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The numbers on mining don’t stack up

Written By: - Date published: 9:22 am, March 24th, 2010 - 38 comments
Categories: Economy, jobs, Mining - Tags:

There’s a hell of a lot of mis-information and confusing numbers about the economic potential of mining around, and that suits Gerry Brownlee and National because it lets them exaggerate the case for opening up the National Parks.

John Armstrong says “Unfortunately for National, cool economic logic has a hard job competing with emotions stirred up by warnings of endangered kauri forests, dead kiwis and mud slides.” But the reality is the numbers aren’t as great as they would have you think. Even putting the environmental concerns to one side, the economic benefits just aren’t that flash.

Let’s have a closer look:

$194 billion: The supposed total value of all the minerals in New Zealand excluding coal, oil, and gas. Mostly, this is silica, ironsand, clay, feldspar, and other stuff of low value that is spread throughout the country in large quantities. This $194 billion figure (which is about one year’s GDP) comes from one man, Richard Baker, who just so happens to be a member of a couple of mining lobby groups. We could never dig it all up, that would be strip-mining the country – like tearing down your house to sell the scrap for a year’s income – and much of it would be uneconomic to extract anyway.

$80 billion: The value of the minerals Baker says are in the conservation estate. This is the amount in the total conservation estate, not the smaller area that is protected from mining by Schedule 4. Again, it’s mainly low-value, bulky stuff that wouldn’t be economical for the most part (after all, most of it is in areas where mining permits can be sought). A lot of it is dirty coal.

$60 billion: The potential value of the minerals on conservation land that Baker says could be economically extracted. This is not the amount that is in Schedule 4 land, and certainly not the amount in the areas of Schedule 4 land the Government wants to open to mining (which is why I cringed when I saw Guyon Espiner had written “Brownlee estimates that there could be as much as $60 billion worth of minerals in the tiny amount of turf to be prospected.” Just keeping up the Espiner tradition, I guess).

$54 billion: The supposed mineral wealth in the Coromandel. Remember that is a total, not the amount that is economically accessible or the amount in the areas of Schedule 4 land the Nats want to open up. Denis Tegg of Coromandel Watchdog tells me that amount equates to 500 underground mines or 27 more Waihi-style open-cast mines.

$18 billion: the estimated value of the minerals in the areas of Schedule 4 land the government wants to open up. That’s three years of current mining production, hardly enough to make a significant impact on the economy when extracted over several decades.

$6.8 billion: revenue of the mining industry (including oil and gas) in 2008. It paid just $500 million in wages and salaries and only $70 million in royalties. Even if it doubled in size, mining would be an insignificant contributor to government revenue and the country’s wages. Mining companies made a $2 billion pre-tax profit in 2008, most of the big miners are foreign-owned and exported their profits.*

$4 billion: The amount being bandied about as the value of gold and silver deposits in the area on Great Barrier Island the Government is threatening to remove from Schedule 4. I don’t know where this number comes from but the geological report accompanying the minerals stocktake puts the figure at only $1 billion.

$1-$2 billion: The possible value of the dirty coal under the 8% of Paparoa National Park that National wants to open to mining. This coal could be used to power coal power plants. We’re meant to be stopping using coal at Huntly because of its contribution to climate change, the ETS is meant to price coal out of electricity generation. Maybe National wants to export the coal for someone else to burn.

A few tens of millions: The value of aggregate identified in the Ecological Areas near Whangamata that National wants to allow mining of, according to the geological report. That report didn’t have access to the latest data from mineral prospecting company Glass Earth, which makes me think they and National know something no-one else does.

40 million: the number of tonnes of tailings left by the Waihi gold/silver mine so far.

24 million: tonnes of carbon dioxide that would be emitted by burning the 16 million tonnes of coal in the are of Paparoa National Park. That’s $30 million worth of carbon credits even with the low cap set by the ETS.

23 million: the area in hectares of New Zealand not covered by Schedule 4.

6,100: the number of people employed in the mining sector currently on a median wage of $57,700. Mining companies made an average pre-tax profit of $386,800 in 2008.

