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A survey of Otago and Southland people on the future of lignite mining in Southland has revealed a balance between interest in jobs versus environmental concerns.
Venture Southland, on behalf of state-owned enterprise Solid Energy and fertiliser co-operative Ravensdown, carried out a survey of 835 people throughout Southland and West Otago in June, to consider the likely effect of proposed lignite development plans around Gore and Mataura.
Solid Energy is leading several investigations into the estimated 15 billion tonnes of lignite in Southland and South Otago.
It is investigating lignite-to-briquette, lignite-to-transport fuel, and lignite-to-urea fertiliser technologies, the latter in partnership with Ravensdown.
Set-up costs are in the billions of dollars.
Solid Energy yesterday signalled the lignite-to-urea study with Ravensdown required more work, and a decision on moving to a feasibility study would be delayed by six to 12 months.
The survey, released by Solid Energy yesterday, found 70% agreed lignite should be mined and used, while 9% disagreed.
Major issues identified were possible pollution of air/water, 27%, and environmental damage, 22%.
Solid Energy general manager of new energy Brett Gamble said minimising environmental effects and taking full responsibility for greenhouse-gas emissions were key considerations in all lignite developments.
"We are already investigating carbon capture and storage, biosequestration and biofeedstock options to help reduce the greenhouse-gas emissions," he said in a statement yesterday.
While the previous Labour-led government paid little attention to lignite, citing carbon emissions concerns, National has since been more bullish on the potential for oil, gas and mining exploration to play a part in New Zealand's economic recovery.
Mr Gamble said the survey result confirmed Solid Energy's belief most people in Eastern Southland supported its lignite developments but wanted to ensure air, water and environment were protected.
He said, of the people surveyed, those living in Eastern Southland around Gore and Mataura were more supportive than those in the wider Southland and West Otago regions.
About 63% said the biggest benefit from mining of lignite would be increased job prospects.
In a range of 2.6% to 5.1%, the remaining people surveyed thought the biggest benefit came from an increase in population, improved economy, cheaper fuel, more warmth or heating, or from using local resources.
While more than 50% thought property values would be adversely affected by mining, 88% said it would not affect their desire to live in Southland.
Mr Gamble said 68% supported using lignite in industry, 10% were opposed, and the rest were undecided. The main reason for support being lignite was there and should be used.