Contentious environmental issues have been propelled to the
fore during New Zealand's annual mining and petroleum
conferences in recent weeks.
A long time in coming, environmental protesters were invited
participants at the Australian Institute of Mining and
Metallurgy (AusIMM) conference in Nelson last month and the
Department of Conservation, Forest and Bird and the Coal
Action Network Aotearoa all took part in panel discussions.
At the Petroleum Exploration and Production Association of
New Zealand (Pepanz) conference in Wellington last week,
organisers maintained high security to keep a dozen
protesters at bay, but provided an open-minded platform for
the arguments of National, Labour and the Green Party.
While the most ardent of miners and hard-core
environmentalists remain poles apart, this is the second year
environmentalists have been offered, and accepted, a seat at
the AusIMM conference. Their repeated inclusion was generally
well greeted by the 370 mining delegates.
In a sign of changing times, Doc director-general Al Morrison
gave a candid explanation for the need for compensation
packages from miners to be considered, a trend that was
contested by Forest and Bird and others.
Alongside environmentalist Guy Salmon was last year's Rotorua
conference gatecrasher and protester Cindy Baxter, who aired
the views of the Coal Action Network Aotearoa, best known for
its ''Leave the coal in the hole'' campaign.
Mr Morrison was keynote speaker in the first forum, ''To mine
or not to mine'', and used the recent example of West Coast
mine developer Bathurst Resources paying Doc $22 million for
use in pest control.
However, environmentalists have been cynical of that payment,
which Doc will use on the West Coast, but in areas near where
Bathurst plans to mine, which is above Westport on the
''Doc is reframing its thinking to operate around this trend
[offset financial compensation] to work with companies in a
value exchange,'' Mr Morrison said.
Mining companies had to ''get over it'' in considering
compensation, as those who ''take the most from nature,
[must] give back the most'', as '' Doc policy framework is
However, Forest and Bird advocacy manager Kevin Hackwell said
people should ''not have to accept destruction'' of one area
with unique biodiversity in order to protect an adjacent
''Further mining [on Denniston] may go beyond the
[ecological] tipping point,'' he said.
Mr Morrison said mining companies had to look beyond just
financial debt to include environmental debt, ''which has to
be paid off'', citing an abandoned New Zealand copper mine
that had cost taxpayers $21.7 million to clean up.
Mr Hackwell claimed Doc was ''under pressure to absent
itself'' from hearings under the Resource Management Act and,
in so doing, ''covered its losses'' on the Denniston plateau
with the compensation payment.
''This offsetting [payment] is not mitigation; it's
compensation,'' he said.
Mr Hackwell was also concerned with Doc policy on stewardship
land, which includes the Denniston plateau and is considered
the least protected under Doc legislation.
''Because it is a low protection status [under stewardship]
does not mean it is a low conservation area,'' he said.
On a question from the floor on whether the Bathurst
compensation was precedent-setting, Mr Morrison said if a
mining company went for the ''cheapest price for access'', it
would invite litigation, and while possibly acceptable to New
Zealanders in general, may not be considered a good deal by
Forest and Bird.
Resource sector lawyer Mark Christensen, of Anderson Lloyd,
said he ''did not want it to appear [resource] consents could
Mr Morrison conceded there was ''puzzlement'' on how the
$21.9 millon from Bathurst was arrived at, but it included
the long-term nature of deals and recognition that elements
including soil, fibres, fish stocks and water could now be
valued, or ''monetised''.
Several of the 370 delegates later said Mr Hackwell should be
elevated from panellist to keynote speaker, in order to field
more direct questions.
In the second panel discussion, former Wellington mayor and
now chairwoman of the Environmental Protection Agency Kerry
Prendergast was keynote speaker.
She outlined the EPA's obligations in considering resource
consent applications covering seabed mining, from 12 nautical
miles to the outer 200 nautical mile limit of New Zealand's
exclusive economic zone, which covers 4.8 million sq km.
Listed seabed mining developer Chatham Rock Phosphate is the
first applicant and is awaiting the outcome of applications
to suction dredge phosphate from about 400m deep off the
Ms Prendergast understood there were 65,000 species within
the EEZ and only 1% of it had been surveyed.
''New technology and highly regulated authority must work
hand in hand,'' she said.
''We know we will face challenges with public expectations;
the decisions we make must be transparent. Oftentimes we will
be disliked by both sides [business and public] of issues,''
While the EPA was ''unequivocal'' that mining could bring
economic benefits, that was alongside maintaining
environmental responsibility and there being no negative
effects, she said.
Coal Action Network Aotearoa spokeswoman Cindy Baxter called
for a moratorium on seabed mining, which included proposed
iron sand work by Trans-Tasman Resources in the Taranaki
bight seabed, because there were no reference baselines.
She understood China was about to cap its coal use and move
away from its recent high levels of steel production, which
includes widespread use of coal, and said coal mining should
be phased out of New Zealand by 2027.
Environmentalist Guy Salmon, director of the independent
Ecologic Foundation, said on a project such as Bathurst's
mine development on the Denniston plateau, more focus on risk
assessments was needed.
He suggested if Doc was to focus on offset compensation, it
needed to create a ''top priority list'' of areas that
required extra funding, to be overseen by a board that should
The mining industry should not see off-sets as a ''political
over-ride'', but had to build trust on issues which have been
around the country for decades, he said.
On the question of when the mineral industry was going to
address climate change issues, Mr Salmon said that since the
collapse of climate change talks in Copenhagen earlier this
year, ''now was the time'' for a unilateral approach from all
As mining lobby group Straterra's chief executive, Chris
Baker, noted during the forums, there was not going to be any
conclusion to the panel discussions.
On the question of climate change, Mr Baker said action had
to be taken, ''but not to compromise your economy. It's not
good enough to say just shut down mining.''
Business Reporter Simon Hartley was a guest of AusIMM.