Seabed mining dreams shattered by New Zealand latest decision

Seabed mining dreams shattered by New Zealand latest decision

The latest setback to seabed mining has alarmed companies involved in deep sea mining projects.

New Zealand’s recent decision to oppose another deep sea mining venture off its coasts has poured cold water on advocates of searching for and digging up valuable minerals including copper, gold and manganese from the ocean floor.

A decision-making committee appointed by the country’s Environmental Agency (EPA) thwarted Chatham Rock Phosphate Limited’s (NZC:CPR) plans on Feb. 11. The authority argued that mining off the coast of Canterbury — where the operation was proposed — would cause “significant and permanent adverse effects” on the location’s seabed.

The case became the second mine application refused in less than a year. Last June the same body refused Trans Tasman Resources’ (TTR) application to mine iron sands off the North Island’s west coast, which would have become the country’s first operation of its kind.

While applauded by environmentalists, the latest setback to seabed mining has alarmed companies involved in the resources extraction model and pushed the New Zealand government to consider changing legislation to ensure it doesn’t block economic development.

“To say we are bitterly disappointed is an understatement. We are aghast,” Chatam Rock’s managing director Chris Castle told The New Zealand Herald. “The entire government process, and the EPA in particular, seems afraid to say yes to any project that involves any kind of environmental impact and that is simply not good enough if we are to provide a future for our country’s young people.”

UN support

Meanwhile, the United Nations’ International Seabed Authority (ISA) continues supporting the activity. It has so far issued 26 exploration licences to governments and companies, authorizing them to operate in international waters.

According to the Sunday edition of Financial Times (subs. required), New Zealand, Namibia and Papua New Guinea have also granted licences for seabed mining exploration, while diamond giant De Beers uses ships for extracting the precious gems off the coast of Namibia, at depths of up to 140 metres.

But it is Canada’s Nautilus Minerals (TSX:NUS) the one leading the race to open the first seabed mine. In a deal arranged outside the ISA system, the company overcame several difficulties until it reached last year an agreement with the Papua New Guinea government to move forward with its Solwara 1 gold, copper and silver underwater project, located in the Bismarck Sea.