Explore Northland Minerals Group

What are the new opportunities for Northland?

Northland has a geological history spanning more than 250 million years of sedimentation, tectonism and volcanism that has endowed it with a wide variety of mineral deposits.

Recent mineral resource assessments and prospectivity studies have highlighted the unrealised mineral potential and encouraged central and local Governments to fund three new initiatives in 2011 to assist mineral exploration:

  • A digital compilation of exploration and research data.
  • New airborne geophysical surveys.
  • A geological interpretation of the airborne geophysical survey data.

How did we get to where we are today?

An initial mineral resource assessment and an economic study (both undertaken in 2007) highlighted Northland’s mineral potential and the economic benefits of increased mineral production to Northland. 

The next step was to investigate the feasibility of an airborne geophysical survey as a means of further developing Northland’s prospectivity to attract international mineral exploration investment. This aligned with the Government’s research and investigation programme of New Zealand’s on-shore mineral resources and prospectivity. 

As a result the then Ministry of Economic Development, Northland Regional Council, and Far North District Council commissioned and funded on behalf of the Explore Northland Minerals group an airborne geophysical survey of Northland by UTS Aeroquest, and a geological interpretation of the resulting magnetic and radiometric data by GNS Science.

Who has been involved in the Explore Northland Minerals group over the past 5 years?

All Northland regional and district Councils; Enterprise Northland (the regional economic development agency, now Northland Inc); Ministry of Economic Development (now Ministry of Business, Innovation & Employment I Economic Development I New Zealand Petroleum & Minerals); representatives of Australasian and international mineral prospecting and extraction companies and associations; GNS Science; independent geologists; iwi representatives; Department of Conservation.

Spokesman for the group is Wayne Brown, Mayor, Far North District.

What are the other uses of this new data in addition to mineral exploration?

The data has wide applications in fields such as:

  • geological mapping (e.g., assessing new sources of aggregate resources);
  • geothermal exploration (e.g., advancing energy generation development activity);
  • soil mapping for forestry, agriculture and horticulture (e.g., identifying suitable areas for (re-development);
  • identification of potential water-bearing structures (e.g., identifying irrigation sources for horticulture);
  • geological hazard assessment (e.g., identifies unstable features such as faults for infrastructure planning); and
  • engineering and construction investigations (e.g., helps plan routes for new roading infrastructure).

In addition to magnetic and radiometric data, the survey now also provides a digital elevation model that is available for application by the various industry sectors.

How can I get hold of the new data?

A comprehensive package of digital data ‘Northland 2012 Data Pack’ from the airborne geophysical survey is now available to order free via the Ministry of Business, Innovation & Employment I Economic Development I New Zealand Petroleum & MineralsOnline Exploration Database.

Please note: you must register for the database in order to download/order data.

New Zealand Petroleum & Minerals contracted GNS Science (a Crown Research Institute and New Zealand’s leading provider of Earth, geoscience and isotope research and consultancy services) to interpret the data to identify geological and structural elements in the survey area. The ‘Northland 2012 Data Pack’, contains data to accompany GNS’s interpretation, including an ESRI geo-database, tiff images, GIS shape files and ESRI grids. In addition an ESRI ArcMap project is provided for viewing all the data.

What does the current mineral extraction industry in Northland look like?

Northland has a diverse history of mining and a significant ongoing mining industry presence. During 2009 the region produced 3.6 million tonnes of minerals with a value of $35.1 million (excluding the value of cement).

Mineral production in Northland is currently dominated by:

  • Limestone for the Golden Bay Cement plant at Portland which produces more than half of the cement used in New Zealand and also exports cement;
  • High quality china clay, produced at Matauri Bay, for export;
  • Aggregate, being produced at more than fifty quarries throughout Northland;
  • Limestone, used mainly as fertiliser in farming, from more than twenty quarries; and
  • Sand, both from onshore and offshore resources, for building and industrial use.

During the 1960s and 1970s, exploration for metallic minerals was carried out by a number of companies, for copper, mercury, antimony, manganese, and aluminium (bauxite). In the 1980s, recognition of epithermal style mercury-antimony-arsenic-silver mineralisation and hydrothermal alteration in eastern Northland led to a surge of precious metal exploration, although little drilling was carried out. Exploration declined, and over the last twenty years has been restricted to Puhipuhi and Kaeo.

