Category Archives: Financial returns

Collapse of PNG deep-sea mining venture sparks calls for moratorium

Papua New Guinea out of pocket $157m from failed attempt at mining material from deep-sea vents as opponents point to environmental risk

Ben Doherty | The Guardian | 15 September 2019

The “total failure” of PNG’s controversial deep sea mining project Solwara 1 has spurred calls for a Pacific-wide moratorium on seabed mining for a decade.

The company behind Solwara 1, Nautilus, has gone into administration, with major creditors seeking a restructure to recoup hundreds of millions sunk into the controversial project.

The Solwara 1 project (Solwara is pidgin for ‘salt water’) planned to mine mineral-rich hydrothermal vents, formed by plumes of hot, acidic, mineral-rich water on the floor of the Bismarck Sea. But the project has met with fierce community resistance, legal challenges, and continued funding difficulties.

The PNG government sunk more than 375m Kina (AUD$157m) into the project, money it is attempting, but appears unlikely, to recoup. The project has been “a total failure” prime minister James Marape said.

Deepsea mining has proven contentious wherever it has been proposed and trialled across the world.

Proponents argue deep-sea mining could yield far superior ore to land mining – in silver, gold, copper, manganese, cobalt and zinc – with little, if any, waste product. The industry is potentially worth billions of dollars and could assist the transition to a renewable energy economy, supplying raw materials for key technologies such as batteries, computers and phones. Different mining methods exist, but most involve using converted terrestrial mining machinery to excavate materials from polymetallic nodules or hydrothermal vents on the sea floor, at depths of up to 6000 metres, then drawing a seawater slurry to ships on the surface. The slurry is then “de-watered” and transferred to another vessel for shipping. Extracted seawater is pumped back down and discharged close to the sea floor.

Environmental and legal groups have urged extreme caution, arguing there are potentially massive – and unknown – ramifications for the environment and for nearby communities, and that the global regulatory framework is not yet drafted, and currently deficient. Scientists argue deep sea biodiversity and ecosystems remain understudied and poorly understood, making it impossible to properly assess the potential impacts of mining – including disturbance of seafloor ecosystems; sediment displacement; and noise, vibration, and light pollution – and to establish adequate safeguards. Deepsea mining could worsen the global climate emergency, reducing the ocean’s ability to store carbon by disrupting seafloor sediments.

The Pacific has been seen as a region of immense deepsea mining potential, but some government leaders are now counselling against the rush to embrace seabed mining.

“I ask you all to… support a 10-year moratorium on seabed mining from 2020 to 2030 which would allow for a decade of proper scientific research of our economic zone and territorial waters,” Fiji president Frank Bainimarama told a climate ‘sautalaga’ – an open discussion – at the Pacific Islands Forum last month.

Charlot Salwai, Prime Minister of Vanuatu, supported Fiji’s call for a 10-year moratorium. Civil society organisations have consistently called for a moratorium on seabed mining “to prioritise the health of our communities and recognise values beyond economic gain”.

PNG had previously been one of deepsea mining’s firmest backers, but new prime minister James Marape has said he is wary of the technology, saying PNG had been “burned” by industry promises.

Until that deep sea mining technology is environmentally sound and takes care of our environment at the same time we mine it, that, at this point in time, I support the call made by the Fijian prime minister,” he told the Post Courier.

“If there is an opportunity for deep-sea mining, so long as environmentally it is friendly and the harvest of resources is done in a sustainable manner then we can give considerations to this, but right now it is a show.

“The technology is not proven anywhere and PNG, we burnt almost 300 million Kina in that Nautilus [Solwara 1] project on a concept that someone told us can work, but is… a total failure.”

Jonathan Mesalum from the Alliance of Solwara Warriors, a community group which opposed the Solwara project, said a 10-year moratorium would be welcomed, “but we need to go further to protect our seas, our livelihoods and traditions by imposing a ban”.

He said while Nautilus’s project had collapsed, other companies might take control of the project’s licences and attempt to resurrect it.

