Environmental groups criticise Chatham Rock plans to mitigate mining impact

Environmental lobbyists criticised plans by Chatham Rock Phosphate to mitigate the impact of its proposal to mine phosphate nodules from the Chatham rise seabed, saying it wouldn’t diminish the risk and uncertainty of the project, and that any economic benefit didn’t trump environmental concerns.

Speaking on the second day of a two-month hearing on Chatham Rock’s marine consent application, the Environmental Defence Society told the five-member decision-making committee the company’s adaptive management plan didn’t provide sufficient monitoring, set inadequate thresholds to trigger remediation and didn’t provide strong enough remedies for any adverse impacts of the operation. Because the mining was likely to degrade the seabed environment, and was a threat to endangered seabirds and other marine mammals without strong enough mitigation measures in place, the EDS urged the application to be declined.

“It is certain that the proposal will have significant adverse effects, including the destruction of the benthic environment in a benthic protection area,” EDS counsel Nicola de Wit said. “The DMC may only grant marine consent if these effects can be avoided, remedied, mitigated or compensated.”

Allowing the project to proceed would cut across other legislation which aimed to protect the habitats of the seabed ecosystems in benthic protection areas, and cumulative effects of the project need to be taken into account, EDS counsel Rob Enright said.

“The benthic protection areas are mitigation for the fishing that takes place as an existing activity, because they are obviously no-go areas for dredging purposes, if you allow mining to take place in those BPA areas, you are usurping that mitigation, and that is obviously a classic in terms of what a cumulative effect is,” Enright said. “This proposal would open more than half of the benthic protection areas to seabed mining, significantly reducing the area of this habitat type protected from human impact and that cumulative effect is significant.”

Chatham Rock opened the hearings yesterday, distancing itself from the failed application by would-be ironsands miner TransTasman Resources, and urging the committee to consider the economic benefits of a locally sourced fertiliser.

The company is proposing to mine phosphate nodules at depths of up to 450 metres, initially within its 820 square kilometre mining permit area for five years. After that it would widen its activity to a 5,207 sq km area for up to a further 30 years. Annual extraction is targeted at 1.5 million tonnes of the nodules.

In its opening submission, the Royal Forest and Bird Society also criticised the company’s risk management processes as being inadequate, and said that the project posed a risk to the Chatham Island taiko, a seabird on the verge of extinction.

Forest and Bird counsel Peter Anderson also questioned the economic benefit of the project, saying the New Zealand Institute of Economic Research’s model wasn’t explained, and that the proposal was at risk from a significant change in the price of phosphate.

“Forest and Bird also considers that the economics of the project as set out in the CRP evidence is overly optimistic and should not be relied on,” Anderson said.

Deepwater Group, which represents the fishing industry, also opposed the application, saying the project was based on uncertain information and would have adverse impacts on the interests of its shareholders, as well as the wider marine environment.

The hearing is continuing.

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