Titano-magnetite New Zealand may approve underwater mine

New Zealand may approve underwater iron sands mine

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New Zealand will announce Wednesday the fate of Trans Tasman Resources (TTR) $70 million underwater iron sand project, which could become the world’s first commercial metals operation on the ocean floor, off the country’s west coast.

Backed by Australian, American and New Zealand investors, the mine will suck in iron-rich seafloor sands, to later extract the desired titano-magnetite for export to Asian steel mills, with about 90% of the sand being returned to the bottom of the sea.

According to Reuters, if South Taranaki Bight project is approved it will encourage others looking to mine copper, cobalt, manganese and other metals deeper on the ocean floor, but concerned about barriers to dig in Neptune’s kingdom.

TTR aims to raise as much as US$550 million in debt and equity to fund the project, expected to begin production by 2016.

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Kiwis Against Seabed Mining (KASM) led opposition to the initiative, claiming there was too much scientific uncertainty about environmental impacts of the proposal, as well potential effects on surf breaks and other coastal formations.

TTR argues the iron sands are mainly inhabited by sandworms, which typically re-establish themselves after disturbance over a period of years.

“Our view, supported by our science experts, is that between five and 10 years you will get almost full recovery of the area that’s been mined … because the organisms and environment are already quite adapted and recover quickly,” TTR Chief Executive Tim Crossley told Reuters.

Trans Tasman Resources already has a mining licence, but is awaiting a marine consent from New Zealand’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Trans Tasman Resources already has a mining licence, but is awaiting a marine consent from New Zealand’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Nautilus Minerals (TSX:NUS), the first company that began exploring the ocean floor for polymetallic massive sulphide deposits, reached an agreement with Papua New Guinea in April. The deal will allow Nautilus’ Solwara 1 gold, copper and silver underwater project, located in the Bismarck Sea, north of Papua New Guinea, to finally move towards production.

The Canadian company, which is also in talks with New Zealand, expects to begin production at Solwara in 2017.

The push to explore the ocean for mining minerals is gaining momentum as ore deposits on land are on the decline, and demand for hard-to-find rare-earth elements needed for portable electronics and batteries for hybrid vehicles continues to grow.

Henry Sapiecha

**** LATEST NEWS RELEASE ON UNDERWATER MINING IN NEW ZEALAND****

Authorities in New Zealand have poured cold water on Trans Tasman Resources (TTR) $70 million ocean floor iron mine project by rejecting what could have become the country’s first operation of its kind.

In its decision the country’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said the major for the refusal was the vagueness around the scope and significance of the potential adverse environmental effects, and those on existing interests.

The company had applied for a permit to mine 66 square kilometres, located between 22 and 36 kilometres offshore in the South Taranaki Blight.

Up to 50 million tonnes of sand per year would have bee processed on ships to remove iron ore, with about 45 million tonnes of waste sand returned to the seabed.

The committee said it wasn’t satisfied that negative effects could be avoided, remedied or mitigated. It also said it was concerned by the “lack of clarity” about the project’s wider economic benefits, outside of royalties and taxes

The committee said it wasn’t satisfied that negative effects could be avoided, remedied or mitigated. It also said it was concerned by the “lack of clarity” about the project’s wider economic benefits, outside of royalties and taxes. The company now has 15 days to appeal with the High Court.

TTR had estimated it would extract about $446 million worth of iron each year, providing employment opportunities and raising the level of New Zealand’s exports by $147 million per year.

Considering next steps

In an e-mailed statement, Trans-Tasman Resources chief executive Tim Crossley said his firm was extremely disappointed with the decision.

“We have put a significant amount of time and effort into developing this project including consulting with iwi and local communities and undertaking detailed scientific research to assess environmental impacts of the project,” he said.

The company, which has already spent more than $50 million on the project, will take the next few days to consider next steps.

The push to explore the ocean for mining minerals is gaining momentum as ore deposits on land are on the decline, and demand for hard-to-find rare-earth elements needed for portable electronics and batteries for hybrid vehicles continues to grow.

Besides New Zealand and Papua New Guinea, where Canadian Nautilus Minerals (TSX:NUS) is developing its Solwara 1 gold, copper and silver project, other countries in the Pacific are also looking at underwater mining. Fiji, Solomon Islands, Tonga and Vanuatu, have all issued exploration licenses. Cook Islands, in the South Pacific, also plans to put seabed exploration permits up for bids later this year.

Henry Sapiecha

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