Category Archives: Environmental impact

Seabed mining could destroy ecosystems

Relatively little is known about deep-sea ecosystems

University of Exeter | PHYS.ORG | January 22, 2018

Mining on the ocean floor could do irreversible damage to deep-sea ecosystems, says a new study of seabed mining proposals around the world.

The deep sea (depths below 200m) covers about half of the Earth’s surface and is home to a vast range of species.

Little is known about these environments, and researchers from the University of Exeter and Greenpeace say mining could have “long-lasting and unforeseen consequences”– not just at mining sites but also across much larger areas.

The study is the first to give a global overview of all current plans to mine the seabed, in both national and international waters, and looks at the potential impacts including physical destruction of seabed habitats, creation of large underwater plumes of sediment and the effects of chemical, noise and light pollution arising from mining operations.

“Our knowledge of these ecosystems is still limited, but we know they’re very sensitive,” said Dr. David Santillo, a marine biologist and senior Greenpeace scientist based at the University of Exeter.

“Recovery from man-made disturbance could take decades, centuries or even millennia, if these ecosystems recover at all.”

“As we learn more about deep sea ecosystems and the role of oceans in mitigating climate change, it seems wise to take precautions to avoid damage that could have long-lasting and unforeseen consequences.”

Despite the term “mining”, much seabed mining would involve extraction of minerals over very wide areas of the sea floor rather than digging down to any great depth, potentially leaving a vast ‘footprint’ on the deep-sea habitats in which these mineral deposits occur.

Rising demand for minerals and metals, including for use in new technology, has sparked renewed interest in seabed mining.

Some operations are already taking place, generally at relatively shallow depths near national coastlines.

The first commercial enterprise in deeper waters, expected to target mineral-rich sulphides at depths of 1.5-2km off Papua New Guinea, is scheduled to begin early in 2019.

Speaking about these plans last year, Sir David Attenborough said it was “tragic that humanity should just plough on with no regard for the consequences”.

The Exeter and Greenpeace research team say there are “many questions and uncertainties” around seabed mining, including legal issues and the difficulties of predicting the scale and extent of impacts in advance, and of monitoring and regulating mining activity once it takes place in the deep sea.

The paper says that alternatives to seabed mining have already been proposed, including substituting metals in short supply for more abundant minerals with similar properties, as well as more effective collection and recycling of components from disused products and wastes.

However, Dr. Santillo said demand for seabed mining would also diminish if humanity could cut overproduction and overconsumption of consumer goods.

“Rather than using human ingenuity to invent more and more consumer products that we don’t actually need, we could deploy it instead to build goods that last longer, are easier to repair and make better use of the limited natural resources we have,” he said.

“With the right approaches, we can avoid the need for seabed mining altogether and stop the ‘race to the bottom’.

“As governments prepare to set the rules and the first companies gear up to mine, now is the time to ask whether we just have to accept seabed mining, or should instead decide that the potential damage is just so great that we really need to find less destructive alternatives.”

The paper, published in the journal Frontiers in Marine Science, is titled “An overview of seabed mining including the current state of development, environmental impacts, and knowledge gaps.” It is an open-access publication accessible to readers anywhere in the world.


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The writing is on the wall for Solwara 1

Former Attorney General of Papua New Guinea:

The writing is on the wall for Solwara 1 – PNG should withdraw its investment before it’s too late.

Deep Sea Mining Campaign | Scoop NZ | 17 January 2018

Amid financial strife and looming litigation, Sir Arnold Amet, former Papua New Guinean Attorney General and Minister for Justice advises the PNG Government to terminate its joint partnership agreement with Nautilus, recoup its 15% stake in the Solwara 1 deep sea mining project and decline to renew the licences for Solwara 1.

For Nautilus Minerals a miserable Christmas has just flowed into an unhappy new year. A series of gloomy end of year investor updates confirmed Nautilus is unable to raise the funds necessary to complete equipment for its Solwara 1 deep sea mining project.

Then came the final blow for 2017 – affected communities launched legal proceedings in a bid to obtain key documents that will reveal to them and all Papua New Guineans whether Solwara 1 was approved lawfully and what the true environmental, health and economic impacts of the project will be.

Shortly after, Company Chair Russell Debney resigned. This is in spite of his long association as a board member since the company listed on the stock exchange in 2006 and the chair of the company’s predecessors, Nautilus Minerals Niugini Limited and Nautilus Minerals Oceania Limited.

