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CLIMATE-SMART MINERALS EXTRACTION

May 1, 2019, Washington: ‘The World Bank supports a low-carbon transition where mining is climate-smart and value chains are sustainable and green. Developing countries can play a leading role in this transition: developing strategic minerals in a way that respects communities, ecosystems and the environment. Countries with strategic minerals have a real opportunity to benefit from the global shift to clean energy’. Riccardo Puliti, Senior Director and Head of the Energy and Extractives Global Practice at the World Bank. On the launch by the World Bank of a USD 50 million facility to fund climate-smart mineral extraction projects.

In June 2017 the World Bank published a report on ‘The Growing Role of Minerals and Metals for a Low Carbon Future’. The minerals and metals identified as being strategic in this context were aluminium (bauxite), cobalt, copper, iron ore, lead, lithium, nickel, manganese, the platinum group of metals, rare earth metals, silver, steel, titanium and zinc. The question for New Zealand when thinking about this report is not whether it has the minerals. Because it does. And many of them are located offshore. On the seabed or in and around our sea mounts.

The question for New Zealand is not so much the resources. It is about whether it wishes to seize the opportunity to benefit from the global drive towards clean energy. It is about whether it wishes to join with other countries in the development of the ocean extractive technologies, governance, knowledge and strategies developing in the context of the global shift towards low-carbon futures. And many if not all of our Pacific Island neighbours and other countries in the region are facing similar questions.   

To help frame up these questions we have invited a guest blog from Dr Neil Loftus, Chairman of CASS Offshore Minerals Limited. In responding, Neil develops on the themes in our earlier blogs on ‘The Resource Challenges of Moving to Net Carbon Zero’ and ‘New Zealand Oceans’ Economy in Decline’. Neil writes:

Worldwide, countries are taking steps to decarbonize their economies by using wind, solar and battery technologies, with an end goal of reducing carbon-emitting fossil fuels from the energy mix. In order for the transition to renewables to be meaningful and to achieve significant reductions in the Earth’s carbon footprint, mining will have to better mitigate its own environmental and social impacts. This global transition also has a trade-off: to cut emissions more minerals are needed to build renewable energy infrastructure. Advocates for renewable energy technology understand these impacts and between environmental opponents and capital extremists there is a need to find a common ground. CASS Offshore Minerals Limited is committed to working with others to that end.

A regulatory framework can help governments meet their targets and manage the impacts of the next wave of mineral demand. Carbon Zero Minerals Limited (a division of CASS Offshore) is ready to meet the requirements of the transition to a low-emissions Aotearoa New Zealand. The transition has already begun and for some this will entail considerable financial losses with stranded, unproductive oil and gas assets being forced out of the green economy and ultimately written off.

We look to achieve our ambitions by finding the common ground and by developing the New Zealand offshore minerals estate in an environmentally conscionable way. This includes new concepts in submersible (invisible), remotely operated, plume free, noise supressed dredging technology. Fossil-fuel free energy sources (Hydrogen) for our clean plant and the emission free production of metal products for sale and job creation. Including: Vanadium and Niobium for batteries, and Iron and Titanium for wind turbines.

CASS Offshore and Carbon Zero Minerals Limited is an early adopter of Adaptive Management policy and looks to merge enterprise and community in the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy with the acceptance that more minerals will be required to achieve this goal (Climate Smart Mining). We are taking a cautious approach and seeking to avoid, remedy or mitigate adverse effects. We aim to start small, so that the effects on the environment can be monitored and will employ flexible decision making, adjusted in the face of uncertainties as outcomes become better understood. In time, we will deliver at scale and with zero emissions!

We cannot do this on our own but we can focus on leadership, both at home and internationally, guiding the way to a productive, sustainable and climate-resilient economy to benefit our just and inclusive society.

Dr Neil Loftus 

Chairman / https://czm.nz  CASS Offshore & Carbon Zero Minerals Limited 7A Rosedale Office Park, 331 Rosedale Rd, Auckland 0632. ‘We are Carbon Zero’.

NOTE: The New Zealand Oceans Foundation (www.oceansnz.com) has been established to promote nation-wide debate and discussion on the economic and environmental issues connected with the prudent use of our ocean resources. It welcomes guest blogs and commentary from all those who share its vision of stewardship and responsible development of the resources in New Zealand’s maritime estate.

Part of this guest blog is based on a World Bank initiative called ‘Climate Smart Mining’ (https://youtu.be/XkTCD4mQtAo). This short 2:56 minute video highlights the 4 key requirements that the World Bank believes must be met by countries pursuing climate smart mining. These are: good governance; knowledge; capacity; and strategy. The question for New Zealand is whether we are willing and able to work with others to build these requirements as a necessary accompaniment to the impending move towards climate smart mining in the Pacific region as a prerequisite of the global shift towards clean energy.

