Govt plans to make mineral exploration easier

The Government is planning "significant'' changes to the Crown Minerals Act next year to make it easier for miners to explore and then extract minerals, and it will consult the public and industry soon.

The Government has indicated for some time that it intends reviewing the act, which sets out the regulatory framework for prospecting and mining, activities it wants to boost under its economic development plan.

"We're going to make significant changes to the Crown Minerals Act because conversations to date under previous ministers have found that there are opportunities to improve the way that companies can access our minerals, apply for opportunities to explore, that type of thing,'' Energy and Resources Minister Phil Heatley told the New Zealand Herald.

A consultation paper will be released early this year to inform the Government on changes to the act.

The proposal comes as oil exploration company TAG Oil has written of turning the East Coast into the "Texas of the south'' with the potential of building thousands of wells in the region.

Mr Heatley would not comment on which aspects of the Crown Minerals Act would be amended, but said "we can certainly make it more streamlined as a general high-level term for these companies to identify probable areas''.

Under Schedule Four of the act, mining is prohibited on much of the conservation estate, and the National Government in 2010 backed off plans to remove some areas from that protection in the face of significant public opposition.

Economic Development Minister Steven Joyce recently expressed confidence that the Government could "bring the public along'' with its plans to develop a bigger mining industry.

Mr Heatley said that although the Government planned to "get the best out of natural resources'' to create jobs and lift the economy "we're very, very conscious of our environmental obligations''.

The chief executive of mining industry group Straterra, Chris Baker, said New Zealand needed a regulatory regime that was "competitive'' with other countries to attract mining industry investment.

"There's no question a number of potential investors would say we are not competitive, so there needs to be changes that make the process, and this is not about lowering standards, it's about making the process transparent, understandable and deliverable.''

However, Greens co-leader Russel Norman did not accept Mr Heatley and Mr Baker's assurances that environmental protections would not be weakened under Crown Minerals Act amendments.

"The Government's made no bones about the fact their economic strategy involves more short-term extractive industries.''

The changes to the Crown Minerals Act were not discussed during talks late last year when Prime Minister John Key sounded the Greens' co-leaders out on the possibility of a more formal political relationship.

- Adam Bennett of the NZ Herald

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