Tag Archives: experimental seabed mining

World’s First Experimental-Sea Mining Venture Set to Launch in 2019

Remote-controlled robots will journey to the bottom of the ocean in search of copper, nickel, cobalt, gold, and platinum as global demand for minerals surges.

Greg Walters | Seeker | 24 March 2017

The world’s first deep-sea mining operation will [may] kick off in early 2019 when a Canadian firm, Nautilus Minerals Inc., lowers a trio of massive remote-controlled mining robots to the floor of the Bismarck Sea off the coast of Papua New Guinea in pursuit of rich copper and gold reserves.

The machines, each the size of a small house, are equipped with rock-crushing teeth resembling the large incisors of a dinosaur. The robots will lumber across the ocean floor on mammoth treads, grinding and chewing the encrusted seabed, sending plumes of sediment into the surrounding waters and killing marine life that gets in their way. The smallest of the robots weighs 200 tons.

“A lot of people don’t realize that there are more mineral resources on the seafloor than on land,” said Michael Johnston, CEO of Nautilus, by phone from the company’s field office in Brisbane, Australia. “Technology has allowed us to go there.”

If Nautilus succeeds, an undersea gold rush could be at hand.

Over two-dozen contracts have already been granted to explore hundreds of thousands of square miles of ocean floor by a United Nations body called the International Seabed Authority (ISA), which regulates areas of the seafloor that lie outside of any national jurisdiction.

“In the seabed, resources are incredibly rich,” said Michael Lodge, Secretary-General of the ISA. “These are virgin resources. They’re extremely high-grade. And they are super-abundant.”

An Auxiliary Cutter goes along the sea floor first, removing rough terrain and creating benches for the other machines to work on. It has a boom-mounted cutting head for flexibility

The Collecting Machine gathers cut material by drawing it in as seawater slurry with internal pumps and pushing it through a flexible pipe to the riser and lifting system

Analysts warn that population growth and a transition to low-carbon economies will test global supply constraints for minerals. Indeed, current levels of mining exploration are not keeping pace with future demand, according to a peer-reviewed paper published in March by a team of researchers led by the University of Delaware’s Saleem Ali.

The prospect of mineral demand outstripping supply has led an increasing number of firms to consider operations at the bottom of the ocean, where reserves of copper, nickel, and cobalt are thought to be plentiful, along with lesser amounts of gold and platinum.

“It’s no exaggeration to say that there are thousands of years’ supply of minerals in the seabed,” Secretary-General Lodge said. “There is just absolutely no shortage.”

Nautilus says early tests show their Bismark Sea site, called Solwara-1, is over 10-times as rich in copper as comparable land-based mines, with a copper grade above 7 percent versus an average 0.6 percent grade on land. The site also boasts over 20 grams per ton of gold, versus an average grade of 6 grams per ton on land.

Many of the world’s best options for surface mining have long since been explored and developed, according to Thomas Graedel, an industrial ecologist at Yale University.

“The planet has been extensively explored on land,” he said by phone from New Haven. “I think industry will continue to want to explore for new potential deposits of minerals.”

Indeed, mining the ocean floor has been under consideration for decades, but seen as a remote possibility.

In one famous case in 1974, the CIA used a fake ocean floor mining expedition, ostensibly backed by the eccentric billionaire Howard Hughes, as cover for an attempt to hoist a sunken Soviet submarine off the coast of Hawaii.

But now, the practice is shifting from fantasy to reality — a fact that is causing alarm among environmental groups who argue that not enough research has been done to prove seabed mining is ecologically sound.

“There are too many unknowns for this industry to go ahead,” said Natalie Lowrey of the Australia-based Deep Sea Mining Campaign, which is calling for the practice to be banned. “We’ve already desecrated a lot of our lands. We don’t need to be doing that in the deep sea.”

Lowrey worries that the plume of seafloor sediment stirred up by the mining robots could travel with sea currents, disturbing ocean ecosystems. Sediment clouds could prove harmful to filter-feeders, environmentalists argue, undercutting the lower rungs of the food chain and potentially causing knock-on effects for other creatures.

“There’s a serious concern that the toxicity from disturbing the deep sea can move up the food chain to the local communities,” who live along the coast of Papua New Guinea, she said.