Due to the high-risk nature of the project, financiers have declined to bail the company out, suggesting the efforts of Nautilus’s two largest shareholders have been in vain. The best they have been able to come up with are bridging loans of USD 7 million to meet immediate needs whilst desperately hunting for another USD 350 million.

Sir Amet stated:

“Investors, financial institutions and even the former chair of Nautilus can see the writing on the wall for Solwara 1. By the company’s own admission the project is an experiment with unknown environmental and social consequences and uncertain profits. The past few months have really shown the extent to which financiers and our own communities in PNG reject this project.”

“This high-risk project is a foolhardy investment when our country has so many pressing needs. In order to acquire our 15% equity, the National Government obtained a loan in 2014 from the Bank of the South Pacific of almost PNG K400 million. It’s also likely that the Government has provided Nautilus with generous incentives, which would further limit the potential to raise revenue from this project.”

“This is irresponsible in the context of our country’s ever-increasing debt bill”, continued Sir Amet. There is little likelihood of a positive return from this project to the balance sheet of the economy. The recent bridging loans for the project are a drop in the ocean – only 1/50th of the total funds required. With an interest rate of at least 8% and a lucrative 5% cash commission going to a previous director of Nautilus, this loan represents yet another expensive debt burden for PNG – especially as the loan is secured against PNG’s equity.”

“These bridging loans are from existing Board directors through a new private investment company incorporated in the British Virgin Islands. Such financial structures are commonly known as ways for minimising tax. And because the loan is from a related party, there was no need to even consult the PNG Government as the minority equity holder. If we stay in this deal, it will be the people of PNG who will have to pay.”

“The best course of action now is for the PNG Government to terminate its joint venture agreement with Nautilus before our investment ends up sinking to the bottom of the ocean along with the company. In addition, Nautilus’s licences are renewed every 2 years. The environmental uncertainties surrounding this project call for the Government to decline renewal. Indeed, given the poor financial record of the company, the government should consider suing Nautilus for the recovery of the full K400 million investment as its 15% equity stake is now virtually worthless.”

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Filed under Environmental impact, Financial returns, Mine construction, Papua New Guinea

Chatham has plans for new seabed mining consent

Waitangi, the main town on the Chatham Islands.

Simon Hartley | Otago Daily Times | 16 January 2018

Would-be seabed miner Chatham Rock Phosphate says it is “on track” to resubmit a marine consent application to the Environmental Protection Authority, by the end of the year.

Since November, Chatham Rock has sought to recapitalise. A rights issue to existing shareholders raised $549,000 and it is in the the process of seeking a private placement, in stages, for up to a further $C1.2million ($NZ1.33million), chief executive Chris Castle said in a recent NZX update.

Chatham has held a mining licence since since December 2012, but the EPA turned down its first application in February 2015, after Chatham had spent about $33million on research, development and application costs.

Chatham wants to suction up 1.5million tonnes of phosphate nodules annually from the seafloor, at depths of up to 450m, on the Chatham Rise about 250km west of the Chatham Islands.

It had recently confirmed it will also look at whether it was feasible to separate out any rare earth minerals brought to the surface with the phosphate, as a potentially lucrative byproduct.

Mr Castle said in his market update, which was included in addresses to the Underwater Mining Conference in Berlin last September, the company wanted to move away from being a “one-trick pony”.

Chatham had made “significant progress” in securing marine phosphate opportunities overseas, to secure “alliances” linked to offshore phosphate assets, but structured in such a way so as not to divert funding from its proposed New Zealand operations.

It was about to commission a research project looking at separating byproducts, he said.

“Successful recovery of even a small proportion of these [unnamed rare earth] byproducts could add significantly to our future revenue and profitability and also establish a strategic ocean-floor based asset for New Zealand,” he said.

The private placement, which closes on Friday, was undertaken in stages to partially reduce shareholder dilution of value, given the placement involved 4million shares, Mr Castle said.

“We still anticipate completing the [EPA] reapplication process and hearing by early 2020, he said.

The country’s other seabed mining project, separate to Chatham, is Trans-Tasman Resources’ development to mine ironsands from the seafloor off the southern coast of Taranaki, which gained EPA approval last year.

Two High Court appeals have since been lodged against the EPA decision, by Kiwis Against Seabed Mining and Forest and Bird. They are yet to be heard.

Trans-Tasman wants to take 50million tonnes of seabed material annually, to extract 5million tonnes of ironsands, for 35 years. Its first application was turned down by the EPA in 2014.

