Forest & Bird is concerned that about five hectares of a Significant Natural Area could be destroyed by OceanaGold's planned tailings dump near Waihi.
On Tuesday, Finance Minister Grant Robertson and Associate Finance Minister David Parker approved the multinational corporation’s application under the Overseas Investment Act to buy land south-east of Waihi to dispose of toxic tailings.
Forest & Bird central North Island regional manager Rebecca Stirnemann says the tailings ponds would be developed on a site that includes farm land and a Significant Natural Area.
“The government should never have allowed a multinational mining company to buy 178 hectares of New Zealand farm land with areas of significant natural value to dump its toxic tailings on,” Dr Stirnemann says.
“An overseas company should not be exploiting New Zealand’s non-renewable natural resources and harming our natural environment with its wastes from mining.”
Dr Stirnemann is concerned that the new tailings facility could open prospects for new gold mines in the Coromandel and Hauraki regions, with further environmental destruction as a consequence.
“Large tracts of the company’s application to buy the land and of the Overseas Investment Office’s assessment are blacked out.
“We’re concerned by the secrecy surrounding this company’s mining plans,” Dr Stirnemann says.
OceanaGold’s operations in New Zealand and overseas have not been free of controversy.
In the Philippines,the company's disputes with regulatory authorities have led to disruptions to mining operations.
The company was fined for dumping silt into Devils Creek at its Macraes mine in Otago in 2009 and has been involved in a dispute with the Otago Regional Council over bond payments.
Dr Stirnemann says the ministers showed a lack of foresight in giving consent for OceanaGold to buy land to expand its mining operations.
“There’s a risk the tailings ponds could fail – that could contaminate that massive land block so badly it could never be used again.
"The new tailings facility could also pollute nearby rivers and streams that lead directly to the ocean.
"We have to think of the long term risks of projects. What are we leaving behind for the next generation?" says Dr Stirnemann.
Mining tailings can contain chemicals, such as cyanide, that are used to remove gold and silver from mined material.
Forest & Bird hopes the Hauraki District Council will show more insight into the long-term impacts of mining when it considers OceanaGold’s application for resource consent to operate a tailings facility on its new land.