Major players in the resource sector are in good heart, but a pall hangs over the industry as the Government decides where to take its “no new mines on conservation land” pledge.
With the Crown Minerals Act under review, and being opened to consultation in coming weeks, the uncertainty overshadows the annual Australian Institute of Mining & Metallurgy, New Zealand Mining Conference in Tauranga, which attracted about 200 delegates.
To make the point of uncertainty ahead, all three of the pre-conference field trips in the region, to gold and coal mines were interrupted by protesters, with several given pre-charge warnings by police, but with no arrests made.
On Monday protesters were not reported to be at the conference centre. The opening morning included updates from OceanaGold Corporation (TSX & ASX: OGC) and Bathurst Resources Ltd (ASX: BRL), both bullish on their respective outlooks.
As with other presenters, both noted their respective historic mining areas, in that mines had been established there for some time, so could not be considered new, as they both consider applying for mining consents.
Director with consultants Campbell McPherson, Tony Haworth, said the proposed ban over conservation land would be “anti-mining,” and highlighted 70% of minerals were located on some form of conservation land.
If banning new mines came into force, that would “sterilise another third” of land, threatening more than $50 million of work.
Haworth also introduced a theme running through the conference, of the need for the industry to mine “green technology minerals” - rare earth elements crucial to manufacturing solar panels and batteries.
“Green energy needs a raft of minerals for these turbines and for solar energy,” Haworth said.
The clean technology needed was an opportunity for NZ; which a few months ago was what Energy and Resources Minister Megan Woods had talked up. Dr Woods was invited to the conference, but was unable to attend.
Haworth noted there had been “zero” finds of the rare earth elements, nor nickel, cobalt or lithium. However, there had been $1.1 billion on gold, coking coal, iron sands and silver produced last year.
“When you look at the broader suite of (those) minerals it's very positive for New Zealand,” he said.
OceanaGold's general manager at Waihi, Bernie O'Leary, updated the conference on working towards extending the mine life, from the current end of 2019, to adding another decade, through Project Martha.
It would be a combination of open pit and new underground, some of the latter under homes in Waihi and a school - which had been done before. Consenting submissions had just closed and O’Leary expected a November hearing and, subject any appeals, mining could possibly start at the end of the year.
“It would be the first time in decades that Waihi would have a mine life of more than 10 years,” he said.
Bathurst Resources chief executive Richard Tacon was similarly upbeat in his outlook, given the purchase of three former Solid Energy coal mines saw production boosted from 400,000 tonnes to 2.2 million tonnes last year, and an operating profit of almost $73 M.
There had been large export growth to India, but also Australia and Korea.Bathurst will resume consenting for its Buller project, with first coal expected off the Denniston Plateau, above Westport, by 2022, which would build towards 650,000t annually.
On the question of “no new mines,” he highlighted 120 years of plateau mining history with numerous mines spread over the area. Bathurst has also taken a stake in a Canadian venture, but also now on the table is a court challenge for $60 M of payments from the company which sold Bathurst its Buller permits in 2010.
Bathurst has lodged an appeal, after losing an earlier High Court determination.
Chief operating officer Wayne Chowles of New Talisman Gold Mines Ltd (NZX & ASX: NTL), whose Karangahake mine was was also positive on getting some production, albeit small, under way by October.
More feasibility studies were under way, looking for high grade targets, with a small pilot plant due for delivery soon, to process 90 kg of ore per hour. He too made a point of highlighting the mine's long history, which in its entirety has 35 kilometres of tunnels spread over about 15 levels; of which Talisman is only developing a small part.
*Simon Hartley is senior business reporter and assistant chief reporter for the Otago Daily Times.