Mining: Today and Tomorrow

The economics of mining

Mining is a limited industry in New Zealand’s economy, with limited potential and immense costs to the environment. It is inherently in conflict with the protection of natural New Zealand and the “100% Pure” brand that our tourism, agricultural and innovation industries use to gain market advantage.

Forest & Bird commissioned an economist to analyse the law that controls mining and the environment, the real value of mineral resources in core conservation lands, and the potential impact of mining these areas on the rest of our economy. The report concluded that mining in these places would potentially cost New Zealand 1% of GDP per annum, while generating only $36 per voter.

Mining outside of Schedule 4

Although the Government has deciding to not mine in some our most precious conservation areas (Schedule 4), it has indicated its intention to expand mining elsewhere, including at sea. This is despite public opposition.

As a result, attention has turned to - 

  • The appropriateness of mining elsewhere on conservation land 
  • The broader environment impact of mining (and of polluting materials like coal)
  • Mining's privileged access to public land. 

Forest & Bird opposes Government proposals to weaken environmental protection laws and facilitate more unsustainable mining. These are expected to be debated in Parliament in 2011.

Particularly objectionable is the intention to give the Minister of Energy and Resources joint control over granting mining access to conservation land when this should be the Minister of Conservation’s decision alone. The Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment and the New Zealand Conservation Authority also oppose this, and have made other recommendations to end mining’s special treatment under the law.

Coal mining

Coal is a very dirty fuel that is a major contributor to climate change globally.

Mining coal also results in many poisonous chemicals and acids being released into water, soil and air. Coal mines such as on the Stockton Plateau have caused massive destruction of rare and fragile ecosystems, and are also dangerous work environments. Coal is not a renewable or sustainable resource.

The expansion of coal mining is favoured by some in Government, but opposed by Forest & Bird. At nearly all stages, from mining to consumption, polluting greenhouse gases are released into the atmosphere.

First off, to mine coal, companies need to build significant infrastructure to access coal seams, which unto itself requires a vast amount of energy. During mining, methane (a gas many times more harmful to the climate than CO2) is released. And then to process it into other energy forms, more greenhouses gases are pumped into the atmosphere. Finally, once its burnt, it releases immense amounts of CO2 (about 2 tonnes for every one tonne of coal). 

We believe the cost to our air, our landscapes and our wildlife is too great to expand coal mining in New Zealand. Sustainable forms of energy production offer long-term jobs and long-term economic security.

Mining at sea

Marine mining is an increasing threat to the protection and sustainable management of our coasts and oceans. While the Resource Management Act controls the conditions for mining in the coastal area, there are no environmental laws controlling mining in New Zealand’s exclusive economic zone.

Furthermore, the establishment of a network of marine protected areas – including marine reserves – lags miles behind land protection.

Forest & Bird wants greater marine protection and to institute a sustainable management regime for commercial activity at sea, before considering the large-scale mining for oil, gas, fertiliser, minerals or chemicals at sea. This is especially crucial because we know little of the ecological complexity of the ocean compared to the land, and when things go wrong at sea they can be catastrophic (as we have seen with oil leaks overseas).