Johnston of Nautilus said his company is taking the sediment plume issue seriously, and that the company’s machines are designed to minimize the undersea cloud through the collection procedure itself.

“When we’re cutting, we have suction turned on,” he said. “It’s not like we’re blowing stuff all over the place. We’re actually sucking it up. So the plume gets minimized through the mining process.”

Johnston added, “We go to great efforts to minimize the impact of the plumes. We’re quite confident that the impact from these activities will be significantly less than some of these people claim.”

At Solwara-1, Nautilus is going after a type of deposit known as Seafloor Massive Sulfides (SMS), which form next to subsea hydrothermal vents at the margins of tectonic plates.

The deposits, which include copper, gold, and potentially other valuable minerals, collect after cold water seeps into the earth and becomes geothermally heated, dissolving metals and sulfides from the surrounding rocks before being spewed back out of the vent at temperatures up to 400 degrees Celsius and collecting on the sea floor — along with the minerals brought up from below.

The mining robots have been designed to operate in near-freezing temperatures, under pressure 150 times greater than at sea level.

The first robot, the auxiliary cutter, carves a level path to make way for the second machine, the bulk cutter, which is equipped with a wide, powerful cutting drum.

The third robot, called the collecting machine, follows behind them, slurping up the seawater slurry with a consistency like wet cement through internal pumps before sending the material to the ship at the surface via a riser system.

On the ship, the water is filtered, and solids larger than eight microns are removed, before being returned back into the ocean. The cargo is then transferred to a transport vessel and sent directly to customers in China.

Now, as Nautilus prepares for its maiden voyage, many will be watching from the sidelines — and if it succeeds, imitators will likely try to follow.

“If Nautilus goes ahead, it’s going to open the gateway for this industry,” Lowrey said.

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The Sinking Titanic: German Government facilitating Deep Sea Mining

NGOs and civil society from Papua New Guinea, Australia, Germany and around the world are calling for a ban on seabed mining. They challenge the development of regulations[1] by the International Sea Bed Authority (ISA) and the German Government’s push to strengthen these regulations this week at a meeting in Berlin[2].

“Enough is enough!” stated Pastor Matei from the Alliance of Solwara Warriors, Papua New Guinea (PNG). The Solwara 1 Project is risky business as it is an experiment and people do not want to be used as guinea pigs. The Bismarck Sea is not a science laboratory for Nautilus Minerals Inc.

“People from the Pacific are custodians of the world’s largest oceans and it is these oceans that connect everyone in the Pacific. The oceans are as important as land. They are sources of food and livelihoods and they are of strong cultural and spiritual importance. Experimental seabed mining threatens this.”

“The demand for a ban on deep sea mining reflects the views of communities in PNG and across the Pacific. Our opposition is strong and growing[3].”

Natalie Lowrey, Deep Sea Mining campaign stated,

“The demand by Pacific communities for a ban on this frontier industry is joined by the Deep Sea Mining campaign and leading NGOs in Germany. The development of regulations for deep sea mining is akin to loading more passengers onto a sinking Titanic. Report after report[4] demonstrate that the world’s oceans are already on the brink of peril.”

“Recent research from the MIDAS consortium indicates a concrete risk that deep sea mining would lead to serious irreversible harm. The ISA and the German Government are paving the way for yet another assault upon our oceans – an unprecedented and unnecessary assault.”

“The demand for a ban highlights the need to debate whether we should open up our oceans seabed to mining when alternatives are available. Germany and the EU should promote sustainable sources of minerals. such as urban mining.

Christina Tony, from the Bismarck Ramu Group in PNG said,

“In Papua New Guinea and across the Pacific we do not see experimental seabed mining as meeting any of our communities’ needs, nor does it provide a benefit for humankind as a whole. In PNG, and across the world, we already have plenty of land-based mines and they have plenty of problems.”

“Imposing this industry on us is another form of colonisation. By promoting experimental seabed mining, Germany and the EU are complicit in continuing the ‘empire’ tradition in which it believes it should be free to rape and pillage the Pacific for its own profit.”