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Mercury kit study work for small-scale miners

alluvial miners at work

Alluvial miners at work on Bougainville

ONE PNG  | 15 January 2018

A recent mercury research study conducted at the small scale mining branch in Wau, Morobe Province is a collaborative work between the mining engineering department of Papua New Guinea’s University of Technology, the Mineral Resources Authority (MRA) through its small scale mining branch and the University of Kyoto-Japan through the leadership of Professor Takaiku Yamamoto, has released its findings.

The use of mercury has become very popular among artisanal and small scale miners because amalgamation is known to efficiently extract fine particles of gold from concentrates obtained by panning and sluicing operations. Gold alloys with mercury to form an amalgam from which the gold can subsequently be separated by evaporating the mercury.

The simplicity of the technique, low investment costs and its comparatively high gold recovery rate has made the mercury amalgam method an integral part of the artisanal and small scale gold mining operations.

In Papua New Guinea, most of the gold deposits worked by the artisanal and small scale gold miners are alluvial deposits in which the gold particles are liberated from gangue particles. It is customary to use riffled sluice-boxes to recover the liberated gold particles.

However, some of the gold particles, particularly the fine gold, does not settle in the riffle compartments but flows over to be discarded as tailings. In the hope of trapping these fine gold particles the artisanal miners frequently place some mercury in between the riffle compartments.

Then in recent years some semi-mechanised and mechanised alluvial mining operations used grinding mills or amalgam barrels for amalgamation of concentrates derived from their recovery systems before putting it through the knelson concentrators or shaking tables for cleaning.

Due to shear force between centrifugal force and drag force in knelson concentrators or the stratification action of the shaking tables, mercury is easily dislodged from the gold and is lost to the tailings. This is because the bonding mechanism holding gold and mercury together is weak and doesn’t require much force to sever the gold particles from the mercury, and because of size and density differences, mercury ends up in the tailings and eventually in the river systems.

However, by far the most dangerous practice adopted by the miners is the gold recovery process from the gold mercury amalgams. Gold is recovered by evaporating the mercury from the amalgam over an open fire

This process is commonly known as “cooking.” The mercury vapour, which includes fine globules, is partly inhaled while the remainder is released into the atmosphere, which returns as part of the “mercury cycle.”

Methods introduced to avoid the practice of releasing mercury into the atmosphere and which can reduce the mercury loss to less than 0.1 per cent are available but have not been so popular amongst miners due to the discolouring effect on the gold after distillation in a retort.

This discolouration is caused by the presence of iron and arsenic compounds and results in a lower price being offered by gold buyers for the product.

One such device is the “Mercury Retort” which evaporates the mercury in a closed cycle and recovers it by condensing the vapour with cooling water.

Mercury is toxic and an environmental pollutant which drew world attention in 1953 after it was reported that a large number of people living in the Minamata bay area in Japan developed symptoms of disease which affected their central nervous system after consuming fish.

The fish in the bay were contaminated with methyl-mercury as a result of mercury being released into the bay by the Chisso Corporation, a chemical company operating on the shores of the bay. The mercury poisoning was responsible for a variety of clinical symptoms which included speech impediments, failure of muscular coordination, and contraction of visual fields in the eye, disturbance in smooth eyeball movements, enteral hearing loss and unbalance of body. The disease is now commonly known as the “Minamata Disease.”

The recent study conducted at theMRA small scale mining branch in Wau was a collaborative work between the mining engineering department of Papua New Guinea’s University of Technology, the University of Kyoto-Japan and the small scale miners in Wau/Bulolo was to trial a an Amalgam retorting machine from Kyoto University-Japan.

The objective was to test run the Japanese mercury recovery kit, a prototype amalgam retorting machine for the recovery of mercury and critically assess the overall performance, its efficiency and ease of operation of the device.

The promotion and use of the retorts would be very beneficial in the long term as they are capable of reducing discharge of mercury vapour into the atmosphere and the environment. It can also recover bulk of the mercury for recycling which would be a potential economic gain for the small scale miners and the chances of them being poisoned can be minimized through the establishment of central facilities in alluvial mining active areas which will alleviate the more dangerous practice of ‘cooking” amalgams.

A batch of mercury gold amalgam samples were provided by the miners from around Wau/Bulolo mining areas for over a period of one week to conduct the research activity by retorting them in the furnace at four different temperatures (300-500 OC, 300-600 OC, 300-700 OC ,300-800 OC) and the mercury recovery results observed ,recorded and calculated.

From this activity, it is noted that mercury which was emitted during the process was mostly trapped in the condensers 1 and 2.

The carbon filter indicated zero mercury which concludes that the air released at the vacuum pump has zero mercury vapour.

