In recent years, New Zealand has pursued a policy of encouraging mineral and coal mining, and oil and gas extraction, both on land and offshore in the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). As part of a package of measures, the government this year started a review of the Crown Minerals Act with a view to streamlining permitting processes while ensuring there are adequate safeguards for health, safety and the environment. It has also introduced a Bill to establish an environmental impact assessment process, to be administered by EPA, for project proposals in the EEZ.
Public concerns have been raised about several high profile petroleum and mineral activities. The search for offshore oil and gas reserves in the Bay of Plenty has seen a strong response from local iwi and environmental groups, concerned about the potential effects of oil spills on coastal ecosystems and cultural values. There is a vigorous campaign by conservationists against a proposal to extract coal from the Denniston Plateau in Westland, fearful of the likely impacts on local biodiversity. Proposals for fracking have generated community protests in several parts of the country. And after early proposals for development in the 1980s, there are new proposals to mine Southland lignite, to produce brickettes or in the longer term a diesel substitute, which have caused concern among groups wanting to see the use of fossil fuels decline, not increase. Others are concerned about the social, economic and health impacts of these proposals.
In view of the changes underway in government administration and procedures relating to minerals resources, together with the growing sense of public concern over various proposals, the aim of this year's NZAIA conference is to look at the structures, processes, and the base of available information for managing ecological, social, economic, cultural and health impacts of increased levels of mining and oil and gas production and to ask how effective they are. This review of assessment approaches provides a good opportunity to reflect on the vexed issue of how the sometimes competing interests of local, regional and national communities are treated in the decision-making process.
As with previous NZAIA conferences, we will invite a variety of speakers from industry, local and central government, iwi, interest groups, and the Universities, to discuss current and possible future approaches to the assessment of the impacts of mining and oil and gas production on environmental systems and the social, economic, cultural and environmental wellbeing of people and communities. The focus will be on how we assess impacts of all types in a way that recognises the integrated nature of human and natural systems. The scope of the conference includes policies and plans, as well as projects, which introduces themes such as strategic environmental assessment and cumulative effects assessment, along with national, regional and local government perspectives.
The conference will be of interest to anyone involved in the minerals sector, as well as those involved in relevant decision processes, and environmental planning and management at the local and regional level (including policy planners and consents officers in local and regional councils), iwi, environmental and public health staff, environmental consultants, academics, and local community groups.