Minerals forum flashpoint for protest

The predicament of the Foulden Hill Maar (a volcanic blast crater) in Middlemarch was embraced by...
The predicament of the Foulden Hill Maar (a volcanic blast crater) in Middlemarch was embraced by the Dunedin pupils' climate change strike, pictured in the Octagon. Photo: Gregor Richardson
The usually sedate annual Minerals Forum conference being hosted in Dunedin this week is likely to become a protest flashpoint as more than 300 mining sector delegates attend.

For the past decade, large climate change protests have mainly focused on the oil and gas industry's conferences, but there are expectations of a larger-than-usual contingent of environmentalists and protesters this week.

It is understood forum organisers have steadily upped the ante on security measures as protesters have publicly called for, and offered, training in "non-violent direct action".

The forum includes a video message from Minister of Energy and Resources Megan Woods, senior managers from permit agency NZ Petroleum & Minerals and political industry lobby group Straterra.

Starting tomorrow, the forum will be attended by representatives of the country's largest mining companies, including the chief executives of Oceana Gold, Bathurst Resources, CRL Energy and would-be West Coast gold-miner Tasman Mining.

CRL Energy will be looking at West Coast opportunities from underground coal deposits.

Under the banner of "Meeting the climate challenge" is Prof Susan Krumdieck, from the University of Canterbury, whose transition research includes new methodologies to shift away from fossil fuel use.

Ngai Tahu will outline its perspective on the minerals sector, including the "pillars" of land guardianship and best-practice environmental management.

A "leaders debate" will conclude the forum on Wednesday, with Regional Economic Development Minister Shane Jones and National's energy and resources spokesman Jonathan Young debating "the advancement, or not, of mining", but Forest & Bird chief executive Kevin Hague pulled out over the weekend.

Minister for Pike River Re-entry Andrew Little and Minister for Economic Development David Parker will attend.

Australian miner Plaman Resources, under rising scrutiny for its plans to mine diatomite in Middlemarch, Otago, has pulled out of attending. The diatomite is uniquely fossil-rich and momentum is building for its preservation.

It appears to be essential that the company gains consent from the Overseas Investment Office to buy a neighbouring farm before it could go ahead mining diatomite.

The lack of disclosure should be a signal to other would-be miners on how best to go about achieving effective public engagement.

Dunedin's Mayor Dave Cull, under increasing fire for offering a letter of support to Plaman, which was later "set aside", will be talking at the forum in his capacity of president of Local Government New Zealand.

He will outline how councils handle competing land-use issues, and the importance of district plans as the framework for resource-use pathways and boundaries.

Various operations on the West Coast will feature, including whether underground coal-mining has a future there.

Roa was the last underground mine in New Zealand to close, in 2016. However, CRL Energy chairman Alan Broome and chief executive James Pope will look at whether technological advances could enable a return to underground mining.

Underground coal-mining is still widespread in Australia, and New Zealand's new mining health and safety laws are modelled on Australia's.

"There is an opportunity within West Coast basins for substantial undiscovered underground coal deposits that could be a game-changer for the industry," CRL said.

Mining around the world was embracing autonomous, robotic technologies where humans remained on the surface and machines worked underground.

Straterra chairman Brent Francis, who owns the Roa open-cast mine, will give the chairman's address.

Australia-based Tasman Mining, which is raising funds for an underground gold mine at Waiuta, 37km south of Reefton, and Greymouth gold-miner Peter Haddock will look at access to land for alluvial goldmining and whether regulatory authorities should ring-fence known highly prospective areas for alluvial mine development.

There will be an update on the Stockton open-cast mine, since BT Mining took it over from Solid Energy, and its recent expansion.

West Coast Regional Council chief executive Mike Meehan will discuss Stockton, and Tony Hogg, from the Greymouth-based New Zealand Institute for Minerals to Materials Research will give an update.

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