Iron sands extraction too risky to receive iwi’s approval

By Debbie Packer*
Ngati Ruanui Chief Executive

  Debbie Packer

Debbie Packer

Nga Ruanui has dealt with many Resource Management Act (RMA) applications for water use, oil and gas exploration and minerals exploration. It’s not new to us. We have worn the consequences of an unprecedented number of permits for many years. We are experts in this field.  In our experience, we have found that first time explorers over-promise, but under-deliver. Even today, we have seen an oil company in our region has pre-warned its shareholders that its drilling programme was too ambitious and it’s necessary to scale back.

Deciding on a marine consent for Trans-Tasman Resources Ltd (TTRL) to mine iron sands from the seabed off the Taranaki coast will be one of the most difficult decisions that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will likely ever face.  The permit is planned 22km north of the Patea awa, an area that holds significant marine life and is a traditional fishing area for us. There is a natural food chain that will be affected by this invasive activity. We have an obligation and a responsibility to ensure that these grounds will be available with the same marine life, or more, for generations to come.

Nga Ruanui believes this proposal is too risky and has too many environmental uncertainties to be approved by the EPA. In our view, TTRL simply does not meet the requirements of best practice nor has it produced adequate information for interested parties to have any degree of confidence that adverse effects can be mitigated.

The companies that meet best practice are those that share information about every pipe, every bolt and every switch. They provide copies of emergency and contingency plans, environmental reports, plans for marine mammal management and every aspect of their operations. Those are the companies that understand the importance of building confidence in the public and acceptance from iwi. They consult early and consult regularly. They don't profess to know more about our tikanga than we do. In the case of TTRL, the ultimate insult came when one of that company’s non-Māori staff completed a cultural analysis on our behalf!

The worse practicing companies don’t provide environmental information and instead choose to speak to important constituents through multiple press statements. We have sighted seismic survey data and mammal data from other applicants, and one thing I know for certain:  this sector runs on data, science and fact. That is what has been missing with TTRL. The company has failed to consult as intended in the legislation and failed to reassure us of the environmental viability of this mining plan. We believe it’s because they simply do not have all of the information.

It’s important that we are not misunderstood. Ngati Ruanui is not anti-mining or anti-exploration. We believe that a strong economy – one that can be driven in part from minerals, oil and gas extraction – is in the interests of all our iwi members, many of whom might benefit directly from jobs or through ancillary supporting businesses. We have been involved in numerous RMA applications by virtue of the fact that we live in an area that is blessed with a high concentration of raw minerals. As a consequence, we are experts in dealing with this type of process.

We have the most oil wells in our rohe compared to that of other iwi in the country thanks to the number of permits that have been approved. Within our rohe is the only producing deepsea oil well in New Zealand. We have the largest earth dam in the country, and a very large Fonterra outlet. 

In responding to these applications over the years, we have become experts in the field of resource management. We stand with the legacy of 50 years’ experience as energy sector specialists. The Minister for the Environment has a formal parallel engagement relationship agreement with our iwi. The Minister engages with us because they don't have the knowledge base or on-the-ground experience that we do. We have been commissioned by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) to develop Best Practice Guidelines for the energy sector to engage with Iwi and which has been endorsed by the Iwi Chairs Forum, other oil and mineral companies, the Petroleum Exploration and Production Association (PEPANZ) and Straterra, which represents the minerals and oil sectors and which TTRL is a member.

We use our experience to analyse crisis management plans, environmental ethics, risk strategies and all other manner of things associated with extraction industries. If the EPA can’t be reassured by our experience, then how can it be reassured by the inexperience of TTRL? And what possible conditions should be placed on this mining application to reassure us, the tangata whenua, that any consent for TTRL will be managed and monitored appropriately? In our expert opinion, TTRL needs to satisfy these concerns before the EPA provides that company with any approval to commence their mining operations.

*Debbie Packer (Ngati Ruanui, Nga Rauru) is a management consultant with more than 20 years’ experience in investment, media, local government, financial management, iwi/Māori development and entrepreneurship. She is the Chief Executive of Ngati Ruanui iwi, the Deputy Mayor of the South Taranaki District Council and maintains governance positions on iwi investment companies. Debbie also serves on the Māori Economic Development Panel, the Work & Income Advisory Panel, and the Local Government Efficiency Board, among others.