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Crown Minerals Bill Critically Compromises Conservation

The Cabinet not the Minister of Conservation will decide on the classification of conservation land and waters if a little-noticed amendment to the Crown Minerals Bill is passed.  The Cabinet, via an Order in Council, will thus be able to remove land from National Parks, reserves, wildlife sanctuaries and virtually every other area with protected area.  It gives an unprecedented degree of control over conservation to economic ministers who almost always out-rank the Minister of Conservation.

The Crown Minerals (Permitting and Crown Land) Bill is before the Commerce Select Committee which is hearing submissions.  ECO presented its submission on the Bill in November.

The provisions to allow non-conservation ministers to determine and remove conservation designations is extra ordinarily damaging to conservation. Clearly designed to allow designation changes to permit minerals exploration and mining, it could and almost certainly will be used for many purposes by the economic ministers.

The Bill compromises conservation fundamentally and in many ways. The Minister of Conservation’s powers to decide on whether to allow specific minerals consents on Conservation land, are also eroded by an amendment to make the Minister in charge of Crown Minerals a joint decision maker. Conservation values are sure to be damaged by this provision.

Schedule 4 which puts some protected areas and classifications off limits to minerals activity, is preserved intact as promised by the government after the public rebelled against the government’s earlier plans to allow exploration and mining in these areas.  Readers may recall that John Key promised not to allow mining on World Heritage areas and National Parks.  This Bill will allow the Cabinet to reclassify minerals prospective areas so that they no longer have such conservation designations. That was the device that the Australian government used to allow a uranium mine in the middle of the Kakadu World Heritage Area: they simply defined it out of the Area.

“The Bill is a slap in the face for all the people who care about conservation, and it is sneaky in also changing the Conservation Act, the Reserves Act, the Wildlife Act, the Continental Shelf Act, the Forests Act and others,” ECO Co-Chairperson, Cath Wallace said.

The Bill also removes the power to create a whole range of reserves from Forests Act lands. The provision in the Forests Act that recreation reserves, historic reserves, scenic, scientific or nature reserves can be created from Forest land is being removed (Cl 64)

The Bill adds a purpose to “promote” minerals activity, rather than to “regulate” or “manage” minerals activity. This change sets the scene for numerous provisions that disadvantage all other interests than those of the exploration and mining industry. It gives MoBIE a massive conflict of interest between its promotion and regulatory functions.

Instead of using the same grounds applied to consenting for tourism, recreation and filmmaking activities in protected areas, mining is given a super soft deal in the conservation estate. Yet exploration and mining are inconsistent with conservation purposes.

For all the other activities, the Conservation Act applies and the Minister of Conservation may not allow them if they are incompatible with the conservation or reserve purpose of the land, yet for exploration and mining this test is to be waived.

A matter of particular concern is that applications for minerals permits do not have to be kept in a public register. This requirement was introduced as long ago as 1983 but has been since quietly dropped.

The length of the term of minerals permits is being extended.  Holders of prospecting and exploration permits already have an automatic right to renew their permits or to exchange them for exploration or mining permits (s32 of the CMA) with no change to the conditions.  Mining permits may have a 40 year term (s35) with a further right to renew for another 40 years.

The Bill proposes that a holder of a prospecting permit may have successive rights to permits which in total may last for 118 years with no ability to change the conditions!  Existing permits from almost 80 years ago can continue under the old rules.

Overall, ECO strongly objects to the undermining of conservation principles and the subjugation of intrinsic and non-extractive values and functions of the environment by this Bill as it allows economic ministers to decide conservation classifications and make other conservation-critical decisions.

Mining Conservation Land and World Heritage

International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has called on all Governments to stop mining in World Heritage Areas.  IUCN is an organisation of 200 government and 800 non-governmental organisations.

Under the 4th Schedule of the Crown Minerals Act 1991 not all high conservation value land is protected from minerals activity.  Schedule 4 protected land does not prevent mining in some World Heritage Areas and other specially protected areas like ecological areas,marine mammal sanctuaries, conservation parks. This Schedule does not prevent miners operating mines under, for example national parks, or clearing native vegetation for service or emergency adits.

