There is a revival of interest in mining sands off the coast of Westland by Trans-Tasman Resources. PETER OWENS explains.
For over 150 years companies have been dredging for gold on the beaches of the West Coast of the South Island. As recently as the 1980s there was a commercial dredging operation at Gillespie’s Beach in South Westland.
Late last year, listed company Trans-Tasman Resources (TTR) applied to New Zealand Petroleum and Minerals for a 4436 square kilometre prospecting permit offshore along the West Coast of the South Island. The permit, extending from Ross in the south to north of Karamea, is located from one kilometre offshore out to the 12 nautical mile territorial limit.
TTR, a New Zealand company, was set up in 2007 to explore and develop the North Island’s offshore iron sand deposits. The company is headquartered in Wellington and funded by local and international investment. Since its inception, TTR has spent more than $65 million on defining the resource potential, mine engineering and process design, ore marketing, environmental assessment of the proposed mining areas and possible impacts of the mining, processing and shipping operations associated with the resource extraction and iron sands export operations in the South Taranaki Bight.
TTR, with its proprietary offshore drilling technology, experienced offshore exploration, geological, engineering and permitting expertise developed over the last seven years, says it is uniquely placed to assess the potential of heavy and precious metal marine mining opportunities.
The application covers an area where previous exploration (particularly by Rio Tinto) has identified a number of seafloor deposits of heavy mineral sands and precious metals. TTR’s exploration activities will focus on developing offshore mineable resources of iron rich mineral sands known to host ilmenite, zircon, garnet and gold. Exploration will be concentrated on finding commercially viable deposits of ilmenite, for which there is a strong international demand.
These Westland sands seafloor heavy and precious mineral deposits, in around 20 to 80 metres of water, will be amenable to conventional seafloor mining technology currently being developed by TTR. It is worth noting that while similar sands in South and West Australia yielded only four to five percent heavy metals, the Westland offshore sands yield up to 14 percent.
NZ Petroleum and Mineral has not yet granted the application, but TTR is confident that it will. When it is granted, TTR says it will utilise its current proprietary seafloor drilling technology, exploration, geological, engineering and permitting expertise, developed on its South Taranaki Bight iron sands project, to assess the potential of the Westland sands’ targets and resources.