Category Archives: Exploration

Futuna rejects seabed exploration and mining

Photo: AFP

Radio New Zealand | 14 September 2018 

The kingdoms on the French Pacific island of Futuna have ruled out allowing any work related to seabed mining in their waters, saying their stance is final.

The rejection of any further exploration of the seabed was expressed at a meeting in Futuna with French delegates sent to explain the potential of mining rare earths.

The king of Sigave as well as a leader of the kingdom of Alo told local television that any discussion about land matters had to held with the customary leadership and not with the assembly of Wallis and Futuna.

They said they had seen the negative impact of activities in French Polynesia and didn’t want a repeat of them in Wallis and Futuna.

At the beginning of this decade French teams carried out three exploratory missions in the territory’s waters without consulting the local kings who are officially recognised by the French republic and on its payroll.

The traditional leaders’ view of what comprises their domain clashes with the law which grants France the control of its exclusive economic zone.

Five years ago, the French Economic, Social and Environmental Council urged the government to secure resources in the seabed off France’s overseas territories.

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Cooks govt looking at seabed mining interest in Norway

Cook Islands Finance Minister Mark Brown Photo: Phillipa Webb / Cook Islands News

Radio New Zealand | 14 September 2018

The Cook Islands Deputy Prime Minister Mark Brown is currently in Norway discussing the possible exploration of seabed minerals in the Cook Islands waters.

The Cook Islands News reports that manganese nodules found in the Cook Islands, lie on the seabed, at depths of more than 5000 metres.

According to initial scientific studies, the nodules were of a very high quality and there is a large quantity on the seabed which could make the nation billions of dollars.

Mr Brown said they would re-advertise the tenders as there had been some new interest in exploring the seabed.

He added that all practices, including exploration and the extraction of the minerals, would have to be done in a manner which was environmentally friendly and did not impact negatively on the Cook Islands.

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Norway to Map Deep Sea Mineral Deposits

Maritime Executive | 12 August 2018

The Norwegian Petroleum Directorate is readying to map potential deep sea mineral deposits in the Norwegian Sea, with an expedition due to get underway this month.

The Directorate has engaged Swire Seabed, which partners with Ocean Floor Geophysics, to carry out mapping of potential sulfide minerals on the seabed over the Mohns Ridge in the western Norwegian Sea. This is a spreading ridge in the Atlantic Ocean that separates two oceanic plates, where potential valuable minerals have been formed through hot volcanic sources. The focus of the expedition is not the active hydraulic systems such as “black smokers,” but rather non-active extinct systems that are now left as mineral-rich piles of gravel on the seabed.

The mapping will be carried out using an autonomous underwater vehicle, a Kongsberg Hugin AUV, which will map the seabed using a bottom-penetrating echo sounder, multibeam bathymetry, synthetic aperture sonar data, magnetometry and spontaneous potential field data.

After the data is processed on board, mineral samples will be taken from the seabed where the data indicates the presence of deposits. Sampling will be carried out using an underwater remotely operated vehicle with a depth capability of 3,000 meters (9,800 feet).

Earlier studies by the Norwegian Research Council have indicated that the region could contain resources worth as much as $110 billion. Around 6.4 million tons of copper metal in addition to zinc (6.5 million tons), gold (170 tons) and silver (9,901 tons) have been estimated to be present in the region. 

Rising demand for minerals and metals, including for use in new technology, has sparked renewed interest in seabed mining. Since 2001, the International Seabed Authority has issued licenses to approximately 30 government and private organizations to explore 500,000 square miles of the deep sea outside national jurisdiction for minerals. 

This increasing interest in seafloor mining globally has drawn some criticism. Despite the term “mining,” much of the activity 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. Earlier this year, a study by the University of Exeter and Greenpeace warned that mining on the ocean floor could do irreversible damage to deep sea ecosystems. 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 the researchers say mining could have “long-lasting and unforeseen consequences” not just at mining sites but also across much larger areas. 

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Mayur set to drill Feni Island

Field mapping at Matakangkaka Creek

PNG Industry News | 13 August 2018

MAYUR Resources says it is ready to mobilise a team do begin a drill program at its Feni Island copper-gold project in New Ireland Province.

This follows the completion of a detailed field mapping and sampling programme within the Matangkaka Creek area at Feni Islands EL2096.

The company says Matangkaka Creek is an eastern tributary of the Nanum River and is rated as one of the top three gold bearing streams in the Feni Island group. It is also near and upstream from the Kabang structure that hosts a 650,000 ounce gold resource.

“The trip was undertaken by Dr David Lindley, Mayur’s veteran expert geologist who has decades of experience on Feni,” Mayur said.

Mayur has correlated this new information with historical data to finalise a drilling programme of up to 2400m. The programme of up to seven holes is focusing on the gold mineralisation in structures beneath and along strike of the Matangkaka Creek.

