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Jury still out on whether seabed mining is good for Pacific

nautilus machine

Giant remote controlled machines will strip mine the sea floor – but is that a good idea?

Radio New Zealand, 29 March 2016

The Pacific Community says it is still not clear whether the potential economic benefits of sea bed mining will outweigh the negative effects on the environment and on local livelihoods.

The comments come after the SPC’s proposed legal and regulatory framework on sea bed mining was accused of neglecting indigenous and environmental safeguards.

Koroi Hawkins looks at some of the pros and cons of the industry.

According to the company involved, in 2018 Papua New Guinea’s Bismarck Sea is set to host the first ever commercial deep water mine operation.

The director of the Pacific Community’s [SPC’s] geoscience division, Mike Petersen, says Nautilus Minerals’ Solwara 1 project will set the tone for the future of the industry.

MIKE PETERSEN: They will be the pilot everyone will be looking at them not only the people we are talking about here, you’ll have the NGO’s who may not wish this development to happen but also industry will be looking at it, government will be looking at it, environmentalists will be looking at it the fishing industry and others will be looking at it so it is under a lot of scrutiny actually.

But an outspoken PNG opposition MP, Gary Juffa, who is the governor of Oro province, says the Solwara 1 project is being steam-rolled by the government without any consideration for relevant regulations or legislation.

GARY JUFFA: There is no legislation that would allow the government or the communities to have avenues by which they can review, monitor and take action if necessary or penalise etc, nothing at all. You know, here we are embarking on this project completely blind.

One regional NGO strongly opposed to the Solwara 1 project is the Pacific Network on Globalisation.

Its coordinator, Maureen Penjueli, says there are too many unknowns and seabed mining legislation in Pacific countries is either non-existent or insufficient. 

MAUREEN PENJUELI: If you look at advanced jurisdictions like New Zealand and Australia it is very clear that when they apply the law in relation to sea bed mining it sets out very precisely. What it means for for indigenous peoples what is means for environmental protection etc. So we believe very strongly that at this particular point in time in history the Pacific is not their yet to pursue seabed mining.

Mike Petersen says as a regional scientific body the SPC is neither pro- nor anti-seabed mining.

But he says as to the viability of the industry studies indicate seabed mining could be a profitable undertaking for Pacific countries and he suggests it has a comparable industry in the offshore oil sector.

MIKE PETERSEN: In the 1970s underwater petroleum extraction was considered to be science fiction and something which humans would never make money from or maybe could never achieve. If petroleum the petroleum industry can succeed then why not the mineral industry given technological advances, advances in robotics and so on and so forth.

PNG’s Gary Juffa however says in the blind push to get the project up and running the views of local indigenous peoples have been ignored.

GARRY JUFFA: Are we to just sit back and despair and moan and groan and whine and there is the government no longer serving its people but serving corporate pirates. Is this the situation now that we must accept?. These are questions that people are asking, you know, the people of the Pacific.

Other countries in the region interested in seabed mining are Tonga and the Cook Islands with the latter currently in direct talks with several companies after an open tender last year failed to get any bids.

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Experimental seabed mining: Oversight liabilities

Blue Ocean Law PANG

Monika Singh | Fiji Times | March 19, 2016

THE oversights in the SPC-EU funded Regional Legislative and Regulatory Framework for Deep Sea Minerals (DSM) Exploration and Exploitation could expose individual countries to liability including compensation claims under established international law for harms resulting from DSM that take place from activities under their control, both within and beyond domestic waters.

Pacific Network on Globalisation (PANG)co-ordinator Maureen Penjueli said while they appreciated the attempt to provide a model legal framework for the Pacific region, they urged SPC to supplement the framework with comprehensive provisions that properly enshrine both free, prior and informed consent.

Ms Penjueli says the assessment of the framework should act as signposts for Fiji and other Pacific Islands in terms of safeguarding the human rights and environmental protection of their land. She says Fiji is reviewing its legislation on the issue which was a positive move.

“The Pacific Network on Globalisation and our collective partners — Pacific Conference of Churches, DAWN (Development Alternatives for Women in a New Era), BRG (Bismark Ramu Group), Act Now! PNG — have been closely following the issue of seabed mining in the region since 2010, which coincided with the SPC-EU funded project looking at seabed mining in the region.

“At that time we were gravely concerned by the lack of scientific knowledge particularly around potential and or actual impacts of seabed mining from an environmental, social, and cultural perspective.

“There was also a significant lack of knowledge about the technology and its potential impact.

“This is an industry that has never been tried, tested anywhere in the world. The Pacific is ground zero, a testing ground, new frontier.

“We were concerned that there was an overt emphasis on the purported benefits of seabed mining which was purely an economic benefit, including jobs for island nations.