What are the benefits of undertaking airborne magnetic surveying?

Access to geophysical data reduces the risks associated with mineral exploration by helping to better identify potential mineral-bearing structures. Ground exploration and disturbance is minimised by making exploration more focussed and cost effective. 

What are Airborne Magnetic Surveys?

An airborne magnetic survey records changes in the Earth’s magnetic field caused by different rock types. It is particularly sensitive to differences in the content of magnetic minerals such as iron-rich magnetite. Sedimentary rocks (greywacke and limestone) in Northland have lower magnetite content, while volcanic rocks (e.g., andesite and basalt) generally have much higher magnetite content. Airborne magnetic surveys distinguish between non-magnetic rocks such as greywacke and volcanic rocks such as andesite and basalt. The data generated enables the depth and extent of various layers of rock, often hidden by layers above and only exposed in a few sites or encountered in bores, to be more accurately recorded, reducing the uncertainty involved in geological mapping.

The Northland survey consisted of some 80,710 kilometres of airborne magnetic data having surveyed 13,590 km2. Magnetic features (termed anomalies, as they are distortions of the natural field) can be followed up with site-specific ground geophysical and geochemical surveys at low cost. Obtaining subsurface information by drilling is expensive so when geophysical data is added to geological mapping and any other available sources of subsurface information, drilling can be much more effectively targeted, reducing cost.

What are Radiometric Surveys?

Radiometric data are measured with a gamma-ray scintillation spectrometer which detects gamma rays emitted naturally by radioactive elements. Gamma rays are tiny bursts of very high frequency, high energy electromagnetic waves that are spontaneously emitted by the nuclei of some isotopes of some elements. They have much shorter wavelengths than most other electromagnetic rays and emanate from depths less than ~35 centimetres. The technique therefore has the ability to map soil and exposed bedrock.

All rocks, and materials derived from the rocks, are radioactive, containing detectable amounts of a variety of radioactive elements. Potassium (K), thorium (Th), and uranium (U) are the three most abundant, naturally occurring radioactive elements. Potassium is a major constituent of most rocks and is associated with many mineral deposits.

The potassium data shows positive anomalies associated with some clastic sediments and recent coastal sands, whereas contrasting radiometric responses in the thorium data distinguish the main units of the Northland Allochthon. Potassium enrichment accompanies some hydrothermal alteration and therefore a detailed interpretation of the potassium data may help identify new exploration targets.

However, there are limitations in the use of radiometrics in Northland for mineral exploration, because of the dense vegetation and the use of potassium fertiliser on pasture land. Nevertheless, there are applications in soil mapping (and agriculture, horticulture and forestry), identification of groundwater recharge areas, and geothermal exploration.

What is a Digital Elevation Model?

Flight elevation data collected during the survey has been processed to produce a digital elevation model that will be useful for a variety of applications such as terrain mapping for road planning, finding north facing slopes for horticulture, and slip hazard assessment related to steep slopes. The resolution is about 40 metres and although not high in detail, the digital elevation model provides a manageable data set that can be used for classification studies.

Who administers the mineral rights in New Zealand?

Mineral rights in New Zealand are granted under the Crown Minerals Act 1991, which is administered by New Zealand Petroleum & Minerals. A company or person wanting to undertake prospecting, exploration or mining of Crown-owned minerals needs to hold a permit granted under the Act.

Crown-owned minerals include all naturally occurring gold and silver, substantial amounts of coal and other metallic and non-metallic minerals, and all petroleum. The Crown Minerals Act 1991 however is only one part of the wider regulatory framework for minerals. While the acquisition of a permit under the Act is necessary, it is not sufficient to commence exploration or mining activities. Environmental approvals and land owner access arrangements are also required.

Tell me more about the Crown Minerals Act 1991?

The Crown Minerals Act 1991, minerals programmes and associated regulations, govern the allocation and management of rights to Crown-owned minerals and the payment of royalties to the Crown for the use of those minerals. While the Act provides the legislative framework, the minerals programmes establish the policies, procedures, and provisions to provide for the efficient allocation of rights to Crown-owned minerals and a fair financial return to the Crown. The regulations provide specific requirements for permit application processes, reporting and notification obligations, and fees payable. Three types of permit may be obtained, allowing for a varying intensity of activities in the search for and extraction of minerals.

