forum: thursday, 17th october
Upwards of ninety delegates turned out in the Ashley Hotel in Greymouth on Thursday the 17th of October for the Minerals West Coast, Turning the Tables, 2019 forum.
The theme for the 2019 forum, "Turning the Tables", was rang throughout each of the speakers presentations. Richard Tacon, chief executive of Bathurst Resources, opened the day, talking about the makeup of Bathurst Resources today. Revenue from the company's five operational New Zealand mines includes 74% for steel, 19% for food and other uses, and 6% for electricity generation. Regarding the use of thermal coal in the South Island, Richard Tacon highlighted the lack of alternatives available for some New Zealand industries in the short term. Electricity works only for heat below one hundred degrees, there is no reticulated gas supply, and wood biomass simply cannot be provided at the scale needed - if biomass were to be used instead of thermal coal, a forest the size of Belgium would have to be cleared each year.
Mike Meehan, chief executive of the West Coast Regional Council, urged the mining industry to engage more in the submission process on new legislation, despite the fact we have a government that seems to be better influenced by social media than the details of well-written submissions.
Stephanie Hayton of Oceana Gold discussed the rehabilitation efforts underway at Globe Progress mine near the Reefton township. Three hundred thousand trees have been planted so far, with another three hundred thousand to go.
Brett Cummings of the West Coast Gold Miners' Association talked about the changes he's seen in mining technology and regulation through the course of his career as a miner and diesel mechanic, the challenges of running a small mine site, and his thoughts for the future.
Adele Fitzpatrick, chief executive of Project Crimson, introduced the audience to Project Crimson, a conservation trust whose purpose is to promote the planting of native trees, and how the industry can not only document its own planting it does already, but going above and beyond to increase planting around the West Coast and New Zealand.
After lunch Gary Bramley of the Ecology Company, who came all the way down from the far north town of Kaeo, discussed the role mining can play in supporting New Zealand's conservation efforts. He emphasised that habitat loss in New Zealand has slowed dramatically compared to the periods following early Polynesian and European settlement, and while clearance is still an issue, it's not a big threat to (most) forests, and the biggest threats now are introduced pests and weeds, and diseases like myrtle rust and kauri dieback. He said with trees living a long time, forests change slowly and can be brought back, but animal populations change quickly and dramatically. He said the most urgent threat is for our endangered birds, lizards, bats, and invertebrates. Gary Bramley said the devastating effects on endangered animal species can be by compensation and offsetting from mining companies. He cited examples such as the Oparara Kiwi Protection Site. On the whole native bird species have increased or held the line (where species like kiwi would normally decline without predator control), and now the forest bustles with birds. Another operation he cited was the Heaphy Project, set up in 2014 to compensate for biodiversity losses at the Escarpment mine in Denniston, covering an area of 25,000 hectares. While it's early days the detection signs are good for most of the 28 bird species being monitored. Other offsetting projects included the Denniston Project, a Winstone Aggregates quarry in the Hunua Ranges.
The rest of the afternoon took a geological turn, with updates from New Zealand Petroleum and Minerals on permits and the Crown Minerals Strategy, GNS Science on geological prospects, and the New Zealand Institute for Minerals to Materials Research on adding value to what we mine. Examples included ultra-fine gold recovery and how to turn coal into carbon foam, making a lightweight, reusable substance that can be used in batteries instead of lead.
The day ended about four o'clock in the afternoon, followed by drinks down at the Monteith's Bar. What hour they finished up is anyone's guess.
FIELD DAY: FRIDAY, 18TH OCTOBER
A smaller group huddled out of the rain under the front of the Ashley Hotel on the Friday morning following the forum to take a trip around a few West Coast mines. First up for the day was a small alluvial operation just south of Greymouth. The mine is run by a two man band, just across the road from a few houses. Having noise limits means rubberising machinery and operating within certain time limits each day, but the mine is a great example of the industry being compatible with residential areas. Graham admits it helps one of the neighbours is the landowner. When mining started the area was covered in gorse and small pine trees, but it was too wet to ever be suitable for forestry. The ground is being progressively rehabilitated to pasture.
Then the convoy headed north to Reefton. The first stop was at Oceana Gold's Globe Progress mine to look at the restoration work carried out to date. Being spring, contractors are on site each day planting trees. Before handing the mine back to the Department of Conservation about 900,000 trees will have been planted.
Then about midday the group stopped for lunch and a break from the weather at Dawson's Hotel on the main street in Reefton. After a quick lunch the group carried on for an update from Nigel Slonker on the Blackwater Gold project, near the historic site of the Blackwater mine. The project is progressing well, and subject to feasibility studies, gold mining could start as early as 2024.
From there it was back out into the weather for the last mine of the day, Reddale, a former Solid Energy coal mine now owned by Rosco Contractors. The photos below are a good display of weather, which was freezing, raining, and blowing, all at once. A quick look at the pit to soak the jackets and muddy the boots was followed by a drive around the wash plant before heading back to Reefton for a hot drink at Broadway Tearooms before the return journey to Greymouth.
In all the forum and field days were a great chance for those in the mining industry to get together and focus on the industry and the coming challenges. Thanks to everyone who turned out, look forward to having you all again next year.
MWC's full time manager and part time writer. Come here for occasional news and musings on mining, conservation, and regional economics.