9 Oct 2012

Pressure put on Government to make mining easier

12:00 pm on 9 October 2012

Papers obtained by Radio New Zealand reveal the pressure being put on the Government to make it easier for mining companies to operate in this country.

Mining companies pushed for a relaxation of rules governing their industry during a review of the Crown Minerals Act.

The Crown Minerals (Permitting and Crown Land) Bill, which will simplify and speed up the approval process for mining applications, was introduced to Parliament at the end of September.

In a briefing paper to Economic Development Minister Steven Joyce, dated 20 July, officials told the minister that Australian mining company Bathurst did not like the resource consenting process.

The officials observed that in an earlier meeting with Energy Minister Phil Heatley, Bathurst representatives had made clear their objections to the consent process.

They argue it takes four to seven years to get a resource consent for a mine in New Zealand and that is a big disincentive to investing in new mines here.

The officials themselves observed the process is ambiguous, time-consuming and open to numerous opportunities to appeal, sometimes on issues which have already been settled.

Radio New Zealand's political editor saysthis also fits with the view of the Government, which wants to cut through the planning process because it believes more mining is one way of boosting economic growth.

But Forest and Bird spokesperson Kevin Hackwell says officials have got it wrong and the process does not take as long as Bathurst representatives allege.

In the case of Bathurst's proposal to mine on conservation land on the Denniston plateau, Mr Hackwell says once a Environment Court hearing has been held it will have taken two to two-and-a-half years for a decision to have been made on that mine.

The mining industry insists it does not want lower standards for its mines, just more straightforward rules when it applies for the right to develop them.

Chris Baker of mining and resources lobby group Straterra says industry has been lobbying to get a more efficient permitting process, so it can attract more investment.

"We think it's very important that we maintain health and safety and environmental impact standards, and all the companies I know agree with that very strongly."

RMA changes signalled

Meanwhile, much of the Government's intention to make it easier to mine in this country is reflected in the Crown Minerals (Permitting and Crown Land) Bill.

The Bill is aimed at promoting more mining of Crown owned minerals and also streamlining and simplifying future mining applications

But mining proposals will still be covered by the Resource Management Act and the Government has signalled it intends making further changes to that legislation.

Other companies have also raised concerns about the Resource Management Act, including Todd Energy which says it wants to see greater consistency in the approach taken by local authorities under the Act.

It also appears large companies involved in both onshore and offshore deep sea oil exploration have a view on the planning process.

But briefing notes prepared for a meeting Mr Heatley had with Canadian oil and gas company TAG and Houston-based Apache Corporation have been blanked out, apart from some very brief notes on the companies themselves.