In managing rights to Crown-owned minerals the Government is committed to dialogue with local Māori (iwi and hapu), who already enjoy a good relationship with local government, and give the peoples view full consideration.

Please note: the Crown Minerals regime in New Zealand is currently being reviewed and if new legislation is passed it may result in a number of significant changes being made to the way the regime is managed in the future – refer the proposals set out in the ‘Review of the Crown Minerals Act regime’ on the Ministry of Business, Innovation & Employment I Economic Development website.

Tell me more about the three permits that may be obtained?

Prospecting Permits are issued for the purpose of identifying land likely to contain exploitable minerals and are initially granted for up to two years and may be extended for a further two years. Usually the work undertaken is low impact, such as literature research, geological mapping, rock chip and soil sampling, and aerial surveys.

Exploration Permits are intended for more detailed work. Permits are granted for the purpose of identifying minerals deposits or occurrences and evaluating the feasibility of mining a deposit. Activities include geological, geophysical, and geochemical surveys, drilling, bulk sampling, and mine feasibility studies. An Exploration Permit can be granted for up to five years. A further five year extension may be granted if justified for further exploration purposes, in conjunction with a minimum 50% surrender of permit area. Where a discovery has been made, an appraisal extension may be granted, for all the land comprised in the permit to which the discovery relates, for a period sufficient to enable the permit holder to carry out the appraisal work for the discovery. 

Mining Permits are granted to enable extraction of minerals. The nature and extent of the deposit must be clearly established from prior exploration. A Mining Permit can be granted for up to forty years.

What is the ‘Northland 2012 Competitive Tender’ process recently announced?

New Zealand Petroleum & Minerals is inviting companies to take part in a competitive tender for metallic mineral ‘Exploration Permits’ over part of the Northland region. This tender is supported by the data acquired during the aeromagnetic survey undertaken over Northland in 2011.

The tender is open from 13 June to (4.30pm NZST) 7 December 2012. The New Zealand Government is seeking to attract companies that have a demonstrated ability to explore, develop and produce minerals in a safe and environmentally responsible way. Any permits awarded are expected to be announced in April 2013 with the size of any one permit limited to 7,500 hectares.

The Government’s bid evaluation period will run from 10 December 2012 through to 2 April 2012 with the public announcement of Exploration Permit awards expected 8 April 2013. Exploration Permits for metallic minerals are granted for an initial period of up to five years (with a right of renewal for up to another five years). Companies would have to apply for a Mining Permit, should exploration activity be successful and identify commercially viable mineral deposits.

Bids for mineral exploration are sought over an area of onshore land north of Whangarei and southeast of Kaitaia, covering 5,537 km2 – excludes: all land listed as unavailable for mining under Schedule 4 of the Crown Minerals Act 1991; Ninety Mile Beach and Te Rerenga Wairua (Cape Reinga); land now known as Warawara; the Waipoua Forest tract and Trounson Kauri Park Scenic Reserve; and land over which permits already exist (for more detail on the latter, go to ‘Permit Search’ on the NZP&M website.

Why did the Government choose a competitive tender process?

Through the investment of exploration companies it will be possible to identify whether there are commercially viable mineral deposits. The release of the aeromagnetic data is expected to lead to increased exploration interest in Northland. The Government wanted therefore to manage the interest strategically and ensure it gets high quality competing bids to evaluate before awarding permits to explore for minerals.

This is not a financial bidding process. The bids will have to set out how the company proposes to explore the area over the period covered by the permit, including the methods and technologies they propose to use and the timeframe.

New Zealand Petroleum & Minerals uses a competitive tender process for all areas over which permits are relinquished (‘Newly Available Acreage’).

What are the Environmental Consents needed?