“No one knows about the environmental impact: not scientists, not Nautilus, not the government, nor you or I,” Mesalum told The Guardian. “Our biggest fear is there might be interest from other mining companies who wish to continue the project.”

Nautilus developed and successfully tested three undersea robots designed to mine hydrothermal vents on the ocean floor, but funding for its production support vessel dried up midway through construction. Under a restructuring plan approved by a Canadian court, the company will be liquidated and left with no assets. But a PNG government-owned company Eda Kopa is seeking to recoup some of its money, in an ongoing dispute back before court this week.

A new report, Why the Rush?, from the Deep Sea Mining campaign described the Pacific as the “new wild west” for speculative mining ventures, and argued Pacific regional decision-making and political processes have been manipulated by mining companies seeking to take advantage of inchoate and incomplete regulatory frameworks in the region.

Sir Arnold Amet, former chief justice of PNG, was Governor of Madang province and an MP when Solwara 1 was approved. He said he regrets that the then government didn’t adequately scrutinise the proposal.

“Let’s recognise this failed investment in the upcoming budget and ensure we don’t enter into seabed mining joint ventures in the future or issue any more seabed exploration or mining licences. We now know how deep sea mining companies attempt to manipulate governments according to their own narrow profit motives without any conscience. We look to PM Marape to stand up for Papua New Guineans against the pressure exerted by these corporations.”

The Environmental Defenders Office NSW said deep seabed mining was similar to open cut mining at depths of between hundreds and thousands of metres below the sea’s surface.

“A 10-year moratorium on deepsea mining is an appropriate application of the precautionary principle in circumstances where the consequences and need for this type of mineral exploitation is not well understood,” the EDO’s BJ Kim told The Guardian.

“But it’s not only the risks that are not well understood, it’s also clear that appropriate legal frameworks for mining of this kind are not in place, either in the Pacific or elsewhere. This type of commercial experiment in the ocean should not progress without effective regulatory measures for risk mitigation, monitoring and enforcement of conditions.”

Communities bordering the Solwara 1 project have been concerned about a broad range of environmental impacts, Kim said, including minerals leaching into seawater affecting fisheries and livelihoods, the extinguishment of unique sea species, and the risk of accidents and spillages.

“Communities are still living with the impacts of land-based mining disasters such as Ok Tedi and Panguna. Just this year in the Pacific, we’ve seen oil and ore spills in Solomon Islands and the spillage of an estimated 200,000 litres of toxic red slurry from the Ramu Nickel mine in Madang, PNG.”

Besides PNG, the tiny island nation of Nauru has been deep sea mining’s strongest supporter.

Start-up DeepGreen is seeking to extract cobalt and other metals from a 75,000 sq km zone in the Clarion-Clipperton Zone in the Pacific, over which exclusive control has been granted to Nauru. DeepGreen has secured $150m in funding, the bulk from Swiss-based Allseas, to begin feasibility studies.

Nauru is a country already scarred by mining. More than 80% of the tiny island’s landmass has been rendered uninhabitable by phosphate mining during the 20thC, most by colonial powers the UK and Australia.

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Seabed mining to offer economic hope for Cook Islands

Researchers waved to family on shore, as the Grinna II left the Avatiu Harbour yesterday.

Papua New Guinea recently lost K375 million gambling on experimental seabed mining, but Cook Islands isn’t deterred

Anneka Brown | Cook Island News | September 12, 2019 

Government has rejected international calls for a 10-year moratorium on undersea mining.

Deputy Prime Minister Mark Brown describes a proposed moratorium as “confusing”, saying Cook Islands are among only a small number of Pacific islands that have the chance to mine their seabeds.

There has been gathering momentum in support of a moratorium: it was proposed by Fiji Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama at last month’s Pacific Islands Forum in Tuvalu, and has now been backed by Vanuatu and Papua New Guinea.

But Brown was sceptical, saying Fiji wasn’t much involved in seabed minerals.