“In our view at that time it was very clear that there was insufficient information for informed policy-making at the regional level and national level.

“We knew that international law (environmental law precautionary principle, human rights law particularly around indigenous rights) offered clear best practice that the region could seek to incorporate in such a situation.”

“The launch of the SPC-EU funded Regional Legislative Framework for DSM Exploration and Exploitation in 2012, in our view, sent a clear signal to the world that the Pacific was ready for seabed mining. We saw a correlation between the launch of the SPC-EU funded framework and a race to divide up the last remaining territory — ocean floor.”

She said a significant number of exploration and exploitation licences were issued across the Pacific and by 2014, a total of 4,323,000 square kilometres of ocean floor were under contract between mining companies and island nations.

Many Pacific Island governments rushed to enact legislation and policies after many had already issued exploration and exploitation licences, creating a sense of inevitability that seabed mining is going to take place in the Pacific Ocean.

“Any opposition to, or attempts to caution, resist or halt was considered unrealistic, anti-development, anti-progress which is simply not true.

“We had over 30,000 signatures to present to leaders to call for a moratorium on seabed mining in 2012 the Cook Islands,” Ms Penjueli said.

“Indigenous communities who are at the forefront particularly in PNG were already opposed to seabed mining. This created an environment in which the burden of proof shifted from transnational mining companies to indigenous communities, civil society organisations to prove the need for caution and prudence.

“In this regard we sought the technical expertise — legal, scientific, social, cultural even the artistic community to respond to this; which brings us to the collaboration between Blue Ocean Law and the Pacific Network on Globalisation.

“It is a recognition of the significance of the SPC framework to establish a comprehensive framework for deep sea mining, which governments can consider and adopt through corresponding implementing legislation.”

Ms Penjueli said the culmination of their collaboration was the analysis of the SPC-EU funded framework, which was launched to the public to be part of their tool kits in responding to the issue of seabed mining in the region.

Blue Ocean Law will elaborate on the specific omissions in the framework and recommendations on how to bring it into full compliance with international environmental and indigenous safeguards.

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Legal analysis calls for greater safeguards in SPC framework for experimental seabed mining

The SPC framework is striking in its omission of any serious discussion of the right of indigenous peoples says international law firm BOL

International law firm Blue Ocean Law (BOL), together with Fiji-based regional non-governmental organisation, Pacific Network on Globalisation (PANG), have released “An Assessment of the SPC Regional Legislative and Regulatory Framework (RLRF) for Deep Sea Minerals Exploration and Exploitation.”

The report is an independent analysis of the RLRF, the legal framework produced by the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC), funded by the European Union (EU).

“Our assessment analyzes the RLRF from an international law perspective, focusing on problematic aspects of the SPC-EU framework,” says Attorney Julian Aguon of BOL. The framework, says Aguon, is striking in its omission of any serious discussion of the right of indigenous peoples to free, prior, and informed consent (FPIC), inasmuch as large-scale development activities such as experimental deep sea mining trigger protections under international law. These include the right to be meaningfully consulted throughout every stage of the development process, and the right of affected indigenous communities to give or withhold their consent to these activities.

Also troubling, say PANG and BOL, is the fact that the SPC-EU framework undercuts established environmental law tenets such as the precautionary approach and the avoidance of transboundary harm by emphasizing the purported benefits of seabed mining while minimizing both the risks and adverse impacts of seabed mining. In addition to creating an overly positive picture of deep sea mining, the framework appears to prioritise creating a climate favorable to industry operators over the economic, cultural, and environmental rights of indigenous peoples. 

“While we appreciate the attempt to provide a model legal framework for the Pacific region, we urge the SPC to supplement the RLRF with comprehensive provisions that properly enshrine both FPIC and the precautionary and transboundary harm principles,” says PANG Coordinator Maureen Penjueli.

This is critical because some of our island nations will likely adopt this framework with all of its problematic aspects. Only by properly embedding these norms can the framework be brought into conformity with international best practices respecting environmental protection and the rights of indigenous peoples.

The BOL-PANG report has been published by the University of South Pacific. It is anticipated that the report will serve as a useful tool for many indigenous communities and civil society organizations currently at the forefront of these activities. 

Download: An Assessment of the SPC Regional Legislative and Regulatory Framework (RLRF) for Deep Sea Minerals exploration and exploitation – FINAL Report [3MB]

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European consortium launches seabed mining project

“Subsea harvesting” is an interesting way to describe open cut strip mining of the sea floor, and all this European interest in seabed mining casts a rather different light on the SPC’s EU funded seabed mining project – just who is that project set up to benefit… 

nautilus robot machine

David Foxwell | Offshore Support Journal | 17 March 2016

February saw a European consortium launch a new Horizon 2020 project known as Blue Nodules. The project addresses the challenge of creating a viable and sustainable value chain to retrieve polymetallic nodules from the seabed. It will develop and test new highly-automated and sustainable technologies for deep-sea mining with minimal environmental pressures.

