Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Minister calls for seabed mining inquiry

Environment Minister David Parker has asked Parliament’s Environment Select Committee to conduct an inquiry into seabed mining.

The Minister says a select committee inquiry would give New Zealanders a say on the issue.

He said an inquiry would consider the potential risks and benefits of seabed mining in New Zealand, and whether changes to the domestic regulatory framework are needed. It would encompass all seabed areas within New Zealand’s jurisdiction, namely the territorial sea, Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), and extended continental shelf.

In October 2022, Minister Nanaia Mahuta announced that New Zealand would back a conditional moratorium on seabed mining in areas beyond national jurisdiction until strong environmental rules, supported by robust science, can be agreed on internationally.

“New Zealand’s international position does not require the Government to change its domestic approach to seabed mining. But having backed a conditional moratorium, it is timely to examine our own regulatory settings,” said Mr Parker.

“Concerns about the environmental impacts of seabed mining need to be considered, along with the potential role that minerals recovered by seabed mining could play in New Zealand’s transition to a decarbonised economy.

“Feedback and the inquiry findings would inform any changes to existing regulatory settings,” he said.

While the inquiry terms of reference would be for the Committee, Mr Parker has suggested the following:

  • an overview of seabed mining operations and proposals;
  • the opportunities that could arise from seabed mining in New Zealand;
  • the costs and risks of seabed mining in New Zealand;
  • comparison to other methods for obtaining minerals (e.g. land-based);
  • how seabed mining is managed internationally and in New Zealand;
  • how domestic regulatory settings are performing, including under the Crown Minerals Act 1991, Resource Management Act 1991, and Exclusive Economic Zone and Continental Shelf (Environmental Effects) Act 2012;
  • whether any change to domestic regulatory settings should apply to the coastal marine area, the EEZ and extended continental shelf, or both;
  • the prospect of any change to domestic regulatory settings being supportive of Pacific countries in considering their own positions on seabed mining;
  • recommendations for maintaining or updating New Zealand’s domestic regulatory settings.

A member’s bill before Parliament, in the name of Debbie Ngarewa-Packer, would prohibit seabed mining.

“That bill would override existing minerals permits and consents immediately, retrospectively, and without compensation,” Mr Parker said.

“That would cut off much of New Zealand’s current gas supply, threaten our energy security, and cause considerable reputational damage to the country.”

The Bill would also cut across engagement with claimant groups with an interest in the territorial sea.

“The Government will not support the member’s bill. We believe that a select committee inquiry is a better way to approach this issue,” the Minister said.

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