He spoke to Cook Islands News after farewelling research vessel MC Grinna II yesterday morning.

The ship left the Avatiu harbour carrying officials from Cook Islands Seabed Minerals Authority, in the first Cooks-crewed expedition since the 1980s to collect samples from the seabed of the exclusive economic zone.

Brown indicated the Cooks were preparing to go it alone: The undersea minerals exploration could provide the resource the country needed to fight climate change, when other countries’ aid funding dries up.

The mining of seabed minerals would help diversify the economy, after the Cooks become a developed country and lose development aid assistance, as well as facing greater difficulty accessing climate funding.

Brown said donor countries were withdrawing their contributions to the Green Climate Fund.

“We have to take responsibility for our own resilience funding to protect our country against the impacts of climate change and this resource provides us with the means to do that,” he said.

“We see our research and exploration on seabed minerals as something that is positive for our country and contributing to reducing global emissions.”

It is important to look at how the Cooks would fill funding gaps after becoming a developed country, he said, and to look particularly at the wealth that exists in the ocean.

Although the way government revenues will be calculated was unclear, he said, it was estimated that with a three per cent royalty, the industry could generate an annual revenue of US$45m (NZ$70m) – about three times the revenue from fisheries or nearly a third of tourism’s earnings.

The Cook Islands was the first Pacific nation to develop a law for managing seabed mining and also had some of the most progressive marine legislation in the region, known as the Marae Moana Act 2017, which makes conservation the focus of all ocean-based activity.

Brown said: “It’s inevitable that we will turn to our ocean for our wellbeing.”

Fiji had little involvement in seabed minerals activity, Brown said, so for them to propose a regional moratorium on something that was not really a regional asset was “confusing” and wasn’t accepted at them Pacific Islands Leader’s Forum.

“It’s different from fisheries that is a regional asset, but mineral stocks are static and there are not many Pacific island countries that have mineral resources like the Cook Islands.”

In fact, the Cook Islands were unique in being the only country in the Pacific where polymetallic nodules existed in our waters.

In the Cook Islands the nodules are mainly in the South Penrhyn Basin 5,000 meters deep which contain valuable minerals such as Manganese, Cobalt, Nickel, Copper and even rare amounts of Titanium.

Some environmentalists are concerned that mining the seafloor could destroy fragile marine habitats and further accelerate the destruction of ocean ecosystems.

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PNG demands Wafi-Golpu gold stays in-country, urges Newcrest, Harmony talks

Jonathan Barrett | Reuters | September 13, 2019

  • Papua New Guinea to offer duties, taxes concessions in exchange
  • *PNG govt wants to extract more wealth from its resources

Papua New Guinea wants to keep 40% of gold produced from the proposed Wafi-Golpu project, the country’s commerce minister said, creating a potential hurdle to an agreement with co-owners Newcrest Mining and Harmony Gold.

The miners had been hoping to secure a mining lease over the major gold and copper deposit earlier this year, before a change in PNG’s leadership and a shift in minerals policy led to delays.

“We’d like to see Newcrest come to the negotiating table on this,” PNG’s Minister for Commerce and Industry Wera Mori told Reuters in a phone interview late on Thursday.

“They get 60% of the production, we get 40%. If they don’t like it we’ll mine it ourselves – we own the resources.”

Mori said that the government could offer concessions on duties and taxes as part of the negotiations and he said he was confident a deal would be struck.

Newcrest and Harmony each own 50% of Wafi-Golpu, while the PNG government has the right to purchase an equity interest.

The companies were not immediately available to comment. Attempts to reach PNG’s mining minister were unsuccessful.

Located near the port city of Lae, the project is forecast to hit an annual production peak in 2025 of 320,000 ounces of gold and 150,000 tonnes of copper, according to the project website.

The proposed policy changes are part of a push by the South Pacific archipelago to transform its mineral-rich economy amid a perceived lack of benefits flowing from resources projects back to communities.

