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The Environmental Protection Agency’s decision-making committee considering the consent for would-be phosphate miner Chatham Rock Phosphate expects to make a ruling on the project next month after some of its members were busy over the summer holiday period.

The committee anticipates making a decision on or by Feb. 10, having formally closed the hearings in late November, it said in a statement. That initially implied the committee would make a decision in late January, though some members weren’t available due to prior commitments in December and January. Chatham Rock Phosphate managing director Chris Castle said he’s still confident the project will get approval.

The company plans to mine phosphate nodules at depths of up to 450 metres, initially within its 820 square kilometre mining permit area for five years. After that it would widen its activity to a 5,207 sq km area for up to a further 30 years. Annual extraction is targeted at 1.5 million tonnes of the nodules.

The involvement of Dutch dredging firm Royal Boskalis is key in the application in that the company will provide the engineering expertise to undertake the project, drawing on its own experience and also creating bespoke solutions for the operation.

A major issue for the committee is the impact of the plume of discharged sediment from the mining operation and how it disperses. Boskalis plans to blast jets of water into the ocean floor to loosen the seabed and suck up sand for separation and extraction of the phosphate, before dispersing it through a hose. Among concerns from the project’s opposition is whether clay, referred to as chalk ooze and which typically lies below the proposed layer of sand to be mined, would be sucked up into the suction system.

Chatham Rock has raised more than $33 million from shareholders over the past four years to fund its development, including bringing in dredging experts, building a business case and hiring experts for its consent hearings.

Last month, the company was one of 15 firms to receive research and development grants from government agency Callaghan Innovation which lets recipients claim back 20 percent of eligible R&D spending,

One of Chatham Rock’s first research priorities was to demonstrate the effectiveness of direct application of its phosphorite rock onto pasture and develop a domestic and international market for this mineral. Other priorities included collecting environmental data from the Chatham Rise, trials of techniques to re-establish marine life where mining had taken place, testing the company’s mining system on the Chatham Rise and monitoring the sediment plume generated by the mining.

The NZAX-listed shares last traded at 20 cents and have dropped 30 percent over the past 12 months.

BusinessDesk receives funding from Callaghan Innovation to write about the commercialisation of innovation.

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