A world first in underwater commercial metals mining may be just around the corner, with New Zealand on the verge of giving the green-light to Trans Tasman’s proposed iron-ore mining project this week.
Trans Tasman hopes to begin mining iron sands off the west coast of New Zealand in 2016, and despite already having the mining licence, must wait for approval from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
The announcement by the EPA will be delivered on Wednesday.
The offshore iron ore harvesting project will involve the excavation of 50 million tonnes of seabed material each year, which will be processed on mining vessels.
The seabed material is constituted of iron-rich sands, which contain titano-magnetite to be extracted for export to Asian steel mills.
A crawler machine will be used to cut 11 metres into the seabed, to pump material up to the processing plant aboard a ship, which will use magnets to separate the ore.It is estimated that around 90 per cent of excavated material will be returned to the sea floor.
The proposed project area is relatively small, at approximately 65.76 square kilometres, located near the South Taranaki Bight.
However, other companies are interested in the approvals outcome, such as Neptune Minerals which holds deep sea tenements over 175,000 square kilometres.
The project is opposed by the environmental group Kiwis Against Seabed Mining, who claim that there is too much scientific uncertainty concerning environmental impacts of sea-bed mining.
Trans Tasman has said that the iron sands are mostly inhabited by sandworms, which will re-establish themselves within a few years of the disturbance.
“Our view, supported by our science experts, is that between five and 10 years you will get almost full recovery of the area that's been mined … because the organisms and environment are already quite adapted and recover quickly,” Trans Tasman chief executive Tim Crossley said to Reuters.