EPA seeks further details from Chatham Rock

Would-be seabed miner Chatham Rock Phosphate appears to be coming under pressure from the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA), which this week requested additional information in support of its application for a marine consent.

While Chatham Rock has a mining permit from New Zealand Petroleum and Minerals, its final hurdle is to gain a marine consent from the EPA, which it applied for in May.

Public hearing dates were announced this week by the EPA, starting in Wellington on September 4, then for a week on the Chatham Islands, beginning October 6.

Chatham Rock proposes to use a suction dredge to lift a 300mm layer of silt and phosphate nodules from depths of up to 400m from the sea floor of the Chatham rise, separate it aboard ship and return the silt to the ocean.

The EPA's project leader covering the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), Kim Morgan, requested a raft of ''further information'' from Chatham Rock this week, including questions on commercial viability, the benefits to New Zealand and the impacts on commercial fishing and the environment.

At its annual shareholders' meeting this week, Chatham Rock's presentation included a summary of its marine consent application to the EPA, the culmination of four years' work, which highlighted its delivery of more than 450 pages of overview, and 35 scientific and technical reports in support.

The company was ''confident we have done the science and identified issues by talking to stakeholders'', the presentation concluded.

Expectations were that Chatham Rock would be granted its marine consent in November.

Chatham Rock was contacted yesterday and asked if it intended responding to the EPA requests, but it did not respond or post a sharemarket update.

Ms Morgan said while Chatham Rock had responded to an earlier EPA request for more information, it had been unable to provide any information on similar suction dredging operations around the world in the depth range of 250m-400m.

''[However] it would be helpful to the DMC [decision-making committee] to see the reports and studies on such mining projects, including if possible environmental impact assessments and commentary on the efficacy of mitigation strategies that were implemented,'' Ms Morgan said.

The commercial fishing sector had in recent months been railing against Chatham Rock's proposal, and the EPA had asked what research underpinned

its conclusion that its project would have ''little or no impact'' on commercial fishing on the Chatham Rise, and a ''worst case scenario'' of the impact on the value of fish quota.

Within the three main areas of concern to the EPA, there are nine, wide-ranging questions on the project, generally seeking evidence of Chatham Rock's conclusions, including its science, commercial operations and environmental statements. Ms Morgan said it would be ''helpful'' if Chatham Rock could provide the information by August 4.

- simon.hartley@odt.co.nz

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