Ocean ironsands mining decision due tomorrow

Iron sand sampling off the coast of Patea on the New Zealand Diving and Salvage Ltd MV Island Leader II for Trans-Tasman Resources
Iron sand sampling off the coast of Patea on the New Zealand Diving and Salvage Ltd MV Island Leader II for Trans-Tasman Resources

The fate of a $70 million bid to mine ironsands off the ocean floor in the southern Taranaki Bight will be known this Wednesday when a decision-making committee appointed by the Environmental Protection Authority rules on TransTasman Resources' marine consent application, the first sought under new regulation governing commercial activity in the Exclusive Economic Zone.

Backed by Australian, American and New Zealand investors, TTR intends to raise as much as US$550 million in debt and equity to fund the project, which would vacuum up iron-rich seafloor sands, extracting the desired titano-magnetite for export to Asian steel mills by dedicated ship, with 90 percent of the sand being returned to the ocean floor.The operation would be outside the 12 mile nautical limit, where the Resource Management Act applies, and in the EEZ, New Zealand's vast ocean territory out to 200 kilometres from land. The EEZ is regulated by the EPA, which is also responsible for fast-track boards of inquiry on nationally significant projects.

The decision-making committee held hearings around the North Island between March and May under the fast-track arrangements that require a decision on EEZ consent applications within nine months of application.

There will be 15 days for appeals to be lodged after the decision is published on Wednesday.

The announcement will be closely watched by Chatham Rock Phosphate, the second applicant for an EEZ ocean mining consent. CRP plans to mine phosphate nodules on the Chatham Rise, some 450 kilometres east of Christchurch. Its application is currently open for public submissions.

TTR says its activity would add some $240 million of activity to the Taranaki economy annually and increase annual exports by $147 million, while creating some 250 jobs directly, paying around $50 million a year in mining royalties and tax.

Kiwis Against Sand Mining (KASM) led opposition to the initiative, claiming there was too much scientific uncertainty about environmental impacts of the proposal, as well potential impacts on surf breaks and other coastal formations.

A supplied image showing a mining ship with a seabed 'crawler' which would scoop up the seabed and send the material into the ship for processing.
A supplied image showing a mining ship with a seabed 'crawler' which would scoop up the seabed and send the material into the ship for processing.

TTR argues the ironsands are mainly inhabited by sandworms, which typically re-establish themselves after disturbance over a period of years.

The company told BusinessDesk in November that it faced a mid-2014 timetable to raise up to US$550 million to fund the capital elements of the project, around US$150 million was likely to be raised as fresh equity, and the remainder as debt.

- BusinessDesk

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