Crown land may be used for mining

Chief executive Richard Michael of lobby-group Straterra (left) and Solid Energy chief executive...
Chief executive Richard Michael of lobby-group Straterra (left) and Solid Energy chief executive Don Elder see opportunities for New Zealand's resource sector to become a multi-billion dollar industry. Photo by Felicity Wolfe.
Land access seems likely to become a consultation process flashpoint in New Zealand, as the Government moves to free up Department of Conservation and Crown estates to boost mining companies' exploration for minerals.

Plans to identify vexatious claimants who use the existing processes to drag out applications seem sure to disappoint environmental and community groups fighting applications for development, as will proposals to change the protection of national parks and reserves.

Minister of Energy and Resources Gerry Brownlee said the resource sector would be a key element in the economic recovery of the country, with $140 billion of minerals and $100 billion of lignite remaining in the ground.

The sector was worth more than $2 billion to the economy last year.

For the more than 250 delegates attending the week-long Australian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy (AusIMM) New Zealand branch conference in Queenstown, it was a welcome departure from the policies of Labour-led governments in recent years, which were seen as barely paying lip service to the sector.

Mr Brownlee outlined proposed legislative changes to the Crown Minerals Act and the Resource Management Act, making a commitment to have proposals in the public arena by early next year.

They were greeted by some at the conference as a defining moment for New Zealand's mining sector.

It appears the proposals to change schedule four under the Crown Minerals Act is likely to be most contentious.

At present, it protects land such as national parks and conservation reserves from mining interests, but Mr Brownlee wants to see this changed if there is economic benefit to be had.

He cited a proposed conservation reserve which held coal deposits.

The Government had stepped in and exempted a small parcel of land from the reserve.

The value of the minerals outstripped the value of the land in that park.

The mass of lignite in Otago and Southland and its potential for conversion to petroleum products has featured strongly at the past three conferences, and state owned enterprise chief executive of Solid Energy, Don Elder, remained bullish on its potential.

The previous Labour Government said it would not invest in lignite development.

Mr Brownlee said yesterday that current Government would not do so either, although it would improve access for exploration.

However, Mr Elder is adamant the $100 billion resource could, over 20 years, wipe out New Zealand petroleum import costs and become a $5-trillion to $10-trillion industry.

It was probable world energy costs would be two or three times their present level in 10 years, he said, saying new data analysis revealed post-peak production oil field declines were running at 6% a year, not 3% as previously thought.

Working with the Department of Conservation was imperative, as was addressing environmental issues.

Mr Brownlee said the public would be consulted on any proposed land reclassification, and application processes would be transparent.

He also said the changes would be made mandatory across the country.

• Reporter Simon Hartley is a guest of AusIMM at the conference.

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