The technical side of the project is dedicated to subsea harvesting equipment in addition to the in-situ seafloor and sea surface processing of polymetallic nodules. The operational aspect focuses on sea operations and logistics, including compliance with, and development of, rules and regulations, and the business case. The independent, environmental part of the initiative will focus on environmental pressures and on an environmental impact assessment. In all areas, Blue Nodules will build on the results of the European FP7 projects, MIDAS and Blue Mining and the EcoMining pilot action funded by the JPI Oceans initiative of the European science foundations.

Rodney Norman, director at IHC Mining, part of Royal IHC, which is co-ordinating the project, explained that Blue Nodules is significant because it allows the European consortium to expand technological development beyond the vertical transportation system of Blue Mining to the seafloor mining vehicle and other components of the system. On 9 and 10 February, IHC Mining, which is the coordinator of the project, hosted a Blue Nodules kick-off meeting at its premises in Kinderdijk.

“The partners are excited to launch the project and start working together to achieve its objectives,” they said in a statement. “Stakeholder expectations will be taken into account by way of a stakeholder group and an advisory board. An independent ethics advisor will safeguard the ethics standards of the project.”

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EU and SPC peddling dangerous misinformation

cardno eu spc

The European Union and SPC have published a new report [see below] claiming the money to be made from experimental seabed mining in PNG far outweighs the costs. Unfortunately the expensive report:

  1. Fails to put a monetary value on many of the potential environmental costs
  2. Fails to deal with the fact billions of dollars in mining revenues have already FAILED to improve the lives of ordinary people in PNG
  3. Fails to acknowledge the past failure of PNG authorities to manage land based mining and its terrible social and environmental impacts
  4. Assumes, totally against the evidence, that any environmental damage will be fixed by the mining company

The Report has been written by Cardno, an Australian firm who also work for the Mining Industry, including Newcrest and Harmony Gold in PNG, and AusAID!

Good to see no potential conflicts of interest there!

Cardno seabed mining report [4.4 MB]

Cost benefit analysis of deep sea mining in Pacific released

SPC-EU Deep Sea Minerals Project | 29 February 2016

Various scenarios for mining deep sea minerals in the waters of three Pacific Island countries are assessed in a cost benefit analysis report commissioned by the Pacific Community (SPC) and the European Union.

The report aims to assist Pacific Island countries with their decision making concerning deep sea minerals and provide information about the potential magnitude of the impacts of deep sea mining.

The assessment, conducted by Cardno between February and October 2015, offers decision-makers insights into the potential constraints and challenges to achieving positive net benefits if deep sea minerals mining were to occur under current circumstances.

It is part of the European Union-supported Deep Sea Minerals Project, implemented by SPC, aimed at improving the governance and management of the deep-sea minerals resources of 15 Pacific states.

Based on the resource potential of three countries, the analysis considers the monetary value of all aspects of mining Seafloor Massive Sulphides in Papua New Guinea; Manganese Nodules in Cook Islands; and Cobalt-rich Crusts in Republic of the Marshall Islands.

“This cost-benefit analysis was initiated in consultation with Pacific Island nations to provide a better understanding of the costs and benefits likely to be associated with deep sea mining,” SPC’s Deep Sea Minerals Project Manager, Akuila Tawake, said.

“It’s all about helping Pacific nations make informed decisions should they wish to engage in this new industry,” he said.

Notably, the report found that seafloor massive sulphide mining in Papua New Guinea has benefits that significantly outweigh the costs.

Also, it revealed that a mining scenario in the Cook Islands (where four metals are recovered and the miner owns the operation and the processing facility in a country other than Cook Islands) has the highest net benefits.

However, the report states that crust-mining in the Marshall Islands, under the two scenarios considered, is currently not economically viable due to present metal prices, expected ore recovery, and the cost of technology.

The report concludes that as long as proper steps are taken to manage the wealth in the long-term and to transfer the environmental risk from the people of the host country to the mining company, there is a higher possibility of the social benefits outweighing the social costs.

Despite the study’s limited focus on three countries, it provides important findings and considerations that are applicable to other Pacific nations with similar deep sea mineral resources, Mr Tawake said.

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Regional research project shows dangerous folly of PNG seabed mining experiment

SPC fisheries ESM 2016

PNG is playing a dangerous game with people’s livelihoods, environment and culture by embarking on experimental seabed mining without understanding the potential impacts on the regions fish and fisheries, according to a South Pacific Community research proposal.

The major research project will look at the potential impacts of seabed mining on fisheries across all the 15 island states of Polynesia, Melanesia (including PNG) and Micronesia.

