Saturday, May 29, 2021

Bob Edlin: Rio Tinto deal with the Ardern govt includes Ngai Tahu

Rio Tinto strikes a deal with the Ardern govt on cleaning up its mess – and it brings Ngai Tahu into an array of commitments.

Should we really be cheering news of a giant global company picking up the tab for cleaning up its own mess? Surely that’s what it should be doing.

But hey, we are talking about Rio Tinto, a company widely criticised by environmental groups around the world and at least one national government for the environmental impacts of its mining activities. Or so we are told by Wikipedia.

And it has been a dab hand at persuading governments in this country to help power its aluminium smelter operations near Bluff at a modest cost.

But the PM, helped by some of her ministerial team., has urged the company to do something about its toxic waste and – hurrah – the company  has obliged.

The company has made a raft of commitments, including recognising Ngai Tahu (a least by the looks of things) as an organisation akin to a co-governor.

In fact, in the press statement from the Beehive Ngai Tahu is listed ahead of the central and local government bodies involved in the agreement.

The company will work with Ngāi Tahu, MfE and Environment Southland and government officials on some aspects of its operations and it will share soil contamination data with the tribe as well as with Environment Southland and MfE.

It will work closely with Ngāi Tahu, too, to ensure “the cultural significance of Tiwai Point” is taken into considerations.

In Wellington yesterday, the Government welcomed confirmation of Rio Tinto tackling its environmental responsibilities, including the removal of aluminium dross in Southland to its Tiwai site.

The company’s undertakings follow a face-to-face discussion in Wellington earlier this month between Jacinda Ardern and Jakob Stausholm, the Danish CEO of Rio Tinto Group since January this year.

We may suppose she helped ensure Ngai Tahu was given a chunk of the action.

Environment Minister David Parker was so chuffed about all this, apparently, his press statement was posted twice on the Beehive website.

An earlier meeting had involved three ministers – Parker, Grant Robertson and Megan Woods – and Aluminium Group Chief Executive Ivan Vella and the general manager of NZAS Stew Hamilton.

Govt welcomes Tiwai clean up undertakings

The Government has welcomed confirmation of waste remediation actions from Tiwai smelter owner Rio Tinto, including the removal of aluminium dross in Southland to the Tiwai site,

This involves taking on the $4 million in funding commitments of the Government, councils and landowners in relation to the dross stored in the former paper mill in Mataura

In a letter to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson, Energy Minister Megan Woods and Environment Minister David Parker, Rio Tinto Chief Executive Jakob Stausholm said the company would make right its environmental performance at New Zealand Aluminium Smelters (NZAS).

The new undertakings go beyond the removal of the dross, and are to:

  • Relocate the Taha Ouvea from all other Invercargill locations as the space at Tiwai allows. Once the Mataura material has been moved we will begin the relocation of material from other buildings in Invercargill, with an initial 2000 tonnes expected in the second half of 2021. Further relocation will occur when material from Tiwai has been processed.
  • Fund the shortfall in processing costs for Taha Ouvea. It is estimated that there is a current funding shortfall of $2 million to enable the full 23,000 tonnes of material to be processed.
  • Take full funding responsibility for the Taha Ouvea and in doing so, assume the current funding commitments of NZAS, The Ministry for the Environment, Invercargill City Council, Environment Southland, Gore District Council and building owners ($4 million).
  • Provide an undertaking to remove and process the buried Haysom’s dross on site. This dross was relocated from Bluff approximately 20 years ago and has a government indemnity in place.
  • Work with Ngāi Tahu, MfE and Environment Southland and government officials to identify other processing options for Ouvea and Spent Cathode Linings (SCL).
  • Implement, by Q4 this year, new technology that enables the elimination of washing shells of reduction cells with water. This will significantly reduce cyanide emissions to the coastal marine environment. NZAS’ emissions are already better than consent levels, and the change will take the emissions to very low, and certainly world class levels.
  • Share soil contamination data, as part of our closure study process, in Q3 with Ngāi Tahu, Environment Southland and MfE.

They add to earlier undertakings:

  • To relocate the Mataura Ouvea to Tiwai point. As of 17 May, 3000 tonnes of material remain stored at Mataura. Progress will continue over the next few weeks until approximately 1500 tonne remain. We will then await the arrival of the remaining shipping containers (coming from China) in mid-June to complete the removal. Shipping container availability has been very tight globally.
  • To remove all SCL from the Tiwai peninsula at closure.
  • To share 20 years of ground water monitoring results from the SCL pad and landfill – this is now completed.
  • To share the sampling plan for soil contamination on site – this is now completed.
  • To work with Environment Southland and Ngāi Tahu to develop further sampling plan requirements and assess options to address the outcomes of the sampling.
  • To commit to collaborating with Environment Southland officials allowing them access to site and to working closely with Ngāi Tahu to ensure our standards reflect the cultural significance of Tiwai Point.

Bob Edlin is a veteran journalist and editor for the Point of Order blog HERE.


A Place In Paradise said...

It is smelter managements problem, always has been and always will be.

The government needs to stand firm and use a big stick if necessary to ensure that all the smelters waste is cleaned up and removed. It has nothing to do with anyone else.

Sounds as if they are going to load it into containers and ship it out, wonder how many will get lost at sea in transit.

DeeM said...

I didn't realise Ngai Tahu were experts in disposing of aluminium waste...who knew!
Oh that's right, anything to do with the environment must have Maori involvement even if they have nothing of value to say. I suppose they'll bless the waste as it gets removed.
Next they'll be advising NZ Steel on how best to run their Glenbrook plant.