Oil and coal permits threaten national parks

 Forest & Bird has called on the government to reject applications to explore for oil off three New Zealand national parks famous for their pristine beaches and wild coast lines, and to prospect for coal in Kahurangi National Park.

“The government made the right call last year by protecting our national parks from mining, but these new applications threaten a repeat of the community backlash and damage to our economy,” said Forest & Bird Conservation Advocate Quentin Duthie.

“New Zealanders have said that mining national parks is ‘just not OK’, but here we are again. The government’s continued promotion of mining and drilling has encouraged a foreign mining company to look for fossil fuels in our pristine natural areas.”

The Chinese-backed but Sydney-based mining company Greywolf Goldmining NL has applied for oil exploration permits for the waters of the north-west corner of the South Island. They have also applied for prospecting permits to search for coal in Kahurangi National Park, including around the Heaphy Track.

The oil exploration permit application area includes the shoreline of Abel Tasman and Kahurangi national parks, Farewell Spit Nature Reserve, and the Westhaven and Tonga Island marine reserves. Mining is prohibited in all of these areas by Schedule 4 of the Crown Minerals Act, although some parts of the large areas being applied for fall outside the schedule’s protection.

“These areas are wild and untouched refuges for wildlife and much loved by locals and tourists alike. An oil spill off this coastline would have a disastrous effect on these pristine natural areas,” said Forest & Bird Top of the South Field Officer Debs Martin.

“The community and iwi fought off a company – Bonaparte Diamond Mines NL – in 2006 which was intent on mining the seabed of Golden Bay. We will fight this company off too,” she said.

The coal prospecting permits applied for in March include an area of Kahurangi National Park from the Heaphy River northwards – overlapping with sections of the famous Heaphy Track – and other conservation areas all the way up to Farewell Spit.

“The local economy is dependent on the tourism attracted by these famous wild places, and the local fishing and aquaculture industries depend critically on a clean ocean. Oil and coal mining threaten all that, “ Debs Martin said.

“A study by the Department of Conservation showed the natural attractions of the Abel Tasman National Park alone generated economic activity worth $45 million annually to the local economy.”

Greywolf applied for a second oil exploration permit just last week off the coast between Greymouth and Westport. This area includes the coastal Paparoa National Park and the famous blowholes at Punakaiki.

“The government needs a reality check. A hasty rush to find fossil fuels in pristine areas runs the very real risk of killing the goose – New Zealand’s natural environment – that lays our golden eggs – tourism and primary production,” added Quentin Duthie.

“Forest & Bird calls on the government to change economic direction and pursue smart technology and fuels, rather than increase New Zealand’s dependence on dirty fossil fuels and risk our natural environment.”