Sajithra Nithi | ABC News | 10 December 2016
The world’s first project to mine the seabed for minerals is expected to begin operations in Papua New Guinea in early 2019.
Nautilus Minerals is the Canadian company in charge of the Solwara 1 project, which will see copper and gold deposits mined from the seafloor at a depth of 1,600 metres, 30 kilometres off PNG’s New Ireland Province in the Bismarck Sea.
A few months ago, Nautilus reported funding issues for Solwara 1.
Adam Wright, vice-president of PNG operations for Nautilus, said the global oil and iron ore price had an impact on some shareholders, who have now put in a bridging finance facility for the project.
Speaking at a conference about mining in PNG, he said a big incentive for mining the seabed is the higher concentration — or grade — of the metal deposits.
“The grades of the Solwara 1 deposits [are] 7.2 per cent copper. If you look at the average grades of copper in terrestrial copper mines, it’s now less than 0.7 per cent copper,” Mr Wright said.
“Yes, you can still find copper on land, but as grades fall you’re going to have to clear more land … relocate more communities, you’re going to have to store more tailings, you have to dispose of more waste … accessing an ever-decreasing resource with ever-increasing costs.”
Solwara 1 is being developed in a joint venture with state entity Kumul Minerals Holdings.
The plan to mine the seafloor has raised concerns about the possible effects on the environment.
In July, PNG’s former attorney-general Sir Arnold Amet joined the campaign against Solwara 1, calling it a “Papua New Guinea-pig” experiment.
He said the licence was issued even though PNG has no national policy on deep sea mining nor an appropriate legal framework to regulate such operations.
However, Mr Wright from Nautilus said the company submitted an environmental impact study to PNG’s Conservation and Environment Protection Authority (CEPA), which was then independently verified.