From the results obtained, the research team concluded after careful assessment of the overall performance and efficiency of the mercury recovery kit that it is an appropriate technology and should be promoted and used in Papua New Guinea’s artisanal and small scale gold mining industry for mercury and recycling recovery.

MRA managing director, Philip Samar, who was instrumental in introducing the technology, said the purpose of this collaboration was to reduce and mitigate the increased use and disposal of mercury into the environment and increase alluvial gold production, resulting in the health of both the environment and people plus improving the wellbeing of ordinary PNG alluvial miners.

The MRA through its small scale mining branch in Wau would like to thank its research partners for the collaborative work undertaken.

This has set a milestone in being proactive in reducing and controlling mercury contamination to the environment and the users in the artisanal and small scale mining industry.

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Chris Baria

They say that if you told a lie enough times it becomes the gospel truth in your mind, which means you yourself will begin to believe it as well.

That is exactly what happened with the BCL saga. We know now how the landowners feel about BCL and resumption of Mining in Panguna after the Warden’s hearing was held there. The fact is, how many times had we seen the President go to the media and boast that 90% of the landowners were in favour of Mining and BCL? He even slammed the report by Jubilee Australia which clearly indicated that the people in the mine affected area appeared to be mentally stressed and bore mental scars from the crisis and having their land and environment damaged, and they themselves displaced by the mine. If anything, these people expressed horror when questioned about return of BCL and the reopening of Panguna mine.

Surely our dear President would have saved himself a lot of embarrassment had he heeded the warning by Jubilee and even AusAid for that matter. Jubilee didn’t sit around in Buka and wait for a fortuneteller to come from Panguna and tell them what they hoped to hear. They went in and found out for themselves while ABG and it’s administration drove around in 5 door cruisers and held meetings that never delivered anything.

The sad fact of course is that people’s time, money and efforts have been wasted chasing the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Our President is surely a man of many colors of the rainbow. Due to mass hypnotism induced through flowery rhetoric our memory banks were wiped clean and we did not waste time in reinstating our master orator as the President of Bougainville. We reinstated him with landslide votes showing that foolish people in large groups can still wield a lot of power under the pretext of democracy.

What we seemed to have forgotten is that under a different color in 1989 our President was the man who bitterly attacked BCL in the media calling it “wild pig” and proposed “Bougainville Initiative” under which a new mining company would replace BCL. Although it was just a lot of hot it did however, help to start a war when it stirred up the landowners who were already fed up with BCL. I don’t know if BCL too had forgotten what he had done back then but in politics you often find strange people on the same bed and in our case with “the devil we know”.

After all this time it took Mining Warden’s hearing to finally spell out the truth. Imagine what would have happened if a handful of women and excombatants had not stopped the President and his full cabinet and BCL management trying to sneak into Panguna to sign the MOA?

I leave that question with you and I never have lost hope for Bougainville. I do hope that we have learnt some costly lessons and that based on those lessons we can now move forward into 2018.



Filed under Environmental impact, Human rights, Papua New Guinea

Australia’s Bougainville Copper falls on Panguna moratorium

Bougainvillean’s proudly display “No BCL Ever” T-shirts. Image: Me’ekamui

Bougainville Copper’s shares tumbled as much as 17 percent on Wednesday

Devika Syamnath | Reuters | December 27, 2017

Bougainville Copper Ltd shares fell on Wednesday following a report that the government of the Pacific island of Bougainville plans to impose a moratorium on mining or exploration at Panguna, once one of the world’s biggest copper mines.

Bougainville Copper has been working to restart the mine, which was shut by a civil war in 1989.

Bougainville President John Momis said the island’s executive council decided to impose the indefinite moratorium after landowners narrowly failed to support a plan to reopen the mine, the New Zealand-based Asia Pacific Report said on Dec. 23.

“We will not allow this project once again to reignite the wounds of the Bougainville crisis and distract our focus for restoring peace and our preparation for our referendum in 2019,” the report quoted Momis as saying.

The Autonomous Bougainville Government could not be reached for comment.

Bougainville Copper said in a statement it was seeking clarification from Bougainville’s Department of Minerals and Energy Resources about the report.

Bougainville’s quarter of a million people are tentatively scheduled to vote on independence from Papua New Guinea in June 2019. Revenue from the reopening of the Panguna mine is [allegedly] essential for the otherwise impoverished island. There has been a struggle over who will run the mine between Bougainville Copper, backed by the Bougainville and Papua New Guinea governments, and a consortium of Australian investors supported by the head of the landowners.