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NEW ZEALAND’S OCEAN ECONOMY IN DECLINE

A significant growth in shipping

We have been thinking…..

What contribution does the ocean economy make to New Zealand’s overall economy? On 27 June, Statistics New Zealand released a set of tables that give what is undoubtedly the best currently available official estimate. You can find the tables here: https://www.stats.govt.nz/information-releases/environmental-economic-accounts-2019-tables.

Adding up the totals from shipping, fisheries and aquaculture, offshore oil and gas, marine tourism and recreation, marine services and marine manufacturing and construction, the contribution of the ocean economy to the national economy, based on Stats NZ figures, appears to have dropped to as low as 1.4%. This is for the March year, 2017, which is the latest available.

Marine Services – a contributor

In 2010, the oceans contribution was 2.2%. By 2013 it had declined to 1.8% and for the last two years it has been sitting at around 1.4%. Despite growth in the fisheries and aquaculture industries, the overall ocean economy is stagnating. In fact, it is not just stagnating. It is in decline.

Why? The decline is partly the result of a steady fall in oil and gas production, offset only in part by a significant growth in shipping activity and some relatively modest growth in fisheries and aquaculture and in marine tourism and recreation.

It will surprise some observers that shipping is now the largest contributor to the ocean economy, at 37% of the total. Fisheries and aquaculture contribute 29% and offshore minerals (oil and gas) 27%.

There may be some problems in the data collection and methodology used by Stats NZ that need investigating. For example, we note that the figures for government and defence are significantly understated, as are the figures for marine tourism and recreation. Even so, the oceans picture is disappointing. Why?

Because New Zealand’s offshore estate is truly massive. Based on size alone, and what we know of the existence of ocean-based resources that will be in increasing demand as we transition to a low emissions economy, one might expect that it should be contributing many times the current paltry figure of 1.4% to the overall national economy.

The figures reported by Stats NZ challenge New Zealand policy makers and strategists concerned with the development of the New Zealand economy, and of New Zealand’s oceans, to do better. This is not just a matter for industry. Government must play its part.

The Blue Economy research project being led by Auckland University’s Associate Professor Nick Lewis as part of the Sustainable Seas National Science Challenge has the potential to provide the oceans reset that appears to be badly needed. We have one of the largest ocean estates in the world. We have the resources. We just need the drive and imagination to find a way to reposition our oceans to become a much more significant contributor to our economy, and to our environmental wellbeing as a country.

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Let’s not let our plastic go to waste

Courtesy of

We have been thinking……. about plastic in a low carbon, low waste society.

On 1 July Hon Shane Jones and Hon Eugenie Sage announced that $40 million from the $3 billion Provincial Growth Fund would be allocated to projects that are geared to converting waste to other high value products. Recyclable plastic waste is one such waste product, and the technology is now emerging at industrial scale to convert a wide range of different types of plastic to liquid hydrocarbons. These can in turn be used to substitute for existing fossil fuels or converted to a range of ‘new’ plastic products.

The New Zealand Oceans Foundation welcomes this initiative. We do so because it is widely recognised that the best way to deal with the alarming accumulation of plastic waste in the oceans is to stop it getting there in the first place. Keeping plastic waste out of our tips and converting it rather than burning, burying or shipping it offshore is the only responsible way to go.

Until recently however the chemical processes used to treat plastic waste have been very largely a disappointing and expensive failure.

The emergence of a new technology called Cat-HTR may hold the potential to revolutionise the plastic waste conversion picture. A full scale industrial plant that will demonstrate this approach is planned in the UK but is yet to be built. The New Zealand Oceans Foundation has no commercial ties and we are not endorsing this technology, but we are aware that it is out there, and we think that it looks promising.

Two points to note. First, this technology results in the production of petrochemical feedstocks. This may appear to be at odds to the drive towards a low emissions economy. The broader point is that a low emissions economy will still have room, possibly for many years to come, for a range of plastics and petrochemicals. Arguably, petrochemical feedstocks produced through the conversion of plastic waste are a better transitional solution than the burning of pure fossil fuels, though no doubt there will be room for both fuel types since we almost certainly don’t produce enough plastic waste to completely displace traditional oil and gas sources.

Interested readers will find a link to this technology at http://www.muratechnology.com/technology/.

Second, there is a scale issue. The technology pointed to above is scaled to the need to source a minimum of 20,000 tonnes of plastic waste per year. This may be suitable for many of New Zealand’s larger regional councils, but it is likely to be too large for many of New Zealand’s smaller Pacific Island neighbours. There is a need therefore to develop a scaled down version of the MURA technology.

