Catherine Delahunty
Mining the Western Bay

On Monday June 25th I spoke at a Green public meeting which we organised to raise awareness with residents of Te Puke and Papamoa about the mining activities in their region. Glass Earth Gold Ltd has an exploration permit to drill in pine forest on private land, in an area of previous mine workings called Muirs Reef. This area was mined for gold in the 1920’s and there were attempts to re-open it in the 1960s and 1980s. On the surface  Muirs Reef looks like a reasonably safe place to develop gold mining (the need for this is debatable), given  that it’s on private farmland and the three rivers near the site appear to be well downstream. However the meeting revealed many issues of huge concern to locals.

Waitaha kaumatua and other residents at the meeting told us that the mine had always been a problem to develop because of the uncontrollable quantities of groundwater in the area. They said that a multitude of streams feed through this area into the local rivers and that it hadn’t been possible to control this water in the past. A local community board member told us that the water supply for local towns, including the expansion of the Papamoa coastal area, depends on clean water from this area for water supply. The tangata whenua and Forest and Bird Society representatives spoke movingly about the biodiversity of the local streams including the presence of the threatened Hochstetters frog.

I added the information that if Glass Earth Gold sought a mining permit they would either have to truck the ore body to Waihi via Tauranga or build an expensive processing plant on site. I urged the community to start asking questions about what kind of mining was on the company’s agenda. And where would the waste go? Often underground mines are backfilled with processed waste material but if the processing is in Waihi then that would hardly be economic. Waihi has enough challenges with their tailings dump spreading without any additions.


One local resident had checked out the site and found that Glass Earth Gold had already drilled into groundwater without a consent. The Regional Council, who were unaware of the drilling, have stopped the project until there is a consent. This shows bad practice from the outset.

Just to add to the concerns about Glass Earth Gold, I have discovered that a company called Pacific Offshore have a permit to drill up to 50 holes in the seabed for gold, silver and illeminate (titanium oxide) in a 2000 hectare block of seabed between the Waihi to Tauranga coast and Tuhua (Mayor Island).

Many people who attended the meeting were angry they knew so little about the mining happening in their area. The Green Party was happy to facilitate a meeting to help keep people informed and share information that should be readily available to all. As a positive step forward, people at the meeting decided to set up an action group to monitor mining developments in their area.

13 thoughts on “Mining the Western Bay

  1. If the need to mine gold is debatable, then let’s kindly ask people in Southeast Asia to stop putting gold leaf on Buddhist temples, and let’s kindly ask all brides in India to not use gold, as a starting point. Seriously though, for people who would like reassurance that gold mining today is safe for the environment, I suggest you visit the site of the former Golden Cross mine. http://www.straterra.co.nz/Golden Cross

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  2. Did you check the price of commodities? Just spin on a price trend to the lowest possible…the project Will end!

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  3. there is already enough gold above the ground, most of it for decorative purposes – it seems crazy to dig any more out, anywhere.

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  4. Bernie Napp

    Seriously though, for people who would like reassurance that gold mining today is safe for the environment, I suggest you visit the site of the former Golden Cross mine.

    Your link goes to a blank page. The problem is that the gold is extracted using cyanide, and this ends up in the environment and can negatively impact on peoples health. The enormous Newmont tailings dam for instance is less than 1km from the township of Waihi and contains 40 million cubic meters of tailings that stay toxic for thousands and thousands of years.

    To put that into context, poisonous tailings from the now abandoned Tui mine at just 90,000 cubic meters is costing taxpayers over $17.5 million to attempt to fix, which makes me question why the mining industry isn’t paying for such remediation work?

    I’m also concerned about the secretive nature of the oil, gas and mining industries in New Zealand… Surely if there’s nothing to hide as you would like us to believe Mr Napp, why not make these things public knowledge?

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  5. @Janine 5:11 PM

    there is already enough gold above the ground, most of it for decorative purposes – it seems crazy to dig any more out, anywhere.

    Actually, a lot of it is sitting in vaults, and not being used for even decorative purposes. We have enough gold above ground to serve any industrial purpose (e.g. electronics, jewellery) we can conceive of using for it for at least the next couple of centuries.

    So the only justification for mining any more is simply greed.

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  6. Apologies for the botched hyperlink to the Golden Cross mine case study. Here it is: http://www.straterra.co.nz/Golden%20Cross To the person who doesn’t like gold sitting in vaults, you could always buy it, and sell it to people who make computers, satellite technology etc. Alternatively, you could try to make it illegal to stockpile gold. In terms of the motive of greed, we could ban all activities that make a profit. Perhaps, all businesses should be not for profit, and the late, unlamented Soviet Union sort of provided a model for that. Cyanide is the least of a gold miner’s problems when managing environmental effects. Yes, toxins in tailings dams require careful management. We believe that this issue is manageable, however, acknowledge this is a matter for debate. The resource consent process provides an avenue for that.

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  7. On the Tui mine. It closed suddenly in 1973 because the company, Norpac, lost its overseas client, who decided the levels of mercury in the ore concentrate were too high, no doubt, rightly so. From one day to the next, the management flew overseas, the mine went bust overnight, and workers turned up the next day to closed gates, no one to work for, and no jobs. Those workers understandably salvaged what they could for scrap, including parts of the engineering works of the tailings dam. These events were unacceptable then, and they certainly are today. The difference today is that companies must post in advance bonds with councils, and in some cases DOC, as well as providing for post-closure management, e.g. via a trust managing an endowment fund. Also, the design of any mine today must meet legal requirements that did not exist in 1973. Now I want to ask a question. Why should law-abiding mining companies pay for the actions of a cowboy? On the same basis, should all dairy farmers be penalised for the minority who breach their consents? Of course not. It is most unfair and unjust to use the example of the Tui mine to characterise mining in New Zealand today.