Mayur managing director Paul Mulder said the company was essentially ready to mobilise and execute the drilling programme at Feni.

“This is particularly exciting as Feni Island sits between Lihir, one of the largest gold mines in the world, and Bougainville, one of the world’s great copper-deposits. You could not ask for a more prospective postcode location of the Feni prospect being the situated island between these two world-class giants.

“This, coupled with historic attractive copper and gold mineralisation from near surface (continuing at depth), provides an attractive backdrop to conduct a drilling campaign, which will be the first in many years on the island,” Mulder said.

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Te Atiawa and Taranaki Iwi fundamentally opposed to seabed mining activity

In addition to endangered Māui dolphins, other marine mammals, including fur seals, common dolphins, and orcas (killer whales) can be found in the Marine Park boundaries.

Te Atiawi iwi | 13 July 2018

Te Kotahitanga o Te Atiawa Trust and Te Kāhui o Taranaki Trust are fundamentally opposed to seabed mining activities within their tribal rohe.

Te Kotahitanga o Te Atiawa Trust and Te Kāhui o Taranaki Trust were notified of the exploration permit application by Ironsands Offshore Mining Ltd in 2016 and each iwi made a submission opposing the application back in September 2016.

Both Iwi organisations were informed of the granting of the permit on 8 June 2018, a month after the permit had been granted by New Zealand Petroleum and Minerals on 8 May 2018.

Te Kotahitanga o Te Atiawa Trust Chairperson Liana Poutu is concerned that the permit area includes a Marine Mammal Sanctuary.

“The permit has been granted inside a Marine Mammal Sanctuary which is administered and managed by the Department of Conservation.

“We find it difficult to understand how one arm of government, New Zealand Petroleum and Minerals, can cut across another arm of government and make these kinds of decisions without engagement on the issue.

“The permit area also sits inside a mineral mining exclusion zone, so although it’s only exploration at this stage the implication is that if exploration is successful there is an expectation that a mining permit will be granted in an area that excludes this activity.

“Fundamentally, the iwi and hapū of Te Atiawa are opposed to this activity,” she says.

Te Kāhui o Taranaki Trust Chairperson Leanne Horo says that the protection of our environment is a focus for Taranaki Iwi.

“Taranaki Iwi’s focus is on protecting, enhancing and sustaining the mouri of Tangaroa ki Tai.

“The Ngā Motu/Sugar Loaf Island Marine Protected Area and Tapuae Marine Reserve sit within the Te Atiawa tribal rohe and our Taranaki Iwi tribal rohe so it’s concerning to us that the permit has been granted in close proximity to these areas.

“We are launching our environmental management plan, Taiao Taiora, in the coming week which outlines our position on environmental issues.

“Taranaki Iwi is fundamentally opposed to any new mining or prospecting activity taking place within our rohe,” she says.

The permit area at its closest is 2.8km from shore, and sits almost entirely in the West Coast North Island Marine Mammal Sanctuary established in 2008. The permit area at its closest is 0.45km from the Ngā Motu/Sugar Loaf Island Marine Protected Area and at its closest is 1km from the Tapuae Marine Reserve. The permit area overlaps the Mineral Mining Exclusion Zone in two places.

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China looking under the sea for opportunities in the Pacific

Denghua Zhang* | East Asia Forum | 30 June 2018

China has hunted globally for land-based mineral deposits to fuel its economic development since the 1990s. Now, Beijing is devoting growing attention to seabed mining. As China’s Five-Year Plan on Mineral Resources (2016–2020) states, ‘China will actively participate in international surveys on deep sea mining and accelerate the exploration and development of ocean minerals’.

In the Pacific islands region, most countries are small in land area but have huge maritime exclusive economic zones (EEZs). Chinese enterprises have invested in seven land-based mining projects in Papua New Guinea (PNG), Fiji, New Caledonia and the Solomon Islands and have been interested in mining the Pacific’s seabed minerals since 2001.

China’s engagement with the Pacific on seabed mining started with research activities that have mainly been carried out by the China Ocean Mineral Resources Research and Development Association (COMRA). COMRA is affiliated with the former State Oceanic Administration, which was absorbed into the new Ministry of Natural Resources in March 2018.

The Qingdao Institute of Marine Geology has conducted many of COMRA’s research projects in the Pacific. Between 2001 and 2010, the Institute completed two research projects on China’s bilateral cooperation in ocean resources exploration and on seabed mineral resources in the South Pacific. Their research categorised marine areas as prospective sources of polymetallic nodules, cobalt nodules and hydrothermal sulphide deposits, and also compiled a seabed mining resources map of the Pacific. The research team suggested that China should incorporate seabed mining into its aid plans for Pacific states and use concessional loans to support exploration projects.

