Letter: Key questions on seabed mining

Tuesday 30 March 2021 | Written by Supplied | Published in Letters to the Editor, Opinion

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Dear Editor, The Seabed Minerals Commissioner’s letter on Monday (March 22) didn’t answer the question of what potential risks to the environment from mining were presented to communities in the pa enua.

This, amongst other indications, tells us that only one side of the story was presented.

Instead, the Commissioner’s letter focused on the costs involved in doing exploration activities and asks who else (other than mining companies) would be prepared to collect this data.

This is a line given by mining companies that government officials have adopted.

It’s government’s initiative to pursue the option of seabed mining. So, it’s government’s duty to take the best approach.

Has any effort been made by the Seabed Minerals Authority to invite or encourage independent research?

We’ve had a number of expeditions in our waters over several decades that were not funded by mining companies. Have these institutions and agencies been engaged to help us do research in our waters with their own vessels?

The letter reveals that “some applicants are already intending to utilise reputable academic institutions and scientists as part of their research programme.”

“Reputable” perhaps but will they be paid by the mining companies to do this research?

What research questions are mining companies willing to investigate? Who determines that sufficient information has been gathered? What level of uncertainty is considered acceptable? In the interests of balance and accountability, will members of the public, willing to work through the science, be permitted to participate in reaching those decisions?

During my experience inside government, most government officials, including the Seabed Minerals Commissioner are working with the best intentions. But when the government hasn’t been honest with the public, by withholding inconvenient information, and (as happened in my case) excluding cautionary perspectives, and working more closely with mining companies than with independent academic institutions, why would the public trust the government to cover all bases?

Jacqui Evans

SBMA Response – As someone who was present at these meetings, I can share that we do provide information on the expected environmental impacts during the harvesting/mining phase. We also explain very clearly that we are only in the exploration phase, and will be for the next few years. Government has not made any decision on moving to the next phase, because we simply do not have the information and data to make an informed decision.

The last significant deep-sea nodule research programme in Cook Islands waters, the Japan-SOPAC survey, concluded in 2000 – two decades ago. Since the establishment of the Seabed Minerals Authority (Authority) in 2013, we have strived to encourage research in our waters. We submitted a multi-million-dollar research proposal to the New Zealand government as far back as 2014, and we are having ongoing discussions with donor partners and agencies, for example engaging through our Marae Moana and Climate Change partners.

There is unprecedented, deep-sea research currently happening in international waters and regulated by the International Seabed Authority. Commercial companies in joint ventures with countries and academic institutions are driving the majority of this research.

Shortly, the Authority will be sharing information on the Exploration Licence applications with the public. Members of the public will be given an opportunity to comment on those applications.

If the Government decides to award any Exploration Licences, the research activities funded by licence holders will be monitored and the data collected and analysed will be subject to verification processes. We will follow best international standards in terms of what scientific research is appropriate for environmental impact and resource assessment during the exploration phase. As the regulators of these activities, the Authority and the National Environment Service will set the requirements for resource and environmental data collection.

The Government will continue to take a science-based approach with transparent decision-making processes, and acting in the best interests of our country and people.

I thank Ms Evans for her feedback, and welcome other members of the public to share their feedback directly with the Authority.

Alex Herman

Seabed Minerals Commissioner