A Decision Making Committee appointed by the Environmental Protection Authority Board to decide Chatham Rock Phosphate Limited’s marine consent application under the Exclusive Economic Zone and Continental Shelf (Environmental Effects) Act 2012 released its decision last month. The Committee has refused marine consent for the rock phosphate mining project.
Chatham Rock Phosphate sought marine consent to mine phosphorite nodules (rock phosphate) within the EEZ and from the Chatham Rise. That rock phosphate was proposed to then be used predominantly for agricultural fertiliser production, thus reducing New Zealand’s dependence on imported rock phosphate, and also enabling exports of the same.
Chatham Rock Phosphate already held a mining permit over part of an area on the Chatham Rise. The company sought marine consent for that, plus a larger area, where it planned to undertake mining activities in the future (pending outcomes of additional environmental investigations).
In its decision refusing marine consent the Committee found that protected stony coral communities present within the marine consent area were potentially unique to the Chatham Rise, and that they were rare and vulnerable ecosystems. The Committee concluded that the proposed mining activity would have significant and permanent adverse effects on that existing benthic environment. Having made that finding, and as required by the legislation, the Committee considered whether an adaptive management approach could allow the proposed mining operation to be undertaken. The Committee ultimately concluded that the effects of the proposed activities (for example the extraction processes and deposition of sediment on the wide marine environment), could not be mitigated by an adaptive management regime or a set of marine consent conditions.
In terms of the proposed economic benefits of the project, the Committee found that these would be “modest”. This finding on the economics has drawn criticism from Chatham Rock Phosphate, with the company subsequently expressing concern that the overall economic benefits were overlooked by the Committee (those economic benefits were said to include, port charges, direct and indirect employment opportunities and the significant overall expected income per square kilometre of affected seabed, when compared with other industry income such as that from fishing).
Following the Committee’s decision, Chatham Rock Phosphate has also expressed disappointment in the Committee’s finding that the scientific evidence was insufficient and that the project gave rise to risk and uncertainty of effects - especially given the company’s research and investment in the project prior to consents being sought.
In a statement Chatham Rock Phosphate has also said that it has not ruled out reapplying for consent to mine on the Chatham Rise in the future, but that such an application would need to be heard by a differently constituted Committee.
This is the second marine consent under the EEZ Act to be refused consent due to a lack of certainty about the proposal’s adverse effects on the environment (the first being the Trans-Tasman Resources application affecting an area in the South Taranaki Bight where the company sought to mine iron ore from the seabed). Some marine consent proponents are now calling for legislative changes to enable what they consider worthy marine consent projects to get over the line.