 


NOTES

[1] See submissions by the Deep Sea Mining Campaign: http://www.deepseaminingoutofourdepth.org/wp-content/uploads/Deep-Sea-Mining-Campaign-submission-to-the-ISA-Nov-2016.pdf  and Seas At Risk: https://www.isa.org.jm/files/documents/EN/Regs/DraftExpl/Comments/SAR.pdf

[2] Organised by the German Federal Institute for Geosciences and Natural Resources the ‘Towards an ISA Environmental Management Strategy’ workshop is being held in Berlin this week 19-14 March. The meeting aims to progress an ISA Environmental Management Strategy for deep sea mining.

[3] Lutherans Walk 9 days Across Highlands Region Campaigning Against Deep Sea Mining in Papua New Guinea, EMTV; VIDEO: Lutherans Campaign Against Deep Sea Mining in PNG, EMTV online and Caritas PNG Forum call for ban on Sea bed mining

[4] Reports include: World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Reviving the Ocean Economy (2015) and The Living Planet (2016);  International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) State of the Ocean (2013) and Explaining Ocean Warming (2016); and the United Nation’s World Ocean Assessment 2016 which is a global inventory of the state of the marine environment and problems threatening to degrade the oceans.

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We must protect our seas

These giant seabed mining machines will do enormous damage

 Editorial | The National aka The Loggers Times | March 20, 2017

PRIME Minister Peter O’Neill has conveyed another powerful message about the imminent threats of pollution, illegal fishing and climate change to Pacific Island nations, including Papua New Guinea.

And he has called on island nations around the world to come together for global action to protect their communities from marine damage.

O’Neill told leaders attending the Pacific Regional Preparatory High-Level Meeting for the United Nations Conference on Oceans in Suva, Fiji, that they had valid marine resources concerns that must be taken up by the global community.

“Pollution, illegal fishing and climate change destroys ecosystems in island nation maritime areas. We did not cause these problems but these problems cause damage to our communities today and into the future.”

The meeting in Suva on Thursday and Friday focused on building consensus and establishing a way forward to seek the global community’s support and assistance in preventing the destruction of marine resources in the island nations.

This is the third occasion that O’Neill has raised concern about the imminent dangers that the Pacific Island community faces.

In 2015, he warned to global leaders attending the COP21 UN climate change conference in Paris to find a workable solution to save lives and protect island communities.

And last year, he warned leaders attending the Pacific Island Forum (PIF) meeting in Pohnpei, Federated States of Micronesia, that the threat posed by illegal fishing on their economic survival was growing.

As chairman of the PIF, O’Neill is spearheading the Pacific Island community’s cause for greater attention by the global community on these pertinent issues.

This is part of his address to leaders at the Suva meeting:

“Our ocean and its vast resources, not only provide nourishment for us, it also provides 20 per cent of the world’s protein and economic returns for our countries from fisheries.

Our ocean is a highway for significant shipping and trade generating significant economic value but with minimal returns to us.

But, we are seeing alarming statistics about the health of our ocean; of the poor state of our coral reefs caused by coral bleaching and pollution, of the negative consequences for our marine biodiversity and of the levels of Illegal Unreported and Unregulated fisheries.

So we need to not only make declarations but to accelerate and step up our actions and demand the same of others to restore our ocean’s health, through embracing integrated ocean management approaches and sustainably managing and conserving our coastal, inshore and ocean resources.”

Insofar as Papua New Guinea is concerned, the effects of climate change are already evident in the Carterets Islands, islands in Manus and the outer atolls in coastal provinces that have experienced the rise in the sea level.

While climate change needs a global approach and solution, illegal fishing remains a sticky point for individual island nations.

The PIF meeting last September resolved for greater action in dealing with illegal fishing and related activities.

The increase in illegal fishing and human trafficking, especially by fishermen and companies of Asian origin, in our region is a growing concern.

These illegal activities seriously affect the economic survival of the small island nations, especially when large importers like the European Union and the United States raise questions and threaten to impose trade restrictions.

Efforts by the fisheries authorities of the various, mostly ill-equipped island countries and their collective voice, the Forum Fisheries Agency, have been largely unsuccessful in effectively curbing illegal fishing.

In a way, the PNG National Fisheries Authority (NFA) is far better placed to monitor and report on illegal fishing.

The NFA has, over the years, drawn on the assistance of the maritime element of the PNG Defence Force and the Australian Navy to patrol our waters.