Effects of exploration or mining on the environment are regulated through the Resource Management Act 1991. This Act aims to promote sustainable management of natural and physical resources through the assessment of the potential effects of an activity. Regional and district councils administer the Act and grant resource consents for all activities that have an effect on the environment, in accordance with regional and district planning instruments. Mining and exploration activities are treated no differently to other activities that have a similar impact. Resource consents are typically required for activities such as taking or diverting water, or discharging contaminants into water, air or onto the land. Some exploration activities, in particular minimum impact activities, are often predetermined as permitted activities. The use of land for a mining operation (open pit or underground) also requires resource consent approval.

Who looks after Health and Safety matters to do with mineral exploration?

Mining safety is administered by the Ministry of Business, Innovation & Employment I Labour under the provisions of the Health and Safety in Employment Act 1992, two mining-specific regulations, and explosives management under the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act 1996.The mining regulations are: the Mining Administration Regulations, which prescribe the qualifications required for managing mines and quarries; and the Health and Safety in Employment (Mining – Underground) Regulations 1999, which prescribe standards for record-keeping, notifications, monitoring, and some practice requirements.

What are the processes surrounding access to land?

The granting of a permit under the Crown Minerals Act 1991 does not confer a right of access to any land. Other than for minimum impact activities, access to land for exploration and mining is determined by individual permit holders negotiating directly with affected land owners, including Māori land owners, and occupiers. Access arrangements of more than six months duration are binding on subsequent owners of the land if notated on the land title.

In the case of Crown-owned land, such as public conservation estate, applications for access are assessed and determined by the Minister responsible for that land.

For minimum impact activities, access can be gained to most classes of land by giving the landowner ten days written notice prior to commencing activities. Some exceptions include gaining access to the conservation estate or residential areas, for which the owner’s written consent is required. 

To undertake minimum impact activity on Māori land, the permit holder must first make reasonable efforts to consult with the owners of the land (who can be identified by the registrar of the Māori Land Court), and give ten working days’ notice to the local iwi authority of the land to be accessed. 

Source information on ‘Land Access’ here.

What is the purpose of the Explore Northland Minerals Information Memorandum?

The booklet was published to preview the airborne geophysical survey results and help us all understand the opportunities, and necessary processes, of exploring the commercial potential of Northland’s minerals. 

Mineral extraction, and associated support industries, is considered to be a meaningful step-change opportunity to significantly improve the economic well-being across the region and in doing so provide higher-skilled, and paid, employment opportunities.

The Information Memorandum is being used as a marketing tool to catch the attention of the broader mineral extraction community (domestically and internationally), keep all interested and affected parties informed as to the work undertaken to date, and what new data and information is now available and how to access it.

Distribution of the Information Memorandum has included targeted one-on-one marketing to individual companies and as hand-out collateral to accompany presentations at New Zealand, Australian and international conferences and symposiums - PDAC (Prospectors & Developers Association of Canada) International Convention & Trade Show, Toronto, Canada, March 2012; Ministry of Economic Development Investment Conference, Wellington, June 2012; AusIMM (The Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy) New Zealand Branch Conference, Rotorua, August 2012.

Who do I contact to advance my interest or should I have any further questions?

New Zealand Petroleum & Minerals  – manages the New Zealand Government’s oil, gas, minerals and coal resources, known as the Crown Mineral Estate; advises on policy, operational regulation and promotes investment in the minerals estate; Government’s main mineral resource agency with a comprehensive database and drill core and samples library.

A comprehensive package of digital data from the airborne geophysical survey is now available to order free via the New Zealand Petroleum & MineralsOnline Exploration Database.

Source information on the ‘Competitive Tender’ process here

The other principal Explore Northland Minerals group and Information Memorandum project partners are:

  • Northland Inc   the region’s economic development agency actively assisting companies or individual investors to relocate their businesses to Northland establishing greenfield operations and investing in and working with Northland companies.
  • Far North District Council  – welcomes investors to the Far North and available to provide practical help and support; offers a business navigation service through Council processes to ensure that information and decisions are made in timely manner; contact Council’s Economic Development Office for assistance.
  • Northland Regional Council  – one of the region’s primary environmental guardians; aims to protect Northland’s land, water, coast and air while allowing for sustainable development; responsible for promoting the region’s economic, social and cultural wellbeing.

Should you have any further questions, please email them to .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) with the subject line "Explore Northland Minerals".