Dispute between OceanaGold and anti-mine activists over planned Coromandal mine

"There will be no new mines on conservation land" - you may remember that promise by the Labour-led coalition Government back in 2017, which delighted anti-mine activists. 

But fast-track five years and a new mine in the Coromandel - near the long-standing Martha Mine at Waihi - is planned. Resource consent will be applied for mid-year and the owners promise it will tick all the green boxes.

But critics remain unimpressed.

"We don’t need mining. We could recycle cell phones and computers. There’s a New Zealand company called Mint Technology, we could get gold from that. We don’t need to dig up the land under the coromandel forest park," Ours Not Mines Founder Morgan Donoghue says.

But OceanaGold says there is a way to mine responsibly while reaping the economic benefits.

"I think there are ways we can mine in a responsible way that allows us to mine out Wharekirauponga and yet still have those economic benefits for the local communities we work in," OceanaGold Sustainability Manager Kerry Watson says.

It’s a minefield over a gold mine.

"There’s a genuine desire to do things properly and whether that is driven because there’s a lot more scrutiny or if it’s just because of the people drawn to mining itself," Watson says.

"They have a terrible track record - you look at the Philippines and you will see that there is pollution of the water. You can’t even do rice paddies anymore, you can’t fish in that water, they brought police in to brutalise the people against it and it’s exactly the same company," Donoghue says.

OceanaGold told Newshub they were aware of those allegations against the Didipio Mine in the Philippines and take them "seriously". 

"We work directly with the community and local stakeholders in the Philippines to resolve any questions or concerns they may have," OceanaGold said.

At the heart of the latest fight is this public conservation land in the Coromandel, just north of Waihi. 

Oceanagold wants resource consent to mine it underground. This means digging a tunnel in an area between Waihi and Whangamata, in the hope of striking gold.

"We are looking at a resource of up to a million ounces," Watson says.

And with gold retailing at around $2600 an ounce, that's $2.6 billion and while costs would have to come out it’s still a goldmine. 

But it’s the cost to the environment that enrages opponents who say native plants and animals - including the endangered Archey’s Frog - will be hugely impacted and insist the waters will be polluted.

"I have swum in those watering holes, I’ve swum in the sea for my entire life, they have the ability to take that away for all New Zealanders," Donoghue says.

But the miners argue a water treatment plant onsite will treat any contaminated water, with metals and sediments taken out.

"And then it goes into our compliance ponds, we are monitoring it the whole way through the process and before it’s discharged we are making sure it meets our discharge requirements," Watson says.

Watson is the company’s environmental manager and says the only visible signs above the ground of the mining will be four five-metre high vents which will be dropped in by helicopter and once removed, the ground will be restored and replanted

He insists miners have gone green to find gold.

"One of the things we are looking to do is how we can improve things where we mine," Watson says. "That’s evident if we look at Waihi - we have done a lot of repair and planting along all the river banks in Waihi since the operation has been going, not because it’s required but because it’s something that we wanted to do."

Resource consent will be applied for mid-year and if it’s granted mining will be extended here until about 2037. 

Gold was first found in this area back in 1878. But the industry is still a big earner for New Zealand, worth more than $500 million per year. And workers are paid well - according to one industry group, the average yearly wage is more than 100k.

Oceanagold says about 300 jobs will be created, but anti-mining activists argue that most of those won’t go to locals. 

But locals were divided when asked if mining was worth it.

"I say yes. I have lived here for 15 years and the town has grown and it employs a lot of people and donates to schools and local community trust boards so I’m a yes," one resident said

"No I don’t support mining and a lot of that comes back to the environment, that Papatūānuku, our land, if we aren’t looking after our land, how are we going to look after us. We need the land to survive," another said.

Oceanagold says it’s important to note, that a $50 million bond’s been paid - just in case they walk away and don’t clean up behind them.

It should also be noted, the company is Australian. And that begs a question:

What right does Australia have to come and mine our gold?

"Oceanagold has a really proud history in New Zealand. It’s been mining at Mcraes, Reefton and Waihi for more than 30 years. It has 1000 employees," Watsons says. "I think for Oceanagold it has very close ties and thinks of its operations as being key to its ongoing performance."

"An Australian/Canadian consortium that would take all the profits overseas and leave us with nothing, seems like the worst thing any Australian has done to us," Donoghue says.

So is it a heart of gold or just a golden opportunity.