“There are still many uncertainties about the environmental, socioeconomic and technical risks and potential impacts that DSM might have on Pacific island environments, economies, societies and cultures”, says the SPC.

In particular there are, “significant concerns about the potential impacts of DSM [Deep Sea Mining] on fisheries and fishery resources”.

This is particularly worrying, says the SPC, “given the extremely high importance of fisheries, including commercial, artisinal and subsistence fisheries, to Pacific Island economies, societies and cultural identities”.

But while the Pacific Community will be investigating the impact experimental seabed mining could have on vital fish stocks, Papua New Guinea has already licensed the first seabed mine and poured K110 million of tax payers money into building the mining machines.

How could a responsible government sanction an experimental new form of mining when its potential impacts on a vital resource are still unknown?

Clearly PNG is playing a dangerous game allowing mining to go ahead while all these risks are unquantified.

The SPC also states:

“Pacific Island countries have limited governance and institutional capacity to assess, regulate and manage proposals for DSM”.

This is very clearly the case in PNG, given its history of failure in managing its terrestrial mines and the environmental catastrophes such as Ok Tedi, Panguna, Porgera, Tolukuma and Sinivit.

If PNG can’t control the impacts of mining on the land, and clearly has very limited governance and institutional capacity, how can it possibly hope to manage the unknown impacts of mining 1500 metres below the surface of the sea?

The SPC study will include all the potential environmental, ecological, operational, economic, social and cultural impacts of exploration and mining on fisheries and fisheries resources.

The study lists the emissions and discharges from mining and explorations activities that could affect fish and fish stocks as ‘underwater noise, solid liquid and gaseous wastes, pollution, effluent, light emissions and turbidity and sedimentation’.

The study is expected to take six months and should be completed later this year.

SPC EEZ

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21st Century Colonialism: EU seeks profit from the seabed

polymetallic nodules

polymetallic nodules

E.U. Deepsea Mining Project Launched

The Maritime Executive | 05.02.2016

The European Commission is funding a deepsea mining project involving an international European consortium of industry and research organizations.

The Blue Nodules project, launched on February 1, is part of the Horizon 2020 program, which is helping to accelerate innovations that ensure secure and sustainable deepsea harvesting and processing of polymetallic nodules.

Polymetallic nodules occur on the seabed in most oceans around the world and contain large quantities of critical raw materials, such as nickel, copper, cobalt and manganese, as well as gallium and rare earth elements. They are vital for Europe’s innovative technologies, for manufacturing crucial alloys and for new and innovative products like batteries for electric cars, photovoltaic systems and devices for wind turbines. The project is part of E.U. recognition of the strategic importance of a sustainable supply of these raw materials.

The extreme conditions found on the ocean floor raise specific technical and environmental challenges, which are demanding and entirely different from land-based mining. To meet those challenges, the project will develop the seafloor and surface processes and equipment for sustainable deepsea harvesting of the nodules.

This project addresses the challenge of creating a viable and sustainable value chain to retrieve polymetallic nodules from the ocean floor. It will develop and test new highly-automated and sustainable technologies for deep-sea mining with minimal environmental pressures.

The technical side of the project is dedicated to subsea harvesting equipment in addition to the insitu seafloor and sea surface processing of polymetallic nodules. The operational aspect focuses on sea operations and logistics, including compliance with, and development of, rules and regulations, and the business case.

The independent, dedicated environmental part will focus on environmental pressures and on an Environmental Impact Assessment. In all areas, Blue Nodules will build on the results of the European FP7 projects, MIDAS and Blue Mining and the EcoMining pilot action funded by the JPI Oceans initiative of the European science foundations.

Rodney Norman, Director at IHC Mining, which is coordinating the project, explains that Blue Nodules is significant because it allows the European consortium to expand technological development beyond the vertical transportation system of the earlier Blue Mining project to the seafloor mining vehicle and other components of the system.

DEME, through Dredging International, is one of the industrial partners. On January 14, 2013, the International Seabed Authority signed a 15-year contract with DEME’s subsidiary Global Sea Mineral Resources (GSR) for the prospecting and exploration of polymetallic nodules. Under the contract, GSR has exclusive rights for exploration over 76,728 square kilometers of seabed in the eastern part of the Central Pacific Ocean.

Blue nodules is the third E.U. initiative that DEME has participated in, in addition to the Midas and Blue Mining projects.

Other project partners include:

Continental AG, United Kingdom & Hungary
IHC MTI, The Netherlands
De Regt Marine Cables, The Netherlands
Uniresearch, The Netherlands
Seascape Consultants Ltd., United Kingdom
GSR, Belgium
Bureau Veritas, France
NIOZ, The Netherlands
RWTH Aachen, Germany
NTNU, Norway
Aarhus University, Denmark
UPC, Spain

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