Mining

The Herald reports:

Also earmarked for are several parts of the Coromandel Peninsula and part of the Paparoa National Park in Westland.

A total of 2500ha, or 1.5 per cent of the Coromandel, is affected, including land around Thames and the Otahu ecological and Parakawai geological area in the Coromandel Forest Park.

A mining discussion document issued yesterday said the whole peninsula had gold, silver and peat deposits worth up to $54 billion.

The Government said the total area mined in the 7058ha of land it wants to open to mining could be as little as 500ha.

It is also proposing adding 12,400ha of land and marine reserves to the “protected” list, resulting in more protected land overall.

The area the Government proposes taking out of Section 4 is 0.2% of the total section 4, and will be replaced by an even larger amount, which is sensible. Of course not all conservation land, or even schedule 4 land, is of equal value.

My view has always been that decisions should be taken on a case by case basis, weighing up the potential economic benefits vs the environmental impact in that area.

“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).

500 hectares is basically 2.2 kms by 2.2 kms.. That is not a lot of land nationwide.

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.

Quoting Ministers:

“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.”

Mining creates jobs, investment, export income and tax revenue.

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.

And more money for conservation!

As I say, my view is to consider mining on a case by case basis. So let’s look through the discussion document:

A non-contiguous part of Paparoa National Park is proposed to be removed – the area has been mined in the past and still has current mining permits for it. Land affected is 3,315 hectares out of 39,000 hectares.

Also 2,574 hectares out of 69,290 hectares of mainly Coromandel Forest Park Total Coromandel value is estimated to be $54 billion of mainly gold, silver and peat.

– 705 hectares out of 15,250. Gold and silver estimated at $4.3 billion.

The Barrier inclusion is the one attracting the most attention, with the Herald reporting:

The National MP for Auckland Central, , has criticised Government plans to open Great Barrier Island to mining.

Ms Kaye – whose electorate includes the island – said mining did not stack up “when environmental and economic factors are taken into account, and given the island’s status in the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park”. …

Adding to the potential embarrassment for the Government, former National Party Cabinet minister and Auckland City Mayor is also opposing the move.

Mining is banned on Great Barrier under the Auckland City district plan, and can go ahead only if a mining company convinces the local council, or the Environment Court on appeal, to change the rules.

Mr Banks said Te Ahumata plateau was in the direct sight of tourists flying to New Zealand from the United States.

“Can you imagine flying in to ‘100 per cent pure’ New Zealand and witnessing below you the moonscape of international companies degrading the most beautiful island on Earth?” he said.

John Banks’s press release was unequivocal:

“I am the Mayor for Great Barrier Island and I am completely opposed to any mining on this island. It is the untouched jewel in the crown of the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park.

Mayor Banks says mining would have a severe impact on the local tourism and fishing industries.

“This would be an ecological disaster, a serious blow for the established economy that depends on the Barrier’s untarnished image.

“Tens of thousands of people visit this magnificent destination every year to enjoy its beauty. This has to be one of the most beautiful places on earth at the doorstep of our Super City.”

“The infrastructure needed for mining would be devastating to the local environment. It could mean an enlarged airport, a large scale industrial port and wharf system that would be both expensive and destructive to the pristine environment.

Now Banks is not some foaming environmentalist, opposed to all mining. In his usual subtle way he points out Great Barrier has some unique qualities to it.

I’ve been to Barrier many times, and it is an  island with basically half a dozen roads and 800 residents. One can have a couple of extra mines in the Coromandel, and once they are going, most people won’t even realise they are operating. But even one mine on Barrier would change the island considerably, as Banks points out.

I’m somewhat torn on this one. If there really is $4 billion of gold and silver on the island, I’d want to mine it. Hell, I’d mine my own mother’s grave if there was $4 billion of gold underneath it 🙂 (Note my mother is alive and well!). At this stage the $4 billion is of course a rough estimate of potential – it may be less than that.

But on an emotional level, I’d hate to see Great Barrier industrialised. One of the things i love about the Barrier is that there is no central power supply on the island – it is almost all solar powered, with generator backups.

And as Banks says, it is the jewel in the crown of the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park. The island survives on tourism. I’ve yet to be convinced that mining there is a good idea. Possibly I’m a bit biased, as I stay there often, but if I had to list the last places in NZ I want mined, GBI would be high up on that list (Palmerston North however would be first up to be turned into a giant mine :-))

I don’t think it is just NIMBY syndrome. The Barrier is pretty unique with its lack of industrialisation.

To some degree the debate may be academic. The two main contenders for Mayor of Auckland have made it quite clear the District Plan, which bans mining, is not going to be amended – regardless of Section 4 status.

So I do wonder why you would change the law around Section 4, when mining will still be banned under the District Plan.

I think it is good that the Government has put up the consultation paper, and people should have their say. Hopefully it can be a debate that is more intelligent than just saying mining is bad. It is about getting a balance between economic opportunities and environmental protection, and should be on a case by case basis.

Fran O’Sullivan writes on the mining proposals, and says they are a timid toe in the water, not some sort of Naaru type exploration.

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