Ideally, a plant that is the size of a standard shipping container and runs off a solar power plant would be ideal.

Some entrepreneurial university engineering department might think of joint venturing with MURA or similar industry partner to develop a containerised version of their plastic waste conversion technology. This would have significant interest around the Pacific, and for New Zealand’s smaller council waste operations as well.

The Minister’s Press Release can be read here: https://www.beehive.govt.nz/release/major-pgf-investment-help-address-nz%E2%80%99s-plastics-challenges

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The resource challenges of moving to net carbon zero

†

We have been thinking………..

New Zealand stands to benefit from the natural resource challenges demanded by a worldwide move towards green technologies. New Zealand has significant reserves of cobalt, one of the metals that will be most in demand. Our cobalt reserves are deep offshore. The worldwide demand for cobalt is set to increase by as much as 350% as car fleets go electric. This will drive up the world price of cobalt and make our cobalt reserves an extraordinarily valuable and potentially economic part of our maritime estate.

The demand for other metals and rare earths is also set to increase as a result of the green revolution: these include lithium, copper, silicon, indium, tallurium, gallium, neodymium and dysprosium.

In a 5 June report, UK scientists have identified the natural resource challenges involved in the decision to move to net carbon zero by 2050. The UK Committee on Climate Change has argued that net zero carbon is ‘necessary, feasible and cost effective’. UK scientists behind the 5 June report agree, but they point out that the move to net zero carbon has ‘huge implications for natural resources – not only to produce green technologies like electric cars – but to keep them charged’.

Extracting the ores and refining them to obtain the necessary purities will also have the effect of driving energy demand ‘sharply upwards’ in those countries which are positioned to benefit most from extracting and processing the resources involved in going green.

New Zealand could be one of those countries best positioned to benefit. It has extensive offshore deposits of manganese nodules. These nodules are rich in metals such as cobalt, nickel and copper. New Zealand also has significant numbers of underwater volcanoes and seamounts. Crusts containing cobalt and other valuable metals are found on these seamounts: indeed, the (New Zealand) Environment Foundation, based in Auckland,  notes that ‘some of the most extensive deposits of cobalt crusts in the world are found in the Pacific Ocean’.

In their report, the UK scientists support the drive towards net zero carbon but note that ‘there is a raw material cost to going green…new research and investment is urgently needed to evaluate how (best) to obtain these resources’.

The New Zealand Oceans Foundation agrees that research and investment in deepening our knowledge of ocean-based resources will be needed as a consequence of the Green revolution. We would have needed to do this anyway. It is said that we know more about the surface of Mars than we do our own seabed. The Green revolution is now accelerating and driving that need.

Any decision to benefit from our cobalt resources is of course a long way off. Much scientific and investigative work remains to be done.  And we need to  ensure that extracting these resources can be achieved without causing unintended or irreversible environmental damage. But the challenge is there and it is an exciting one that is arising from accelerating moves to a green economy here as well as overseas.

We acknowledge the assistance of Cornel de Ronde of GNS in drawing our attention to the UK report. The full text can be found at https://www.nhm.ac.uk/press-office/press-releases/leading-scientists-set-out-resource-challenge-of-meeting-net-zer.html.

Additional background material by the Environment Foundation on the availability of minerals in New Zealand is at http://www.environmentguide.org.nz/activities/minerals/.

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NEW OIL AND GAS EXPLORATION PROGRAMME BY NZ FIRM OMV


How should we think about the 10 June announcement of new oil and gas exploration programmes off the Taranaki and Otago coasts? Is this good or bad news? The New Zealand Oceans Foundation thinks that this is good news. Here is why.

New Zealand is in transition. To reduce greenhouse gasses to net carbon zero by 2050, Government and its science and industry partners are leading the necessary transition from a fossil fuel to a renewables economy. During this transition period, as we begin to replace New Zealand’s light transport fleet with electric cars, commit to large scale afforestation, reprice carbon and move to 100% renewable sources of energy from solar, wind, hydro and geothermal, we need to secure an ongoing supply of natural gas. This gas is required to fire the process heat needed by New Zealand’s large industrial consumers (milk powder, paper production, cement, steel, ammonia-urea, methanol and users) as well as by domestic consumers.

Most of this gas comes from the offshore fields of Maui and Pohokura, but these fields have a limited life.  We cannot wait for them to run out before we look for new sources of offshore gas. It takes several years, possibly up to ten, to turn a newly discovered offshore gas field into full production, if necessary economic, environmental and safety measures are to be developed and put in place, as they must be. If existing fields run out in the meantime, we can import natural gas as a stopgap, but shipping natural gas from other countries incurs additional transport costs and an additional carbon footprint, which is not what any responsible government would want to do. Besides it transfers economic activity, and part of our carbon footprint, to another jurisdiction and is not an example of good global leadership.

