REFILE-New Zealand rejects undersea iron sand mining project

Tue Jun 17, 2014 9:43pm EDT

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WELLINGTON, June 18 (Reuters) - A project to mine undersea iron ore sand deposits off the New Zealand coast has been rejected because of uncertainty about the environmental impact of the project, the country's Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) said on Wednesday.

Trans Tasman Resources Ltd had sought the final go-ahead to excavate iron sands from the sea bed in waters up to 45 metres (149 feet) deep off the country's west coast, but was turned down by a special committee set up by the EPA.

"The major reasons for this (decision) were the uncertainties in the scope and significance of the potential adverse environmental effects and those on existing interests," the EPA said in a statement.

The New Zealand decision was being closely watched by other governments and miners around the world looking to mine copper, cobalt, manganese and other metals deeper on the ocean floor.

Mining of diamonds currently takes place off the coast of Namibia, but the Trans Tasman project was one of the more advanced being proposed elsewhere.

Environmental groups, fishing companies, and local indigenous Maori tribes had opposed the project because of the potential damage to the environment, marine mammals and fish stocks.

Trans Tasman Resources said it was disappointed by the decision, having spent about NZ$60 million ($52 million) on the project so far, and having undertaken significant local consultation, and scientific research.

Chief executive Tim Crossley said in a statement the local community would miss out on hundreds of new jobs and an estimated NZ$240 million a year boost to GDP.

The company would study the ruling and look at its options. The decision can only be appealed on points of law.

Environmentalists called the outcome a victory for common sense.

"It became very clear during the hearings that the company ... had not done its homework on the full environmental impact of digging up 50 million tonnes of the seabed every year for 20 years," said Phil McCabe, the chair of Kiwis Against Seabed Mining

A second New Zealand deep sea mining project was tabled last week by Chatham Rock Phosphate Ltd seeking to take phosphate rock to be turned into fertiliser in waters up to 400 metres deep about 450 km (280 miles) east of the country.

The application will now undergo a six-month investigation period, including public and scientific submissions.

Elsewhere, Nautilus Minerals is working on a deep-sea project off Papua New Guinea to start in 2017. ($1 = 1.1546 New Zealand Dollars) (Reporting by Gyles Beckford; Editing by Richard Pullin)

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