New Zealand’s global and expensive boast of being lean and green is under attack as never before. The right-wing National Government has just announced that there’s $200 billion worth of untapped minerals there for the taking.
An audit found that beneath the ground is important stuff capable of influencing technologies, including hybrid and electric cars, wind power and computer and communications equipment.
Interestingly, the deposits exclude hydrocarbons such as oil and gas. The trouble is 40 per cent of that mineral wealth is estimated to be in an area set aside for conservation and comprising 13 per cent of the country.
Naturally, as these things happen, the best conservation territory holds the richest in potential mineral wealth. They include Great Barrier Island (which gets 50,000 visitors a year), parts of the North Island regions of Thames and the Coromandel Peninsula and in the Paparoa National Park on the rugged West Coast of the South Island.
Coromandel Watchdog spokesman Denis Tegg describes the move as "social welfare for the multi-nationals”, accusing mining companies of creaming off huge profits.
"They pay pitifully low royalties. We privatise our minerals by just giving them away to overseas corporations," he says.
Auckland’s Mayor John Banks opposes mining on Great Barrier Island. "It is the untouched jewel in the crown of the Hauraki Maritime Park." And local MP Nikki Kaye has told her National Party bosses the Great Barrier plan is a not a runner as far as she is concerned either.
The NZ Government wants to cut 7,058 hectares from protected areas to open it for mining. In an online article The Economist magazine notes that opening conservation land to mining was something the dwarves in The Hobbit might like, but "is not popular with more elvish sensibilities''.
A mining industry group, Straterra says any new mines would take five to 15 years to establish. Its spokesman, Chris Baker, told the Dominion Post that NZ is attractive for international mining companies because of its stable political and regulatory regime. "And there is some very prospective ground."
The mining industry, including minerals such as gold and silver, coal, oil, gas and iron sands is worth about $4 billion a year, with about $2 billion a year in exports. Minerals exports alone are worth about $700 million a year, with about $300 million from coal.
World Bank research shows New Zealand is second only to Saudi Arabia in natural resources wealth per person, but the resources are "significantly under-used" according to Straterra.
The biggest mineral deposits are $1 trillion lignite coalfields in Southland. Other types of coal were potentially worth about $300 billion; with oil and gas at $200 billion; iron sands about $30 billion; while gold and silver are potentially worth $194 billion.
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