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Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Volume 38, Number 25. 2nd October 1975

Waipipi Iron Sands

Waipipi Iron Sands

The Waipipi Iron Sands project could be described as a type of mini Comalco. The sands are being developed by the huge US mining and shipping company Marcona and are sold to Japanese Steel Mills Ltd. New Zealand's participation in the venture involves the ready supply of iron sand for easy exploitation and a minimal supply of labour

Photo of Waipipi Iron Sands infrastructure

Blocking the road that leads to the Waipipi Ironsands project is a gate house. Gate houses, it would appear are a phenomena that often occur with companies that are largely foreign controlled, and are a reflection of their own ideas and attitudes towards working people and the general public of New Zealand. These physical and symbolic obstacles to public access are typical of the way the local subsidaries of multinationals here in New Zealand conduct their activities... the idea being that the less that is known about these activities the less the general public will react against them, thereby relying on public apathy and indifference as an ally.

Operating at Waverely, (a small town to the north west of Wanganui) is what would appear at first an industry that is acting in the best interests, in providing the country with an excess of about $(NZ)4 million p.a. from Waipipi (more than double this amount is also brought in by the NZ Government owned operations at Taharoa). Nobody would dispute the advantages of this arrangement, particularly when the amount of ironsand that is being exported is only in the order of 2,250.000 tonnes p.a., all of which goes to Japan. Japan's annual ironsand requirements are in the order of 3.5 million tonne pa. But it is estimated that there is an excess of 800 million tonnes of ironsand from South Kaipara Head to Wanganui in the South.

The interest in ironsand grew in the mid 1950's when it became apparent that the deposits could be utilized. In the act early, were the Fletcher Group (backed by the large holdings of the CSR in this company, whose involvement in mineral exploitation is surpassed only by BHP in Australia). The Fletcher Group had a report prepared by engineers of the gaint Kaiser Steel of the United States of America, on the feasability of a steel plant in New Zealand. The plant would use the deposits at Taharoa for a mill that would be situated in the South Island close to coal deposits. At Waverely the project which was being developed at the same time, was the happy hunting ground for geologists working for the Marcona Corporation of the United States of America, and Japanese Steel Mills Ltd. Marcona was to become involved in a joint venture with a local firm known as the Viking Mining Co. which was at the time a wholly owned subsidary of Europe Oil (NZ) Ltd. Today this joint venture is known as Waipipi Ironsands Ltd. which is 75% owned by Marcona (USA) and 25% owned by Viking Mining Co. However, since Waipipi Iron Sands Ltd was set up a major change has occurred The take-over of Europa Oil (NZ), the "100% New Zealand owned and operated" oil company, by British Petrolium has meant that the effective ownership and control has passed even further into foreign hands.

The very nature of the exploitation by overseas developers is one that must be revealed. Isolated communities such as Waverely depend on these operations continuing for a considerable length of time About 100 people depend on the Waipipi project, but unfortunately these operations once started do not offer any degree of long term tenure At Waipipi 10 years is the term of the present contract and there is no definite long term guarantee that new deposits elsewhere, will not become more economical. Labour requirements may change with increased use of technology, cancelled or uneconomical contracts or ultimately depletion of the ore. It is obvious that Waverely's long term survival is not a primary concern of Waipipi Ironsands Ltd.

The titanium content of the ironsands has beneficial effects on blast furnaces and is fed in with normal iron ore to preserve the refractory linings in the blast furnaces and as an aid to the reduction of nitrogen in the pig iron.

What would happen if an alternative mineral is found as an additive? Waipipi reclaims mined lands as operations proceed. After passing up the mining operations the tailings area is levelled, profiled, fertilized and planted with grass for soil stabilization and pasture restoration But the company found no impetus to undergo these measures of its own accord It was a measure laid down in the contract by the current landowners and the New Zealand Government.