal habitats under threat what about the torture of animals for medical science.
    https://thedailyblog.co.nz/2018/07/12/animals-still-suffer-in-experiments-safe/

  16. Timeforacupoftea 16

    Come on guys the Green Party need mining as much as every party does.
    We have to build 3 million electric cars probably more windmills and batteries.
    I say mine baby mine, as shortages of special elements are in short supply.

  17. Robert Guyton 17

    “Central and local government are looking to patch legislative holes after a seabed mining exploration permit was granted inside a marine sanctuary with little consultation.

    In May Ironsands Offshore Mining Ltd was granted the permit to explore a 220-square-kilometre section off the coast of New Plymouth where it will drill holes, some deeper than 10 metres into the seafloor, to collect mineral samples.

    The decision, made by New Zealand Petroleum and Minerals, didn’t require resource consent to be sought from the Taranaki Regional Council because its coastal plan allows exploration as a permitted activity.

    And loopholes in central government legislation meant the permit could be approved without the involvement of the Conservation Minister Eugenie Sage or Department of Conservation, which administers the sanctuary.

    READ MORE: Govt quietly grants mining exploration permit inside Māui dolphin sanctuary

    Yesterday, Sage said she was disappointed the permit was granted but said her hands were tied on the matter.

    She said under the Crown Minerals Act there was no opportunity for formal consultation by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment with DOC.

    There was an obvious gap in the legislation which DOC was now investigating how to fill, she said.”

    • John up North 17.1

      Kia Ora Robert, makes me wonder how all these gaps and loopholes came to be – it’s almost as if somewhere, somehow, some-ones all got together and purposely created these “get out of jail free” legislative lapses.

      Turning the ship around is a apt analogy………….. takes a long, long time for any rudder inputs to effect course change, and that’s without any crew members putting spanners in works to screw up the new skippers preferred route.

  18. Robert Guyton 18

    That’s business, John. Clever, ain’t it.

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