For the smaller island nations, a lot is left to goodwill and hope that sovereign territorial rights will be respected by our neighbours.

Still, we may never get to know the full extent of what is happening on the high seas.

Ongoing incursions into territorial waters are indicative of blatant disrespect for sovereignty. And such a practice does nothing to help mutual relations between countries.

Repercussions of illegal fishing are not only about economic losses for small island nations but there are also greater environmental concerns involving the maintenance of marine species.

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PNG PM O’Neill calls on the Island Nations around the World to Work Together to Protect Marine Resources

Has O’Neill forgotten his government is forging ahead with experimental seabed mining? 

Open cut strip mining of the sea floor doesn’t sound like a good way of ‘preventing marine resources being destroyed’!

PNG Today | March 17, 2017

The Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea,  Peter O’Neill has called on Island Nations around the world to  come together for global action to protect their communities from marine damage.

Prime Minister O’Neill made the comments in Suva, Fiji, where he attended the Pacific Regional Preparatory High-Level Meeting for the United Nations Conference on Oceans on March 16-17.

PM O’Neill said island nations have valid marine resources concerns that must be taken up by the global community.

“Island Nations might be small in terms of geography, but we are many in number, and together we can bring about global change on issues harming our communities,” the Prime Minister said.

“We are not only the Pacific Island nations, but island nations and communities from oceans and seas right around the world.

“Pollution, illegal fishing and climate change destroys ecosystems in island nation maritime areas.

“We did not cause these problems, but these problems cause damage to our communities today and into the future.

“This meeting in Suva is all about building consensus and establishing a way forward to bring the global community with us to prevent our marine resources being destroyed.”

Following earlier meetings with United Nations representatives and partner Pacific Island nations, Leaders attended the High-Level meeting today to finalise the actions to move forward ahead of the UN Conference of Oceans in June.

“All countries, including our own, have a role to play in managing our own waterways, as well as the pollutants that flow to the world’s oceans.

“Papua New Guinea’s Vision 2050 is a National Development Roadmap further underscores environmental protection as an important pillar.

“Selected areas are being considered as Marine Protected Areas so that nature can replenish marine resources.

“Papua New Guinea already has in place the Strategy for Responsible Sustainable Development, STARs, which addresses the integration of the global 2030 Agenda.

“This includes the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 14 incorporated into the national planning process.

“SDG 14 is intended to conserve and manage the sustainability of the world’s oceans, seas and marine resources so as to ensure sustainable development.

“This is in its early phase and will ensure marine life sustainability and bio-diversity for decades to come.

“But ultimately, there is only so much individual countries can do. We have to come together as a global community to have workable solutions for our future generations.

“For Pacific nations, we have to ensure that we lay the groundwork now to ensure real and tangible outcomes from the UN Conference of Oceans later this year.”

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‘No harm in Experimental Seabed mining’ says Minister

Vice Minister relying on mining company literature rather than independent science to justify seabed experiment

Merolyn Ten | Post Courier | March 10, 2017

THE world-first seabed mining project in Papua New Guinea due to start in 2019 will not be harmful to the environment, says Mining Vice-Minister Wera Mori.

But, no we don’t have any independent science to back this up – I just rely on what the mining company says!

Mr Mori is confident that the Solwara 1 project that will mine copper and gold deposits from the seafloor at a depth of 1600 metres in the Bismarck Sea, off New Ireland Province, does not pose a major environmental hazard.

“The seabed mining offers an alternative that could be less environmentally destructive than land-based mining. The copper deposit on the sea floor are about 10 times more concentrated than a typical land-based copper mine, so less material needs to be extracted to achieve a similar production rate,” he said.

“Could be less environmentally destructive” – sounds like someone is guessing!

Hard to think the noise and vibration of 100 tonne machines strip mining the sea floor is not going to have some impact on whales, dolphins, sharks and other marine life…

Mr Mori said the deposits were at the surface, so large amounts of material did not need to be removed. Unlike land-based mining, seabed mining occurs where people do not live and requires little production infrastructure, and increased worker safety with the operations being conducted remotely.

He said that the metals will be mined into the subsea slurry lift pump (SSLP) and transported through the riser and lifting system (RALS) pipe straight onto the mining ship or the production support vessel (PSV).