PNG is also negotiating to take a bigger share of the Porgera gold mine as part of lease-renewal talks with joint venture partners Barrick Gold Corp and Zijin Mining Group.

It has also sought concessions from French giant Total SA over a $13 billion plan to expand gas exports.

The Wafi-Golpu gold would be processed in-country, creating a downstream industry for PNG, Mori said.

Mori told Reuters that PNG wanted to build up its gold bullion reserves, acting as a peg for its kina currency.

PNG’s central bank currently fixes its currency to a narrow U.S. dollar band, propping up the kina’s value while creating a shortage of dollars available in the Pacific nation.

“When the stock market crashes we lose value,” he said.

“But if the stock market crashes and we have gold, the gold price goes up.”

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Govt Cuts All Exploration Investments After Nautilus Debacle

Minister should identify the individuals responsible for the decisions that have led to losses of over K375 million.

If there is zero culpability and zero transparency taxpayers can expect they will continue to get fleeced.

Post Courier | September 12, 2019

The government has put a blanket ban on exploration investments after it was dealt a major blow in losing K375 million in the very risky Solwara 1 project.

Its attempts to recoup some money, at least US$50.8 million (K172m) has been constrained so far as Solwara 1 joint venture partner Eda Kopa Limited (Kumul Minerals Holdings Limited subsidiary) had the claim disallowed by the British Columbia Supreme Court appointed monitor PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) Canada last month.

KMHL was seeking an unearned contribution claim during the Nautilus Plan of compromise and arrangement process catered for under the Canadian Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act.

Minister for Public Enterprise and State Investment Sasindran Muthuvel in an interview with Post Courier has told Kumul Minerals and Kumul Petroleum to stop such exploration investments.

He said the deal started from the time of the previous government.

“They went through arbitration and in 2015 they decided to pay upfront US$120 million (K375 million) which was obtained purely as a loan and then we entered into this highly risky project,” Minister Muthuvel said.

“Now we stand to lose all of these monies… the Canadian Court in the process of the developer Nautilus Minerals sought creditor’s protection from (the) British Colombia court in Canada and they appointed PriceWaterHouseCoopers as their administrator.”

“We put our claim for US$50.8 million to retrieve some money back but unfortunately there is very little room or chance for us to get back any funds because they have exhausted all the funds.”

“We stand to lose this major funding which is really a major blow for us.”

Minister Muthuvel said that was a very tough lesson to learn as a Government not to enter into very risky investments.

“This has shown that not necessarily we as a government must embark into every exploration investment.

We should look at our tax regime, we should look at our royalty regimes whereby how we can generate some of the revenue of these tax regimes rather than insisting on equity, especially on this kind of scientific or research project where there is uncertainty to it.”

“To tell you the truth, from day one the project was carrying negative rate of returns, that means we knowing very well that this project is not going to yield any positive income, we knowingly agreed to go into this project with a negative investment or negative rate of returns, which is highly risky and it’s again guaranteed by State.”

Minister Muthuvel also revealed that the investment was not carried out in the books of Kumul Mineral.

“I am appealing to both Kumul Mineral and Kumul Petroleum to stop all kinds of exploration investment, to slow down, and to take stock of what we have and also to help government at this tough economic time.”

As of last week, September 5, according to PwC’s update on the process currently underway, Eda Kopa and the Nautilus Group have individually led applications for the September 10, 2019 Court hearing in Canada.

“Eda Kopa is seeking to set a schedule to have the validity of their claim (the “Eda Kopa Claim”) determined.

“The Nautilus Group is seeking to have the validity of the Eda Kopa Claim determined on September 10, 2019, or as soon as reasonably practical afterwards,” PwC Canada stated in its last update on the process.

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Mountain of allegations & many questions about MRDC scandals

Mekere Morauta

Mekere Morauta | PNG Attitude | 12 September 2019

New information about the scandal-plagued Mineral Resources Development Corporation has become available, reinforcing the urgent need for an inquiry into its operations and the status of the hundreds of millions of kina it manages on behalf of landowner companies.

