While controversial due to the environmental issues such as acid drainage, habitat and landscape destruction, and the release of greenhouse gases from burning coal, mining makes a significant contribution to the New Zealand economy and employs between 6,000 and 8,000 people.
The main natural resources extracted in New Zealand are:
- Nearly 5 million tonnes of coal were produced in 2012, primarily from mines in the Waikato and West Coast. About half is burnt in New Zealand, mainly at Huntly power station, where 10% of our electricity supply is generated, and Glenbrook steel mill. The dairy, cement, timber and meat-processing industries also use coal to fuel manufacturing plants. Fonterra even owns a coal mining business to supply its milk drying plants at Waitoa, Te Awamutu and Hautapu.
- Gold has been mined in New Zealand since the 19th century gold rushes. Currently, gold is extracted from the open pit and underground mines at Macraes Flat in Otago, the Reefton open pit mine on the West Coast, and from open pit and underground mines at Waihi, where silver is also mined.
- New Zealand Steel combines the iron-rich ‘black sands’ of the North Island’s west coast with coal and lime to make steel.
- Oil and gas are currently extracted from the Taranaki Basin, supplying all our domestic natural gas and approximately half our petroleum (oil, petrol and diesel) needs.
- Limestone is composed mainly of the bones and shells of tiny marine fossils, and is used as a fertiliser (agricultural lime), in steel-making, gold-ore processing, pulp and paper manufacture, and sewage and waste water treatment.
- Geothermal energy is energy extracted from the heat deep beneath the Earth’s surface. New Zealand is particularly rich in geothermal energy due to our location above the boundary between two tectonic plates. Geothermal power stations provide approximately 13% of our electricity.
- Bioprospectors search for biological material that has potential value, for example, plants and sea sponges that contain compounds for treating cancer.
Key jobs in this industry include:
- Mining engineers plan, prepare, design and manage the development of mines.
- Environmental engineers help develop more sustainable extraction practices, and may be involved in rehabilitating land affected by mining.
- Engineering geologists investigate ground properties as part of planning for mine pits, storage facilities for mine tailings (waste material), diversion dams and other mine structures.
- Geologists use their knowledge of rocks to identify where minerals are likely to be found or to help plan where to drill wells to extract geothermal energy.
- Surveyors and a wide variety of other engineers, including civil, structural, electrical and mechanical engineers, are involved in the construction of access roads, mine tailing dams, automation systems and mining equipment
Key tertiary qualifications include:
- Bachelor of Engineering Technology or Bachelor of Engineering, in Natural Resource Engineering, Mechanical Engineering or Environmental Engineering
- Bachelor of Science in Geology or Geophysics
Required and recommended school subjects:
- Maths, especially Calculus (required for engineering pathways)
- Physics (required for engineering pathways)