So it makes both good environmental and economic sense for the government to allow existing exploration permits to be exercised. This is not a loophole. When the government announced its intention to prohibit the issue of new exploration permits it also made it clear that the legal and contractual rights of existing permit holders to explore for oil and gas would be honoured. The government is not in the business of tearing up existing rights.

There is an additional reason why the new exploration programme is good news. OMV-NZ and Tamarind are bringing in the latest in international exploration technology to drill for gas. The COSL Prospector was built in 2014. It is massive. It has a gross tonnage of 34,526 tonnes and a draught of 17.5 metres. It can operate in water up to 1500 metres deep. It is semi-submersible and self-propelled, with a speed of 6-7 knots. It brings the most modern gas exploration technology to New Zealand’s oceans.

The Prospector will be operated initially by Tamarind off the Taranaki coast, and later in the year will be used by OMV-NZ to explore the Tawhiki structure off the Otago coast some 130 kms SE of Balcutha. This structure is in 1200 metres of water, so it is well within the capability of the Prospector (the Pohokura field off Taranaki, by contrast, is in only 70 metres of water). If commercial quantities of hydrocarbons are found then up to 5 appraisal wells will be drilled. If the economics work out then the government will be able to consider whether exploration should proceed to extraction. By that time we will be well down the track towards net zero carbon, so any decisions then can be taken on the basis of scientific and environmental knowledge developed during the intervening years.

While we transition to a green economy it makes sense to develop our scientific and technical knowledge around how best to preserve the ocean environment whilst also considering whether we wish to develop New Zealand’s offshore gas reserves further. We get the possibility of an additional natural gas resource to give our industries additional time within which to convert to renewable energy. And we get the possibility of shifting the balance of the land based economy more towards our oceans. As the New Zealand Oceans Foundation, we are in favour of that.

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Plastics in Our Oceans – are our efforts enough?

Today’s news reports about a plastic bag and sweet wrapper being found at the bottom of the Mariana Trench have got us thinking. We have all heard about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. According to some reports, this floating landfill between Hawaii and California is twice the size of Texas, or three times that of France. NOAA (the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) says its not like a landfill. It is more like a giant smog patch made up of microplastics suspended in the water column. Too small to gather up in a net or suck up with a vacuum cleaner.

In July 2017 we saw news reports about another such patch in the South Pacific, off the coasts of Chile and Peru. This one only 1.5 times the size of Texas. Oh good. But wait. According to a UNEP report way back in 2006, every square mile of ocean worldwide contains on average 46,000 pieces of plastic. Who counts this stuff?

According to the World Economic Forum, not normally known for its alarmism, by 2050 there will be more plastic in the oceans by weight, than fish.

This sounds to us like an environmental security problem if ever there was one. How are we going to get rid of the plastic? The standard answer is that you can’t. Not the vast bulk of it. Discarded fishing nets, plastic containers and car tires can be swept up, possibly. But not the smoglike microplastics. We can only try and stop microplastics getting there in the first place.

But is the standard answer good enough? Or should we be charging our scientists to think harder about how to filter out the microplastics? Fish and turtles and marine mammals can concentrate the stuff. In their intestines. Why can’t we imitate ocean-based life forms and ingest the microplastic by floating machinery? Paid for by the plastics industries that put the plastic there in the first place?

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We’ve been thinking…..

Climate change deal struck at Paris Summit

At the Paris Climate Change conference in 2015 New Zealand committed itself to a 30% reduction over 2005 levels in its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 2030. New Zealand ratified this commitment on 17 August 2016 and the Agreement became binding on all parties on 4 November 2016. More recently (early 2018) the New Zealand government announced its commitment to pass into law an even more ambitious programme of GHG reductions. Called the Zero Carbon Bill (ZCB), this law, when passed by parliament, will commit New Zealand to net zero GHG emissions by 2050.

Against this pending legislative background, the question is to what extent New Zealand’s oceans could assist in meeting these international and domestic obligations under any set of realistic scenarios?

Going further, and supposing government wanted to seize the environmental high ground, what would need to be the characteristics of any new oceanic carbon sink in order to progress from a net zero carbon economy to a net negative carbon economy? In effect, to promote both the oceans and the New Zealand ocean economy as a means of reducing GHG emissions below net zero by 2050 or sooner?

Assuming that pure and applied science can supply a practical set of answers to oceanic carbon sink issues, New Zealand could eventually position itself to sell carbon offsets on the international carbon offset market, thereby creating new economic opportunities based on our oceans.