140: grammes of silver and 3.6 grammes of gold per tonne in the main seam on Great Barrier. 4.1 million tonnes of earth would need to be dug up and treated in cyanide then decontaminated and dumped to get the 600 tonnes of valuable metals.

82: mining concessions currently on the conservation estate. None of which are on Schedule 4 land.

5: years before any mine would start producing. By that time Treasury expects the budget deficit will be all but gone, so the argument that we need mining to pay for public services is wrong. And it’s doubly wrong when you consider the small income the government would get from this mining.

less than 2%: Mining’s contribution to GDP. Even if the mining industry were somehow doubled (and it couldn’t get near that on current plans) it would be an insignificant increase to GDP and government revenue. Remember, this is the Government’s one big economic idea.

Less than 1%: The royalty the government gets for letting foreign companies dig up and take away our minerals on our land.

Zero: the likelihood of mining on Great Barrier. It’s classic bait and switch. Aucklanders get all upset about Great Barrier. The government ‘listens’ and decides to let foreign companies dig up more of our wealth for themselves in places like Stewart Island and Kahurangi instead.

Mehdunno: the Government’s estimate of the economic value to New Zealand of the proposed mining. Remember more mining is the government’s one big plan for the economy but they can’t even give a ballpark figure on how much they expect the country to gain.

38 comments on “The numbers on mining don’t stack up ”

  1. freedom 1

    1,053,398 : the number of idiots we have to thank for this long-drop of a situation

  2. Lanthanide 2

    Excellent summary. Pity we can’t just get this post printed verbatim in a national paper where ordinary, everyday folk would see it.

    • freedom 2.1

      post it to every social networking site you know of
      print off copies and distribute them
      send every contact on your email list the link
      get creative and share information

  3. freedom 3

    and do not forget to make a submission

  4. RascallyRabbit 4

    MED figures provided for the Business Herald reveal that petroleum was a nice little earner for the Government in the 2008/2009 financial year.

    The Crown received approximately $965 million from the petroleum sector that year: $543 million in royalty payments; the balance in taxes

    Who knows who to believe?!

    Our future as oil Sheikhs…

    • Clarke 4.1

      Leaving aside the fact that the royalty rates for oil charged by NZ are amongst the lowest in the world (as demonstrated by the Herald’s numbers), and that all the petroleum ventures in the country are majority controlled by overseas prospectors which are exporting their profits, the simple fact is that no-one is suggesting there is any oil or gas to be had in the Schedule 4 lands.

      Which means even if the oil sector in NZ was being managed for the benefit of NZ rather than the multinational exploration companies. Brownlees’ escapades would not see a single additional barrel of oil brought to market.

    • Bright Red 4.2

      we’re not talking about petroleum here. we’re talking about mining

      • RascallyRabbit 4.2.1

        $6.8 billion: revenue of the mining industry (including oil and gas)in 2008. It paid just $500 million in wages and salaries and only $70 million in royalties.

        I am just saying that the whole conversation is confusing does the mining/mineral extraction debate include oil and gas? Does it include potentially mining on non-schedule 4 lands? What calendar years or financial years are going to be used as a base of comparison for debate?

        There are so many questions and different numbers floating around that I think it would be good to get some f’n clarity from our political elites…

        • Clarke

          The reason the oil and gas sectors are lumped in with the rest of the mining sector is that the vast majority of the royalties come from oil and gas …. the rest of the mining industry pays paltry amounts of money. As Marty points out, the total royalty take from non-petroleum mining is about $70 million – so even if mining the Schedule 4 land doubled the royalties received, we’re still only talking about 1.4 Party Central’s worth of revenue into government coffers.

          In my view, the reason Brownlee has included the petroleum royalties is to artificially pump up the figures and make the effect on the government’s books of mining peat in the Coromandel and shingle in the Parakawai look greater than they really are.

        • Pascal's bookie

          “There are so many questions and different numbers floating around that I think it would be good to get some f’n clarity from our political elites ”

          Well quite. But I’d say that ‘the elites’ is too broad a phrase here. It’s Gerry’s baby, and his numbers are all over the place. That is deliberate on his part.

