11 February 2010

John Key's greenwash of mining in conservation areas

John Key, in his Statement to Parliament, sought to down play the footprint of mining and therefore to imply that mining of conservation areas was not such a big deal.
"Mining in New Zealand uses just 40 square kilometres of land, less than 0.015 percent of our total land area. The export value of that land however is $175,000 per hectare, which makes mining an extremely valuable use of land."
The assertion works on a simple level: fact (mining area very small) then value judgment (mining okay in conservation areas). A perfect soundbite. Questionable logic. Bad value judgment. However, even the simple part, the 'fact', 40km2, is wrong.

Key appears to be parroting Gerry Brownlee who has used the '40 square kilometres of mining' 'fact' in Parliament in mid September 2009.

So where does the statement "40 square kilometres of land, less than 0.015 percent of our total land area" come from?

I think Brownlee and Key must have got it from the mining industry. The website of the New Zealand Mineral Industry Association has this very similar statement on their website.
"Current mining activities area disturbing an area of less than 30 square kilometres and mine sites are being rehabilitated progressively."
While I read Key's speech, I immediately thought that 40km2 was far too small a footprint for all the mining in New Zealand and after 5 minutes on the internet I confirmed that 40 km2 significantly understates the mining area.

On 21 October 2009, the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, Dr Jan Wright, noted that there are 111 mining licences ( authorising 82 mines), that operate without resource consents. In other words, the existence of the mining licence prior to 1991 allowed the mining to continue without resource consent under the Resource Management Act.

Dr Wright's recommendation to the Government was that this was a loophole in mining and resource management law which needed to be closed so that the holders of the 111 licences were required to operate under resource consents with up to date monitoring and mitigation conditions.

Dr Wright released a list of the 111 licences that showed that they cover a total licence area of 20,784 hectares (207.84 km2), of which 3,019 hectares are within conservation land (30.19 km2).

According to the MED Crown Minerals annual report 2008-2009 (PDF 1.8MB), on page 16, there are 508 mining permits/licences in New Zealand. So there are another 397 mining licences not included in the land area of 20,784 hectares.

Roughly, the total area must be about double or triple the 20,784 hectares (or 200 km2). So, the 40km2 is not only wrong, it's wrong by an order of magnitude for the area of 508 licences.

My values say to me that mining in conservation areas will have significant and irreversible adverse environmental effects. My experience in resource management backs that up. John Key and Gerry Brownlee are making statements of fact that are simply wrong to argue that mining is okay in conservation areas. This is transparently greenwashing and it says very little for their ability to fact check or to critically assess the viewpoint of the mining industry.

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