Chatham Rock Phosphate to Gareth Hughes

An open letter from Chatham Rock Phosphate to Gareth Hughes:

You have publicly said you are not against mining per se and will evaluate each project on its merits. We wonder how much faith to put in that statement if the evaluation is based on so little consultation and so few facts.   If you have ruled out this mining project as well as countless others, are there any you do support?

Can anyone identify a mine that has not been opposed?

We’re astonished you have formed such a negative opinion about our project given the compelling potential environmental and economic benefits it offers and its minimal environmental impacts.

To remind you:

1. Chatham Rise rock phosphate, as an ultra-low cadmium direct-application fertiliser, has proven to be as effective as processed fertilisers while reducing run-off effects on New Zealand waterways by up to 80%. 

2. This resource provides fertiliser security for farming by providing a local alternative source.  Most rock phosphate used to make fertiliser now is imported from Morocco.

3. Moroccan rock phosphate is high in cadmium, involves high transport costs and has a significant carbon footprint.

4. New Zealand is predicted to be $900 million richer as a result of our new industry and we’ll be generating annual exports or import substitution of $300 million, plus supporting farming, our biggest earner.

5. By area, the economic value of the phosphate resource is 500 times greater than fishing; it is expected to yield $9.1 million per km2. In contrast, bottom trawling yields less than $20,000 per km2.

So while our operations will have some environmental impacts, they also offer very significant environmental and economic benefits.

The TV3 news item noted your alliance with the fishing industry is an unlikely one.  I agree, given bottom trawling’s massive environmental impacts and lack of environmental oversight.

So the Greens are so anti-mining, they prefer bottom trawling to it!

Our proposed mining operation is subject to a rigorous environmental evaluation and monitoring process. The story that should be getting your attention is not the potential environmental impact of our project, but the freedom of the fishing industry to devastate as much of our EEZ as they like (currently about 50,000 km2 per year, or 385,032 km2 or 9.3% of the EEZ since 1989) with no environmental oversight or monitoring.

We wouldn’t consider extracting phosphate nodules from a very limited area of the Chatham Rise if we expected it to cause more than very minor environmental impacts. Our operations will lift the top 30cm of sandy silt and redeposit 85% of it on the same area of seabed after extracting the nodules. Modelling indicates the material returned will not be widely dispersed, and the sediment that doesn’t immediately settle will rapidly dilute to insignificant levels.

Our draft environmental impact assessment (EIA), supported by more than 30 expert reports, has identified no long-term impacts on key spawning, juvenile and young fish habitat. Any potential impacts are predicted to be confined to our limited extraction areas, and are short-term, reversible, and of low environmental risk. 

But while bottom trawling – ploughing vast tracts of the EEZ seabed decade after decade – requires no environmental consents, our project needs a mining licence and a marine consent. These cost millions of dollars, require years of research, consultation and official process, and involve full public scrutiny.

Chatham’s planned 15-year extraction project will touch a total of 450 km2, far less than 1% of the Chatham Rise.  In contrast, over the same period fishing will bottom trawl 750,000 km2, about three times the size of New Zealand.

This reinforces my view that the Greens tend to be knee-jerk against any new project, rather than treat them on their merits.

UPDATE: Gareth Hughes has responded in the comments.

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