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  8. Bernie Napp

    Why should law-abiding mining companies pay for the actions of a cowboy? On the same basis, should all dairy farmers be penalised for the minority who breach their consents?

    Why should the public pay for something they see very little if any benefit from? Your argument amounts to anti self regulation, whereby the industry is not responsible for what it does. Farmers just like miners should foster a climate of responsibility within their industries and the only way to ensure this happens is if there’s substantial financial penalties that all polluting industries pay when their self regulatory systems fail. They have and continue to fail now because in the most part there’s no proper industry driven mechanism to ensure self regulation occurs. So why should the public pay for your failures Bernie Napp?

    It is most unfair and unjust to use the example of the Tui mine to characterise mining in New Zealand today.

    Your claims that people can appeal to the consent process, which is often not publicly notified is disingenuous at best. You say that the Tui Mine was run by cowboys and there are laws these days that prevent the same thing happening. Rubbish! Companies can still go bust and legislation is not in place to ensure they’re accountable for environmental responsibilities. An endowment fund… don’t make me laugh! If you think they can be held to account, you have very little knowledge of how globalisation and the business world works.

    There’s also very little difference today to the waste byproduct from gold mining that is simply dumped (managed in Straterra speak) into the environment to leach into the ground and contaminate waterways. The industry is still run by cowboys who continue to place profits ahead of the environment. Likewise, your claim that continuing an environmentally destructive mining practice while there’s gold sitting around gathering dust in vaults is indicative of the greed motive that’s destroying the earth.

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  9. Response to Jackal. Environment Waikato manages a fund created by Coeur d’Alene, the miner at Golden Cross, no longer in NZ, to manage any contingencies, so the trust fund model does work. On the nature of the business world, I suggest you are being overly negative. Using your logic, you would have to conclude on reading the newspapers that NZ is a nation of criminals. Patently, that is not the case, otherwise our society would not function at all.

    I wasn’t talking about self-regulation. I was talking about the laws of the land. It is true there are industries in NZ who have a mature self-regulation capability, and it is also true the mining industry does not have that ability at present. That is a subject for debate, and I am interested in your views.

    On the question of individual v. collective responsibility, the cost to society of road accidents caused by individuals is largely borne by society. Obviously, there is a balance to be struck in each case, and the line would be drawn differently in each case. Who should pay the costs to NZ of the Pike River Coal disaster? Other mining companies? If that were the case, no mining company would invest in NZ with that level of sovereign risk. Would that be a desirable outcome for society, or not? Let’s debate that with all the facts in front of us.

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  10. If you think they can be held to account, you have very little knowledge of how globalisation and the business world works.

    Jackal – I think Bernie does probably know quite a bit about both mining and globalisation but, given that he is a professional flack for the industry, his opinions do have to be taken with a grain of salt.

    Just sayin…

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  11. Bernie is right about one thing – the cyanide is easily managed. Unlike mercury, arsenic, lead, cadmium and a load of other nasty elements, cyanide is a compound, and breaks down under ultraviolet light to safe materials. In fact, the cyanide anion is just two atoms – one each of carbon and nitrogen.

    The same argument although over much longer time scales applies to the waste from nuclear power versus coal fired power stations. The nuclear waste decays with various time scales. The mercury and other toxic materials in coal ash is toxic forever. About the only dangerous material found in coal ash that isn’t toxic forever is trace radioactive materials.

    It also needs to be remembered that the toxic elements found in coal ash and gold mine tailings weren’t created by the mining process. Those elements were in the ground before the mining started and will continue to exist – somewhere – long after the mine is gone and the miners are all dead. The important thing is to manage those elements properly during the mining and afterwards – and that is where the trouble often arises.

    Trevor.

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  12. If you want to STOP the mining for gold you have to make it worth what it is actually worth, which would be the jewelry industry, non-corroding contacts and a host of extremely marginal uses. One possible big one is a new form of photovoltaic cell.

    http://www.plosone.org/article/info:doi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0037806

    However – most of the current value placed on Gold is economic in nature, it is regarded as a safe haven because the monetary system is not as reliable as it should be.

    If you want to stop that, the simple answer is to make our money redeemable as work done (here in NZ), backed by KwH of electricity supplied from our renewable energy system. Force that in and the banks out. The redeemable currency (we’d have the only one on the planet if I am not mistaken) would point up the fallacies on which the current economic system is based…

    The reliability of the Gold as a store of value would not be so necessary, the Gold itself is (apart from some niche products) of little use, the mines would become uneconomic as the price (in NZ $) drops.

    … I will continue to say this. The problem with our MONETARY system affects every aspect of our ENVIRONMENT.

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  13. Good to hear the debate, I would add that Golden Cross was abandoned because the talings dump was built on unstable land, so lets just hope it doesn’t move too much! If you want to
    know more about modern miners check out Newmont who are very active in Waihi and Notthland and wanting to mine under Schedule 4 on the Coromandel – they are currently the cause of a state of emergency in Cajamarca Province in Peru. The military have shot 5 protestors dead so far, great work Newmont forcing another huge mine on people who don’t want to be polluted. We are in court over the Martha hole expansion in Waihi from July 30′ residents NOT happy!

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