The abandoned copper and gold mine contains one of the world’s largest copper deposits. During its 17-year life until the closure in 1989, Panguna was credited for generating almost one-half of Papua New Guinea’s gross domestic product.

Bougainville Copper’s shares tumbled as much as 17 percent on Wednesday, compared to a 0.4 percent rise on the Australian benchmark , giving the company a market value of about A$90 million ($70 million). ($1 = 1.2937 Australian dollars)


Bougainville Copper says yet to be notified about any Panguna halt

Devika Syamnath | Reuters | December 27 2017

Bougainville Copper Ltd said on Wednesday it is yet to be notified by the government of the Pacific Island of Bougainville of any moratorium on the Panguna mine, once one of the world’s biggest copper mines.

The company said it was seeking clarification from Bougainville’s Department of Minerals and Energy Resources regarding reports of a statement from Bougainville President John Momis regarding an indefinite moratorium on exploration and mining in Panguna.

The quarter of a million people of Bougainville are tentatively scheduled to vote on independence from Papua New Guinea in June 2019, and revenue from the reopening of the Panguna mine is [allegedly] essential for the otherwise impoverished island. The mine has been shut for nearly three decades by a civil war on the island.

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Deep-Sea Gold Miners Target PNG Coast

Underwater life

Locals fear for their environment despite promises of riches.

Luke Hunt | The Diplomat | December 27, 2017

Deep-sea mining is about to take an enormous step into the future. Off the coast of Papua New Guinea, in the Bismark Sea, the extraction of rich gold and copper deposits by a multinational group is promising high returns and they insist they are doing their best to allay environmental concerns.

But not everyone is convinced.

Court action has been launched amid claims the PNG government is withholding information about the multi-billion dollar project, Solwara 1 field, operated by Nautilus Minerals Inc, a Canadian-based company backed by Russian and Omani mining firms.

The Centre for Environmental Law and Community Rights in Port Moresby says there are serious issues with the mining operation and deployment of state-of-the-art heavy digging equipment about 1.6 kilometres below the surface. Locals say have not been consulted properly.

Renowned environmentalist and journalist David Attenborough has also opposed the project because thermal vents, where the deposits are often found, are a key source for the earliest signs of life on Earth. He fears they will be damaged and insists they should be protected.

In 2009, Nautilus was granted an environmental permit for the Solwara 1 field  – a volcanic area between the islands of New Britain and New Ireland – after the initial finds were made by Australian-based CSIRO in 1996. A mining license was granted two years later.

Seabed mining – which Nautilus described as the next big disruptive technology – is normally focused on areas around metallic nodules, also known as active or extinct hydrothermal vents, which carry valuable metal deposits.

The deposits are excavated and drawn to the surface in a slurry, the water is removed and the rock transferred and broken down for minerals like gold, copper and tellurium while the extracted water is discharged on the sea floor.

Tellurium is a key metal used in the making of high performance solar panels and its grades are up to 50,000 times more concentrated when dug from the sea-bed.

Its supporters also say that deep sea mining is an effective alternative to traditional mining on-land, which has proved destructive to the natural environment around the world.

“It makes sense to explore this untapped potential in an environmentally sustainable way, instead of continually looking at the fast depleting land resources of the planet to meet society’s rising needs,” Mike Johnston, Nautilus’s chief executive, recently told The Guardian.

But the area is rich in fish stocks and supports a lucrative tuna industry. Any damage to sea floor, scientists warn would have a detrimental impact on marine life in the area thus the Solwara field is increasingly being seen as a litmus test for an industry gearing up for the next big gold rush.

Critics also said the environmental impact assessment is insufficient as it does not include a “rigorous risk assessment” or an environmental management plan.

Like East Timor, PNG wants entry into ASEAN, a trade bloc that has done to little to protect its own environment against the forces of developers and corporates with much deeper pockets than the landowners whose real estate they’d like to monetize.

Rainforests in Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and Thailand and the wildlife they houses have been devastated, the annual haze, caused by forest fires in Indonesia, is an international embarrassment, islands and river communities have been lost to sand dredging and fish stocks in the Mekong River and other major waterways are pitiful when compared with just 20 years ago.

And given the wealth of marine life and an abundance of seabed topography suitable for this type of mining around Southeast Asia — particularly in Indonesia and The Philippines — ASEAN must pay closer attention to this issue if a repeat of the ecological disasters of the past are to be avoided.


Filed under Environmental impact, Human rights, Papua New Guinea