In September 2010 Australian based mining company Bathurst Resources began the long application process involved in gaining resource consents relating to the Escarpment Mine Project (EMP), Denniston Plateau and Fairdown. On the 23rd of May 2013 consent was hastily granted by conservation minister Nick Smith. (1) The decision was rushed through by the Department of Conservation (DOC) in order to avoid public consultation. Three years ago the National government conceded to pressure from the public as 40,000 protesters marched down Queen Street in Auckland outraged by the Crown Minerals Act review and the proposal to open high-value conservation land to coal mining. They promised public consultation for significant mining proposals on conservation land, and that legislation came into force on Friday the 24th of May 2013 (1)(2) but unfortunately by this time DOC had already given its consent. Throughout the entire three year process opposition leader Royal Forest & Bird Protection Society have battled against Bathurst Resources in environment court but unfortunately in August 2013 the environment court ruled in favour of Bathurst Resources and the mine is now set to go ahead. (3)
What is an opencast coal mine?
Opencast mining is a surface mining technique of extracting rocks or minerals from the earth by their removal from an open pit or borrow such as the mine pictured below. Open-pit mines are dug on benches, which describe vertical levels of the hole. These benches are usually on four meter to sixty meter intervals, depending on the size of the machinery that is being used. The waste caused by extracting and processing of resources such as coal is massive. It involves the materials that must be removed in order to get to the resource such as top soil and waste rock. Most of these wastes are chemically inactive and therefore not likely to pose a pollutant threat to the environment however they can smother river beds and may collapse if stored in overly large quantities. Surface vegetation is eliminated as a first step in the mining process and wildlife is displaced. The use of heavy machinery creates roads which leads to soil compaction and encourages soil erosion. Dust from coal haul roads, topsoil stockpiles, and coal extraction also causes significant degradation to air quality. One study found that 7.8 tonnes of dust were generated a day due to topsoil removal and the extraction of coal, while wind erosion added a further 1.6 t of dust per day to this figure. (4) Apart from destroying local biodiversity, the erosion associated with this practice can lead to the transport of sediment to surface waters. Mining pits also collect water from rainfall and surface runoff, which then becomes heavily sedimented. The chemical composition of the water often changes due to higher concentrations of sulphur, soluble salts and/or contact with oxidised pyretic materials, which can lead to increased acidity. The water is typically pumped...