There is now a mountain of allegations about MRDC and its landowner subsidiaries. I expect that in the coming weeks more will be revealed about their dubious activities and the real value of the investments they have made, purportedly in the interest of landowners.

The latest revelations affirm prime minister James Marape’s decision to hold an inquiry into MRDC, and add substance to existing allegations of possible fraud, misappropriation, abuse of office and breaches of various laws including the Public Finances (Management) Act, the Companies Act and the Auditor-General’s Act.

It is in the public interest that these allegations are fully tested in a formal inquiry.

The new allegations came within a matter of hours of public comments in defence of MRDC and their own operations by Gulf Governor Chris Haiveta, the interim chairman of MRDC landowner company Petroleum Resources Gobe, and John Natto, the chairman of MRDC’s Petroleum Resources Kutubu.

They covered a wide range of activities by MRDC and its subsidiaries, including the expenditure of landowner trust funds I identified in parliament on 4 September.

One example is K30 million that was allegedly withdrawn from an MRDC subsidiary’s account in November last year.

Landowners have an absolute right to know the details of the processes involved in its use, the people responsible, the purpose of the expenditure, and the ultimate destination of the funds.

There are some important questions the prime minister’s inquiry should consider in this specific instance:

Where did the K30 million come from – was the ultimate source an account held by Petroleum Resources Gobe?

Was the K30 million drawn down in November 2018, and was approval granted by the PRG board at that time?

Was a board meeting, not attended by landowner directors Philip Kende (then chairman) and George Kisi, held in January this year to restrospectively ratify the draw-down?

Is it true that the K30 million was then split between Petroleum Resources Kutubu and Mineral Resources Star Mountains then shifted out, purportedly to pay for a shortfall in finances for the construction of the Hilton Hotel/Star Mountains Plaza?

On what authority did PRK and MRSM accept the transfer of funds to their accounts and is there any documentation to support the transfer?

Can the MRDC, PRK and MRSM boards demonstrate with documentation that the money was actually used on the Hilton, and not for some other purpose?

These are just some of the concerns about MRDC and its landowner subsidiaries raised by credible sources. Other allegations have been made about MRDC’s involvement in HeviLift, Dirio Gas and Power, resorts in Samoa and Fiji, the Four-Mile Casino, Ela Beach land and Moran Haus in Lae.

It is clear from the reaction of MRDC that it is terrified of being exposed to the disinfectant of sunlight – it would much rather its activities remain hidden from scrutiny.

I have been reliably informed that extraordinary measures have been taken by board and management to cover up their activities, including IT measures and video surveillance of staff members.

In the face of this MRDC campaign against transparency and accountability, I encourage members of the public with information about MRDC and its activities to contact the Police Fraud Squad

The decision by the MRDC group not to publish all its audited accounts means that public suspicions and questions will not go away.

So I urge Governor Haiveta and Mr Natto to use their influence and involvement to ensure that MRDC publishes all the group’s outstanding audited financial statements.

It is the lack of verified information, and the refusal of auditors and the Auditor-General to sign off on many financial statements, that give credence to the public’s fear that all is not well within the MRDC group.

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Papua New Guinea sticks to gas deal with Total for $13 billion project

GOVERNMENT SURRENDERS

Sonali Paul | Reuters | September 3, 2019

Papua New Guinea said on Tuesday it will honor a gas deal that Total SA signed with a previous government for a $13 billion plan to expand gas exports, after securing minor concessions from the French company.

The decision removes uncertainty over the plan to double liquefied natural gas (LNG) exports from the Pacific nation that arose after new Prime Minister James Marape came to power in May promising to win more benefits for the impoverished country.

The Papua LNG gas agreement is one of two agreements needed for Total and its partners, Exxon Mobil Corp and Oil Search Ltd, to go ahead with the LNG expansion plan.

“The government has now cleared Total to proceed full steam ahead with the implementation of the Papua Gas Project,” Petroleum Minister Kerenga Kua said in a statement.

