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15/9/2017 — Conference Special
AusIMM2017: Pending hearing has EPA and TTR coy
By Simon Hartley

Christchurch: The long legal battle for aspiring seabed iron sands miner Trans-Tasman Resources (TTR) is set for its first outing next month, when it and eight appellants meet in the High Court to determine timetables.

Since 2007 Trans-Tasman has spent more than $80 million on research and development, and on a positive second attempt secured a marine consent from the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) for an overall $600 M project to mine and ship out Taranaki iron sands.

However, eight appellants, with some familiar anti-mining credentials, are taking TTR to the High Court to determine points of law in the EPA decision.

Delegates attending the AusIMM NZ Mining Conference may have come away disappointed on Wednesday, with neither the EPA nor TTR able to provide much insight into the pending legal battle. Most would have understood why.

In separate but consecutive presentations, Richard Johnson from the EPA declined to be specific on reasons behind granting the marine consent to TTR because of the October 2 meeting; just a case management meeting between all parties to determine the where and when to set down time for the case.

Johnson did outline to delegates, in a general sense, how the EPA was working in an environment with plenty of information and data “gaps”' for both seabed mining and oil and gas applications, and at times short on fundamental information, but ultimately had to strike a balance when either granting an application, granting it with conditions or rejecting it.

Trans-Tasman's exploration manager Matt Brown similarly did not want to focus on the application nor legal details, but gave an overview of the proposed project.

He did note, however, one of the main concerns of submitters was the plume of tailing sands being returned to the ocean from its processing ship. That design had since been “significantly” modified and he expected it to negate part of that issue.

So far, the project had “largely” been funded from private equity and by first quarter 2019 Brown expected the company to be looking for about $600 M.

De Beers is potentially going to operate the 350 tonne seabed crawler, which will deliver sands to a 335 metre vessel for processing, before the tailings were dumped.

The operation would shift 8 tonnes per hour of sands, at an annual rate of 50 Mt, to recover 50,000t of iron sands.

Brown said that one condition for TTR was that it would first have to complete two years of ocean and seabed monitoring before it can begin operations.

Editor: De Beers became a global leader in seabed mining with its seabed mining operations for diamonds off the Namaqualand coast of South Africa and in near-shore waters in Namibia.

One other conference paper on Wednesday by Tony Haworth of Campbell Macpherson said that the new iron sands project in South Taranaki would provide a major economic boost to that region.

*Simon Hartley is senior business reporter and assistant chief reporter for the Otago Daily Times.

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Matt Brown.