New Opencast Mine Permitted

News today that resource consent has been granted to Perth-based company Bathurst Resources for opencast coal mining on 200 hectares in the Mt Rochfort Conservation Area on Denniston Plateau, northeast of Westport. It will become New Zealand’s second largest opencast coal mine after Solid Energy’s nearby Stockton mine.

The commissioners said that the consent was granted “not without some considerable reservations and anguish” and that they “do not wish to provide any indication that future consents will be granted to undertake further mining in this area.” But the economic benefits easily carried the day:

“The most and almost overwhelming factor that we had to consider is the enormous financial benefit that the mine will bring to the Buller district and the West Coast region.”

Forest and Bird, for whom the ecology of the plateau is of high significance, opposed the granting of consent, and just yesterday I read the following in their latest magazine:

“With climate change the biggest threat facing biodiversity across the planet, the development of a coal mine on the Denniston Plateau is an affront to international evidence urging coal mines to be phased out, and no new ones to open. In May, climate scientist Dr James Hansen toured New Zealand warning of the consequences of global warming. His message was clear – no new coal mines. The burning of the 73 million tons of coal (the total of the present consent for 6 million tons and the further 67 million identified for further consents) would amount to about 180 million tons of carbon dioxide discharged into the atmosphere.”

The article notes that the Department of Conservation was not present at the hearing, though it made submissions, and comments:

“The department’s protective functions are seriously compromised under current legislation and government strategies promoting the mining of fossil fuels.”

New Zealand washes its hands of responsibility for emissions from coal exported to other countries, and thereby remains untroubled by the consequences of increased emissions from the coal we mine. A previous Minister of Energy explained to me patiently in a letter that the emissions are a matter for the country which burns the coal, not for us who supply it. We are not alone in this, of course. Our neighbour across the Tasman is the world’s largest coal exporter. But one wonders at what point coal exporting will be deemed incompatible with a government’s professed concern about global warming. There’s no sign that the major political parties in New Zealand even think about the possibility, though the Greens certainly do.

For the West Coast communities which have grown up depending on mining as a significant source of employment and income the opening of new mines is something to be welcomed, and this has obviously been the chief consideration guiding the resource consent. But for every community which appears to benefit from the mining of coal there will be other communities around the world which suffer the consequences of global warming grievously, and ultimately those consequences will come home in some form to us all. We can feel for the West Coast, but not to the point of agreeing that new coal mines should be permitted.

I wrote along similar lines at greater length earlier this month, but make no apology for sounding the theme again. We have come to the point where coal mining should be winding down, not taking on a new lease of life. That’s the plain fact of the matter, and there are no arguments for ignoring it.

8 thoughts on “New Opencast Mine Permitted”

  1. Even though I believe Global Warming has to be fitted in with our requirements to make a living coal mining is not the way to go. If the West Coasters want to make a living, put up wind farms, build dams but do not dig coal. It is the worst polluter of all and in twenty years when climate change has really started to have an effect it will be closed down and we will have massive expense trying to sort our World out so that we can live in it.

  2. The National Party is just like a drug addict – deep down they know that mining coal is bad, but it just feels so good at the moment to be rolling in moolah, that they don’t consider the consequences of their addiction.

    Of course selling the coal overseas for others to burn will only hasten the acidification of our seas around New Zealand. Bye-bye fish and shellfish.

    1. I’ve been thinking along the drug analogy too.
      I’ve been looking at this issue from the point of view “whose is the most culpable?”
      Is it the drug addict who is desperate for the next fix?
      Is it the pusher?
      Is it the trafficca who smuggles it into the country?
      Is it the Intermediary who buys it in bulk?
      Is it the Chemist who concocts the product from the raw materials?
      Is it the farmer who grows the raw materials knowing the purpose for which it is intended?
      Of course there are many more people involved – but each bears some culpability.
      Now bringing that back to coal.
      The miner is equivalent to the farmer. By now there is no excuse to say that we do not know the consequences of continuing to burn more coal. The grandchildren of those involved will not thank them for their actions. Neither will the people of 3rd world nations who have no voice.
      The trafficca are the shipping companies – they could also be compared to the blackbirders of slavery. Shipping may seem an innocent enough occupation on the surface, but the addicts could not survive without their aid.
      But who are the addicts? Who is dependent upon the next fix? It is the consumer society of the developed world. It is we who demand the new 50″ digital TV that we need for the rugby world cup. It is our “need” for the latest gizmo that is produced by the coal guzzling factories of China. Our demand for more and more of the “good things in life” drive this addiction.

  3. Hi Brian and all. I wasn’t sure of the best place to post this, but this post seemed pretty relevant.

    It appears National MP Michael Woodhouse has broken ranks with his party by saying “no” to lignite mining in Southland at a recent forum in Dunedin. The event was hosted by Generation Zero – a campaign group I am involved with, calling for all political parties to front up with credible plans to address climate change and fossil energy dependence, for young people’s sake. We reckon Michael deserves some support for this statement, and some encouragement to take it further, and we’re calling on those who feel the same to send him a letter – see this page for more info. We’ve also got a form letter to send to John Key on the topic. It’d be great to have Hot Topic readers get behind this.

    For more info about Generation Zero check out our website:

    1. An entirely appropriate place for your comment Paul,and I hope readers will support your campaign. Well done to ferret out a government MP willing to break ranks.

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