Based on these research activities, Chinese government agencies have directly reached out to their Pacific counterparts. In April 2013, a joint delegation comprised of officials from COMRA and Chinese mining institutions visited the Cook Islands, Fiji and Samoa and expressed their strong interest in exploring seabed mining in the three countries. In August 2014, Chen Lianzeng, Deputy Director of the China State Oceanic Administration, visited Vanuatu and Fiji and proposed that China and the two countries should strengthen cooperation on maritime resources exploration and development. Vanuatu’s then-prime minister Joe Natuman and Naipote Katonitabua, the acting permanent secretary of Fiji’s Office of the Prime Minister, responded positively to China’s suggestions.

China’s state-owned enterprises (SOEs) are also involved in seabed mining. Mawei Shipbuilding Limited, a Chinese SOE located in Fujian Province, is building a US$18 million seafloor production support vessel for Toronto-based Nautilus Minerals. The vessel was launched in March 2018, with approximately 75 per cent of it completed. It will be used for the Solwara 1 project — the world’s first seabed mining project, located in the Bismarck Sea off PNG.

The three seafloor production tools to be used in the Solwara 1 project were designed and built by the UK-based Soil Machine Dynamics Ltd. In April 2015, Soil Machine Dynamics Ltd was sold to Zhuzhou CRRC Times Electric Co, Ltd, which is an SOE ultimately owned by the State Council of China. The products from Solwara 1 will be processed by Tongling Nonferrous Metals Group — another Chinese SOE. In May 2017, China Minmetals Corporation and the International Seabed Authority (ISA) signed a 15-year contract that allows China to search for polymetallic nodules in the 72,745 square kilometres of the Clarion–Clipperton Fracture Zone in the Pacific Ocean.

Seabed mining in the Pacific is attracting interest from other foreign players. For example, Japan and Russia have brokered ISA contracts to explore cobalt-rich crust resources in sites close to the EEZs of the Marshall Islands and the Federated States of Micronesia.

Seabed mining is both an emerging field and one that is in a considerable state of flux. As shown by the proposed Solwara 1 Project, this new industry faces unprecedented financialenvironmental and social challenges. There are also notable gaps in the international and national laws that govern seabed mining. The International Seabed Authority is still in the process of developing a ‘Mining Code’ to regulate the prospecting, exploration and exploitation of seabed minerals. As of late 2015, only four of the 14 Pacific states (Palau, Tonga, Tuvalu and Nauru) have legislation that covers seabed mining issues. The PNG government is still developing a draft offshore mining policy.

Greater China–Pacific engagement on seabed mining has upsides and downsides. Pacific states have flagged seabed mining as a new potential driving force of economic growth. PNG, Fiji, Tonga and the Solomon Islands are among the first countries in the world to issue exploration licenses for seabed mining in their EEZs, and Pacific states might be able to seek more financial and technical assistance from China to develop this new industry. But any such project needs to consider the environmental and social impacts of seabed mining and must fully comply with international and national laws.

Looking into the future, China is expected to engage actively with Pacific states on seabed mining and focus on exploration and establishing official contacts. But China is unlikely to commit substantial resources to seabed mining projects before the industry becomes more commercially and environmentally viable.

*Denghua Zhang is a Research Fellow at the Department of Pacific Affairs, The Australian National University.

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China extends gas interests in Papua New Guinea

Once again Papua New Guinea’s rights and resources traded internationally with no government oversight or landowner consent… 

Repsol sells permits in Papua New Guinea

Rick Wilkinson | Oil and Gas Journal | 21 June 2018

Spanish firm Repsol SA will sell its exploration and development permits in Papua New Guinea to Chinese company Balang International. Repsol has not disclosed the transaction amount.

The nine permits—four exploration and five development—have been in Repsol’s portfolio since 2015.

They include 25% of offshore retention license PRL 38, which contains the Pandora gas fields in the Gulf of Papua, along with 35.1% in the Elevala-Ketu gas-condensate fields in retention license PRL 21, and the Stanley gas fields in nearby development license PDL 10.

Repsol acquired the assets as part of the package when it bought Talisman Energy Inc. for $13 billion in late 2014.

Repsol said the business in Papua New Guinea will continue to be operated by Repsol until the transaction is completed during this year’s fourth quarter.

Balang is part of the China Changcheng Natural Gas Power Group, which has investments in natural gas and power across China and the Asia Pacific region.

Balang Chairman Dai Ying Xiang said his company is committed to the development of the discovered resources within the permits which have the potential to foster and supply a new Papua New Guinea LNG project.

Development could include contributing gas to the proposed 1.5 million-tonne/year Western LNG project, which involves a processing facility near Daru Island on the coast near the mouth of the Fly River.

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