Doubts about the gas deal escalated in August, when the government suddenly called for talks to revise the agreement.

Kua said Total had made some concessions, promising to prepare a detailed plan outlining how much local equipment and services would be used in the project and to negotiate with any third party wanting access to the project’s petroleum pipelines.

It would also be willing to negotiate for Papua New Guinea to take a stake in the pipelines after the state has repaid all its loans and costs on the project, and would consider buying LNG carriers in a joint venture with the state.

“Most of these are substantial new concessions on potential future benefits,” Kua said.

The companies had insisted that the Papua LNG gas agreement that Total signed in April should be honored, and Oil Search warned in August that costs on the project could rise if it was delayed by prolonged talks.

An analyst said the government had capitulated to Total, winning only non-committal offers to consider future steps that might benefit the country.

“This is a big win for the industry, but they can’t say that, because they need to let the prime minister and Kua save a little political face,” said the analyst, who declined to be named due to the sensitivity of the issue.

The three companies welcomed the government’s decision.

“We are looking forward to working with the Government of PNG to conclude the required gas agreement for the P’nyang project,” Exxon Mobil said in an emailed comment, referring to the second of the two agreements needed.

Oil Search’s Managing Director Peter Botten said the project would “help deliver billions of kina in value to the PNG economy, support local businesses and provide greater employment opportunities for thousands of Papua New Guineans,” referring to the PNG currency.

Shares in Oil Search, which have dropped over the past three months amid uncertainty over the gas agreements, closed 2.1% higher shortly after the government’s announcement in a flat broader market.

“There should be a handsome re-rating,” Adrian Prendergast, an analyst at Morgans, said a day ahead of the announcement.

“In the time the political developments have been happening it (Oil Search) has really derated more than the total value that we place on this expansion.”

At Monday’s close, Oil Search shares were down about 14 percent since the previous prime minster stepped down.

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Canada rejects State claim against Nautilus Minerals

Eda Kopa Claim Disallowed By Monitor

Matthew Vari | Post Courier | September 2, 2019

Nautilus Minerals Solwara 1 joint venture partner Eda Kopa Limited has had its claim of US$50.8 (K172.8) million disallowed by the British Columbia Supreme Court appointed monitor PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) Canada.

This presents a setback for the state owned investment under Kumul Minerals Holdings Limited, as it seeks the unearned contribution claim during the Nautilus Plan of compromise and arrangement process catered for under the Canadian Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act (CCAA).

According to documents from the monitor’s (PwC’s) status update as of August 28 last week, it referred to its Monitor’s Fourth Report, dated August 9, which called for a need for resolution with respect to Eda Kopa’s claims and CCAA proceedings.

Where the monitor disallowed the claim on the basis that Eda Kopa’s claim is an equity claim, and that the agreements between Eda Kopa and the Nautilus Group do not support any such claim.

The report also stated that on July 31, Eda Kopa sought to dispute the monitor’s disallowance by submitting a Notice of Dispute, however, according to the monitor the notice did not provide any new information to the Nautilus Group or the Monitor, and, accordingly, neither saw any basis for withdrawing or amending the disallowance of Eda Kopa’s claim.

According to the monitor on August 6, it and Nautilus received notice Eda Kopa retained Canadian counsel and led for an appeal that is set for September 10 this month to hear Eda Kopa’s appeal of the disallowance of its claim.

A resolution to the matter is expected to be reached on or shortly after September 10.

According to the monitor’s update if a resolution cannot be achieved in both Eda Kopa’s claim through the CCAA process or its general relationship with Nautilus going forward then the plan will not be implemented resulting in no distribution to affected creditors as anticipated and the Nautilus group restructuring will fail.

The CCAA plan was approved early in August at a meeting of affected creditors along with an acquisition plan by its main lender Deep Sea Mining Finance Limited would take over a number of the 44 entities registered under the Nautilus Group in nine jurisdictions around the world.

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