World Heritage areas not specifically covered by the 4th Schedule.  The areas not protected include over 320,000 hectares on land in the West Coast and Southland in Te Wāhiponamu World Heritage Area and most of the marine areas in the Sub-Antarctic World Heritage Area apart from the area covered by the Auckland Islands marine reserve.

The Fourth Schedule of the Crown Minerals Act was passed by a National Party Government in 1997 under section 3 of the Crown Minerals Amendment Act (No 2) 1997.  This prohibits mineral activity on conservation land gazetted as national parks, nature reserves, scientific reserves, wilderness areas, marine reserves, forest sanctuaries, wildlife sanctuaries, wetlands of international importance, and the Coromandel Peninsula, Hauraki Gulf, and associated offshore islands.

IUCN has called on the mining, oil and gas industries, as well as governments who licence mineral extraction, to follow the example of business leaders who have already committed not to undertake mining and oil/gas projects within World Heritage sites.

The IUCN statement was made at the latest World Heritage Meeting in Paris.  New Zealand has international obligations as a member of the World Heritage Convention.

IUCN’s position was that ‘mineral and oil/gas exploration and exploitation should not be permitted within natural World Heritage Sites. Further, Mining and oil/gas projects that are located outside World Heritage Sites should not, under any circumstances, have negative impacts on these exceptional places. Moreover, boundary changes to these sites should not be used as an easy way to facilitate mining activities.’

Proposals to include some World Heritage areas in exploration, prospecting or mining will further alarm the international conservation community.  Crown Minerals has already granted or has applications for prospecting and exploration licences for coal and gold which cover Te Wāhiponamu World Heritage Area.  Licences granted include the state owned miner Solid Energy.”  Examples of minerals permits which include World Heritage Areas include:

  • Solid Energy’s exploration permit application for coal in Southland. Permit number 52362.
  • Waiau Gold Prospecting permit for gold in Southland. Permit 52409 granted 23/11/2010.
  • ZeaEx Petroleum Exploration licence application, Solander Basin, permit no 53599.
  • Solid Energy Petroleum Exploration licence, Solander Basin, permit no 52359, granted 20/11/2010.

Currently in New Zealand mineral activity has a privileged status and is not subject to the usual provisions that apply to other activity in Conservation areas.  That must be changed so all activities are judged by the same standards and to allow public input.

Tourism activity, hut building, and roading is subject to the concessions provisions of the Conservation Act, which includes environmental impact assessment and public processes, but miners currently gain access under the weaker and secretive provisions of the Crown Minerals Act.

IUCNs statement at the latest World Heritage Meeting in Paris can be found here.

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources, a body of 200 governmental agencies and 800 non-governmental organisations, has passed resolutions calling on all countries to stop mining on category I to IV protected areas, which applies to nearly all categories conservation land.

According to IUCN companies such as Shell and the financial services firm JP Morgan, as well as the International Council on Mining and Metals, which brings together many of the world’s major mining companies, have recognized the importance of conserving World Heritage Sites and have committed not to undertake activities that would damage them.

Around 8% of the world’s protected areas are World Heritage Sites—places recognized as having ‘outstanding universal value’ because of their natural or cultural significance. There are:

  • 911 places are listed as World Heritage sites
  • 34 sites are included on the ‘World Heritage in Danger’ list
  • The Great Barrier Reef is the largest natural World Heritage site
  • New Zealand has three world heritage areas – Tongariro,  Te Wāhiponamu and Sub-Antarctic

The adverse effects of mining and exploration in protected areas include:

  • significant damage for forests and other native vegetation,
  • scarring from hard rock sampling,
  • damage from hard rock mining;
  • the release particularly into water systems, of heavy metals, arsenic, cadmium, lead, zinc, and other substances found with gold and silver mineralisation.
  • Acid mine drainage can occur with gold and silver mining as well as with coal mining.