Industry leaders in New Zealand have criticised the rejection of Trans-Tasman Resources‘ application for a $70m underwater iron sand mining project, saying that the decision has deprived the country of new source of income and employment.

Trade body BusinessNZ said that the proposed project would have introduced the undersea iron sand mining industry to the country and created new income streams and jobs.

Trans-Tasman Resources (TTR) had proposed a low-cost offshore iron sands extraction project off Patea coast in the Taranaki region, but the application was rejected by the Environmental Protection Authority on the grounds that there was uncertainty over the project’s environmental impact.

TTR planned to mine a 65.76km² area, extract up to 50 million tonnes of sediment a year and process it aboard a mining vessel. The company has been planning the project for seven years and has invested $60m to date.

BusinessNZ CEO Phil O’Reilly said that any new industry is bound to have some uncertainties. Millions of dollars can be invested in researching the likely effects of a new industry without achieving absolute certainty about all outcomes.

"[It] may raise the question of whether our regulatory settings themselves may be preventing new industry from being established."

"The rejection of an application to establish a new industry on the grounds of uncertainty, when 100% certainty for a completely new industry is impossible, may raise the question of whether our regulatory settings themselves may be preventing new industry from being established," O’Reilly said.

"It would be unfortunate if this was the message being heard by potential investors in New Zealand."

Mining industry representative Straterra, also voiced its concerns on the rejection of the project based on its ‘uncertainty’.

Straterra CEO Chris Baker said: "One has to ask the question: has the process let us down and not allowed adequate consideration of the uncertainties and the conditions that would allow these uncertainties to be dealt with."

Baker added that the project is being planned 22km off the coast where shallow depths and natural wave action support very little life, and that the footprint of the mining operation is small.

"Modern society needs these resources, as does the New Zealand economy, and it is difficult to imagine that the environmental impact of the proposed mining could not be managed in an acceptable manner," Baker added.

"I am sure the company could have worked with conditions that required review over time. This decision sends an unfortunate signal to potential investors."

Image: Trans-Tasman has proposed to undertake underwater iron sand mining in the South Taranaki Bight, off the coast of Patea. Photo: courtesy of Phillip Capper.