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Politics the main barrier to Coromandel mining - expert

Contributor:
Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media
Professor Dave Craw
Professor Dave Craw

Wellington, May 3 NZPA - Politics will determine whether there is gold mining on the Coromandel Peninsula or around Reefton on the West Coast, as both areas are technically capable of being mined, senior research geologist Professor Dave Craw says.

"Not a lot of science goes into these decisions," the Otago University academic said today.

The main reason there was still a big gold mine at Reefton and not one on the Coromandel was an accident of history, he said.

Though both areas had been extensively cut over by foresters and mined, only the Coromandel was listed on "schedule four" registrations of land that had great conservation value.

He thought the community should have a say in what went on in their area, and people at Reefton were happy to have a gold mine, and people on the Coromandel were not.

"It is political: it is driven by the community," he said today.

"Eventually there will be much more pressure to go back into the Coromandel," he said.

The historical Coromandel gold deposits were much richer than those in the South Island, and the gold easier to extract.

"I have a suspicion that's why the mining industry is quite keen to get back into the Coromandel," he told a Science Media Centre briefing for journalists on the debate over the sustainability of mining.

One possibility for avoiding damage done by toxic tailings from gold mining on the peninsula might be to copy the arrangement at Reefton, where separated ore taken from conservation land was sent 700km by rail to Macraes, north of Dunedin, to be processed.

"That is one way you can handle this issue of toxic tailings on conservation land," he said.

"Something similar could be done on the Coromandel, should the political will be there to develop mines there."

The Government triggered controversy in March when it identified 7058 hectares of land it proposes removing from schedule four in the Crown Minerals Act -- to pave the way for mining access -- in the wake of a stock-take of minerals in the conservation estate.

The Green Party and environmental organisations strongly oppose the proposal, which has been targeted at coal, nickel, copper, chromium, gold and other minerals estimated by the Government to be worth $140 billion, though some mines could take 50 years to set up.

Public submissions on the government's proposals close on May 26.

Prime Minister John Key has promised environmental damage will be kept low: "We're not going to have massive open cast mines," he said at the time.

Prof Craw -- who runs a programme on environmental effects of mining which is currently focusing on heavy metal mobility in historical mine sites and shallow groundwater -- said today that "keyhole mining" could extract the most valuable portion of an ore body.

But in some cases it might be more economic to use opencast techniques to take out more of the ore.

This was particularly true of gold mines where previous miners had picked out the richest ore at the centre of a deposit, meaning it would be more profitable to dig up the surrounding ore body.

At the Paparoa National Park on the West Coast, where the Government is eyeing opening up 3315ha in the Inangahua sector of the park, coal deposits were not suited to open-cast mining.

Prof Craw said he was "pretty neutral" in the debate over the sustainability of mining, but was certain there would be mining in the future, with large amounts of waste.

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