Shifting sands: the uneven playing field in the battle for West Coast ironsands




The Environmental Protection Authority is about to decide if large-scale seabed mining is to start off the North Island’s West Coast in a precedent-setting case, but the playing field has been tipped against the environment from the start.

Trans-Tasman Resources, the majority-owned offshore corporation wants to mine 50 million tonnes of seabed per annum to recover around 5 million tonnes of ironsand to export primarily to China. It is a massive world-first project involving numerous ships with real environmental impacts. Vacuuming up that quantity of seabed annually will destroy any organisms it comes in contact with and the 45 million tonne sediment plume released could reduce the ecosystem primary productivity of the area by 7% or more. The project application location is in Maui’s dolphin habitat and recent science indicates it is likely to be one of a handful of global blue whale foraging grounds.

It’s a classic extraction versus the environment question, and the Government has done everything it can to pick the extractive side.

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The plucky volunteer organisation Kiwis Against Seabed Mining (KASM), has been leading the campaign to protect the environment and have been doing great on a shoestring budget. The Government has decided environmental legal aid should not be granted for groups dealing with applications like these in the Exclusive Economic Zone, putting them at a massive disadvantage. I submitted to the EPA last week and TTR had its three lawyers parked up the front yet KASM has had to rely on volunteers. Meanwhile the Government has been more than happy to doll out taxpayers’ money, between $12-25 million to TTR. It’s yet another example of mining companies receiving millions of dollars in taxpayer subsidies under National.

Today the EPA dumped a massive document with official’s proposed consent conditions yet the public only have 40 hours to digest this massive document and make comment. A rushed, inadequate process has been the theme throughout this application. Despite the largest number of submissions of any EPA application to date (and a massive 99.5% of them opposed) the law states the hearings can only last 40 days with a decision made within 20. A huge amount of information has been released yet there has been hardly any time to analyse it.  Critical information was uploaded late to the EPA website requiring an embarrassing submission extension by the EPA. Most worryingly the lead researcher who found the world’s largest whales used the area as a foraging ground was not permitted to submit nor underwater noise and marine mammals expert Dr Steve Dawson.

With 99.5% of submitters, iwi, fishers and the West Coast communities opposed it is deeply unfair that TTR, the mining company with Jenny Shipley as a director, gets all the public money, a fast-tracked process and an EPA that refuses to hear scientific experts in the interests of haste to harvest a public resource so that TTR can export the profits.

The richer future for New Zealand is in protecting our environment, the basis of our prosperity; not risking it with massive, experimental seabed mining delivering hardly any jobs for locals, a tiny 2% royalty rate, and the profits from a raw commodity exported offshore. My vision is for a true Environment Protection Authority not just an Empowering Pollution Authority.


  1. Right on Gareth. Look too at the people appointed to the decision panel, including an oil engineer – and their interests disclosures –

    Good though that yesterday’s staff report says things like, “large amount of uncertainty . . . impossible to draft robust conditions . . . fish will . . be subject to high levels of trace metals . . . we cannot be confident that TTR’s proposed condition will avoid, remedy or mitigate any adverse effects of the discharge”, etc. Maybe even a panel of oil engineers, lawyers, etc will have to say no?

  2. Nice article Gareth, have you sent this out to mainstream media?

    You have reflected what KASM have been saying for some weeks now, we are up against the wall on this and I have a gut feeling there is already a foregone conclusion to this process.

    Reading through the committee and their interests, I would say it’s a done deal…

    Greg Hill is a resource management act facilitator, and has already facilitated a sand mining operation in Kaipara Harbour and Pakiri. So we already know which way he swings.

    Gillian Wratt is an environmental scientist, so hopefully she has an open mind…50/50 with her vote.

    Brett Rogers is a petroleum industry advocate and has worked in the oil and gas industry for over 20 years lobbying governments for ways to develop resources. So we already know which way he swings.

    William Kapea seems to be able to switch Maori thinking from old ideas to new ideas, it won’t surprise me if he’s managed to twist this in some way to look good for Maori. My gut tells me he will vote yes to the mining and then tell Iwi’s that it’s in their best interests (that’s his job)

    Stephen Christensen is the worst one of the lot, he’s a bloody lawyer who advocates on big mining and petroleum projects and we all know how many of those projects have been rejected…none.

    So 4 out of 5 votes for TTR, or worst case 3 out of 5 for TTR. Either way TTR will get this, you watch!

    The corruption within government agencies is disgusting, these people are meant to be protecting our environment not advocating its destruction. How many submissions have the EPA rejected? Oh, that’s right, NONE…ever!

    • maybe someone could ask the Greens what they plan to do about this – they will already know about it.

  3. National:

    Former prime minister and National party leader, Jenny Shipley is the chair of Genesis Energy, Mainzeal Construction, Momentum Consulting, Senior Money International and the Financial Services Council.
    She also sits on the board of the China Construction Bank and of course Trans-Tasman Resources.


    Peter Goodfellow, national party president, and rich lister with an estimated wealth of $550 million from interests ranging across fishing, finance and agricultural chemicals.
    Mr Goodfellow is also a director and large shareholder in Oravida supplier Sanford.


    Judith Collin’s husband David Wong-Tung is the director of Oravida Kauri Limited – a subsidiary of dairy exporter Oravida Limited.
    The swamp kauri in their yard just outside Whangarei is estimated to be worth at least $50 million with no real processing plant so there is little benefit for New Zealanders.

    As for Oravida Limited, how responsible is it to fly milk from New Zealand farms to Shanghai and then sell it to the chinese for $23 for a 2 litre bottle of fresh milk! Unlike processed milk powder and other export commodities, Oravida is out to exploit Chinese demand for New Zealand milk with little benefit left behind for New Zealanders.

    In 2008 National leader John Key made an embarrassing admission about how many Tranz Rail shares he owned while he was pushing for another firm to buy into the company.

    “Fifty thousand at the maximum point. Sometimes 25,000, sometimes 50,000,” he said.
    He was asked did he personally buy 50,000 shares in Tranz Rail in 2005 and sell them five weeks later.
    “Oh look actually maybe 100,000 from memory, yes. Sometimes 50,000, sometimes 100,000 yep,” he replied. Quote.
    It was put to him that that is an issue he should be clear about.

    I don’t ever believe I’ve traded shares for my own personal benefit with information I’ve had from parliament,” Key says. Classic stuff from our own trustworthy PM who can’t remember anyway.

    There are conflicts of interest all over the place. What other national party members have shares in Oravida or companies that benefit from having lax environmental laws?

  4. Have you seen this ironsand on the west coast close up.

    It is made up of ironsand, with flakes of ruby, greenstone, and gold, and silica.
    It isn’t just ironsand.

    I reckon a good way ‘out’ of this mining operation, would be to tell China they only have permission to take the ironsand, but they must leave the ruby flakes, and the gold flakes undisturbed.

    How ridiculous to even contemplate the enormity of the environmental effect on the west coast, and our ocean!

    Hope you west coasters put a stop to this – in a hurrry! If anyone can do it – you coasters can!

  5. Please tell us Gareth Hughes, what are the Greens going to do about this?
    Are you going to put an instant stop to all this current and future offshore pillaging?

    Yes, or no.

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