17, Nov, 2014

EPA must refuse phosphate mining application

Category: Deep Sea Conservation Coalition

The New Zealand Environmental Protection Agency should refuse an application to mine phosphate from the deep seabed in the Chatham Rise, because of the damage it will cause to the marine environment, and because the EPA hasn’t got enough information to give it the go-ahead, environment groups said today.

Three groups, Greenpeace, Kiwis Against Seabed Mining and the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition, today gave their final submission to a committee hearing the application by Chatham Rock Phosphate to mine phosphate in an area of up to 5000 square km, in depths of up to 450m, off the east coast of New Zealand’s South Island.

Lawyer acting for the groups, Duncan Currie, presenting their closing statement, told the hearing that the application was “premature,” due to the lack of information in many areas.

“The Environmental Impact Assessment was far from adequate. There’s a lot of information missing, but what we do know that this mining will destroy virtually all life on hundreds of square kilometres of the seabed, including rare, vulnerable and endemic species,” said Currie.

The list of damage that it could cause included:

  • The destruction of deep sea corals, sponges and other deep sea life, and the hard surface they need to survive,

  • The mining will create a plume including toxic materials, with high levels of uranium, and the plume will smother everything for hundreds of square kilometres.

  • The information on marine mammals is woefully deficient. The company did not even carry out a marine mammal survey. The evidence on noise was partial and incomplete, and the company did not even try to estimate the noise created by a 450 metre long pipeline carrying rocks and sediment up and down to the mining ship. The evidence, including the noise from pump motors the size of a ship’s engine on the seafloor, still shows the mining operation’s capacity to create lasting injury to marine mammals up to three kilometres from the mining site

  • The effects of the uranium and its derivatives (including toxic polonium, which is known to accumulate through the food chain) on the marine life and food chain are unknown, as was the effects on wider ecosystem, including fish and fisheries.

  • The company had also overstated the benefit of the phosphates to New Zealand, since it will export 75% of the mined phosphates.

The groups also raised the issue of the uranium content in the phosphate.

“New Zealand has a number of international treaty obligations, including the Noumea Convention, which have specific requirements about the dumping of uranium that is proposed,” said Currie.

During the hearing it had also become clear that there were numerous enforcement and compensation issues, along with health and safety issues that arise with the proposed mining ship flying a foreign flag of convenience in New Zealand’s EEZ and outside territorial waters. New Zealand has banned foreign flagged fishing vessels in our waters from May 2016 following concerns about breaches of labour and environmental laws.

“The company that Chatham Rock Phosphate says will do the mining, Boskalis, will itself use a ship that’s likely to be flying a flag of convenience – from Cyprus,” said Barry Weeber of the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition.
“Boskalis has a history of breaching environmental consents. If its ship is flagged to Cyprus, as its other ships are, how will the EPA be able to control it in our waters?" he asked.

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