          That’s the only verifiable fact about the numbers that I can make out.

  5. BLiP 5

    After listening to Nick The Prick Smith with his ACC figures and then Blinglish with his economic figures, any financial data that comes out of National Ltdâ„¢ has to be double/triple checked.

    Take Gerry Browncoal’s talking point that the area of land to be opened for mining was equivalent to a postcard on Eden Park – that ratio was trashed on tele last night when some math whizz crunched the figures to show that, in fact, Browncoal was waaaay out – the true image would be more than 100 post cards. Then we have the question: of the billions apparently available, just how much will actually be returned to New Zealand? Under current agreements, the Crown’s royalty payments amount to around 5 per cent. This leads on to the question: well, if the Crown gets a couple of hundred million out of trashing the conservation estate, what happens to the money? Is it spent on paying down debt or is it consolidated into a Crown fund for further investment, or . . .

    Just like one of John Key’s financial derivatives, this whole thing is dodgy from top to bottom.

    • Clarke 5.1

      It’s pretty much a truism that National governments never save for a rainy day. Practically the first act of Muldoon was to destroy the superannuation fund put in place by the preceding Labour government; thirty years later, English cut off contributions to the current superannuation fund as one of his first acts on getting his feet under the desk.

      So based on their track record over a couple of generations, there is absolutely zero chance that any royalties will be accrued for future generations by this government.

  6. Jim Nald 7

    John Key’s Govt: 100% Pure BS ???

  7. tc 8

    The numbers only stack up if the orebody is sizeable (no evidence of that) and it’s of a desireable mineral in global demand such as rare earth elements like taxcutium or cyclewaydium maybe (again no evidence) and it’s accessible for the creation of infrastructure that it’ll need.

    So many ‘if’s’ and little truth emerging from the gov’t which’s becoming standard MO under sideshow john……the sad thing is the way this’s playing out any viable proposition for a mine (right mineral/location) will likely get lost because of this hamfisted deliberately misleading approach they’re taking so NZ lose again.

    Honesty always the best policy with such a divisive issue with long term outcomes….like that’s ever gonna happen in sideshow’s corpratocracy.

  8. Fisiani 9

    [lprent: you’re not out of your ban until the 31st. Don’t try to comment here before then, it wastes my time. ]

  9. Bored 10

    OK, so the numbers dont stack up….but for NZers to dream of and aspire to a quick fix must suit Jonkey in the polls. He doesnt have to deliver the money jobs etc, feel good on a promise equals votes.

  10. ghostwhowalksnz 11

    Great list showing the real figures.
    However there is one point The Pikes Cr Coal mine under Paparoa National Park , the coal wouldn’t be used for energy production, its used for steel making . The cost and high grade mean that its not suitable as ‘steaming’ coal.
    Incidentally , this Pikes Cr mine is mentioned as how they can do a minimal impact mine. When you remember the troubles they went through, nobody would do it this way again

    • lprent 11.1

      Correct. It is a coal extracted for steel making rather than energy production (it burns rather hot..)

      If I remember the process correctly, the coal is coked first to remove the impurities before being added to the iron. There is a moderate emission profile from that, but no real biggie compared to the value added.

      The value, use, and relative scarcity of this type of coal worldwide is why this mine got its permissions. The difficulties that they had were what any company doing a first time usage of a process tends to get. Second time the parameters are better known and understood, so it is easier.

      This is the same reason that Microsoft is always second or later into a market. Their attitude is that someone else should carry the learning curve…

  11. Alan Liefting 12

    Note that contrary to what is suggested in the article there is no change to access for mining in Kahurangi National Park. This is according to the stocktake document up for discussion, but since there significant mineral wealth in the park it may be up for grabs in the future – if National remain in power! Kahurangi may be left out because of the high level of biodiversity in the park

    On the other hand there are plans for further investigation of Rakiura National Park on Stewart Island.

    Good article. It seems that the mining/ petroleum industry always has an unbounded optimism. Apparently only 20% of the oil wells sunk in NZ are productive.

    • peterthepeasant 12.1

      Only 20%? Tut tut.

      Perhaps we should have National Standards applied to mining companies?

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