“The mined copper and gold deposits will be then taken straight to demanding countries including Japan, China, Korea and India.”

And all the unwanted waste rock and sand and silt will be pumped straight back into the ocean – please don’t leave that part out, Mr Minister…

Nautilus Minerals is the Canadian company in charge of the Solwara 1 Project, being developed in a joint venture with State entity Kumul Minerals Holdings.

However, according to the Deep Sea Mining Campaign, a project of the Ocean Foundation, Solwara 1 Project would represent “the first large scale, human-induced, site-specific disturbance to the deep ocean basin anywhere in the world, hence it must be considered with exceptional deliberation and caution”.

A call has been made to the Government to place a ban on the experimental seabed mining.

This call was made by the Caritas Co-ordinators of the 19 Catholic dioceses in solidarity with Alliance of Solwara Warriors, Bismarck Ramu Group, and concerned organisations that resolved to speak out on behalf of the silent majority affected by the proposed “experimental seabed mining” of Nautilus Minerals Limited.

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Fish stocks and high emotion at seabed mining hearing

Nga Rauru submitters (left) Bill Hamilton, Turama Hawira, Anne-Marie Broughton, Archie Hurunui and Te Pahunga Marty Davis say seabed mining encroaches on their rights and interests. PHOTO/ SUPPLIED

Laurel Stowell | Wanganui Chronicle | March 9, 2017

From vulnerable blue cod to crying mokopuna – there were a variety of submissions to seabed mining hearings in New Plymouth on Tuesday.

It was the second day of hearings into Trans-Tasman Resources’ (TTR’S) proposal to mine iron-sand from 66 square kilometres of seabed off the Patea coast. There were about 50 people listening to the submitters.

Tanea Tangaroa, from Whanganui, began her unscripted evidence with a pause and a dramatic question for the four-member decision making committee: “Ko wai koe? (Who are you?)”

It was the question her grandchildren were asking her.

“Who are the people that are coming in and wanting to do this to our taonga (treasures).”

In her matauranga (knowledge) all people are one, she said.

“I have to tell them that the people who are doing this are extensions of ourselves. Our children cry to hear this, as I cry for them.”

Raukura Waitai, who lives at Kai Iwi, said her people were coastal and they had been promised their fisheries would be protected.

“The ocean is our church, our food source, our recreation ground. It’s where we go for healing.”

Mining would injure its mauri (life force), she said.

“If the life force of the moana is compromised, so too will be our life force.”

Witnesses Alessandra Keighley, from Parihaka, and Rochelle Bullock, from Whanganui, sang after they spoke. Some got applause – frowned on by committee chairman Alick Shaw.

“We are not going to have applause here. You will be asked to leave if it continues,” he said.

Fisherman Roger Malthus said he worried for the blue cod fishery, because blue cod were territorial and stayed in the same place on the seabed. Mining 24/7 for 35 years, with the sediment plume it creates, would affect them.

“The question of impact on recreational fishers is a really important consideration for us,” Mr Shaw said.

The South Taranaki Underwater Club’s Bruce Boyd said the sediment plume could decrease primary production in the sea by 40 per cent. The plume would pass over many reefs, including the reef the club focuses on in the South Taranaki Reef Life Project.

It could reduce visibility there by as much as 50 per cent. That concerned him, as a diver, because it was already hard to find weather calm enough to dive there.

Members of the Nga Motu Marine Reserve Society talked of impacts on orca and seabirds. They said there was not enough information about South Taranaki’s marine environment, and TTR hadn’t used the best information available in its application.

Malibu Hamilton, from surfing organisation Te Ngaru Roa a Maui, suggested the Environmental Protection Authority get a financial bond from TTR, to be used to repair any damage caused by mining.

Representing the Raglan Sport Fishing Club, Sheryl Hart said the west coast fishery has been rebuilding since quota management began and nothing should jeopardise that.

“Young fish need soft corals and low reef and seaweed to grow into adults. Soft corals are very, very susceptible to sedimentation. The value of the fishery is far outweighed by anything you make out of seabed mining.”

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Our submissions were ignored – NZ seabed mining protesters

Busloads of people protested outside the Environmental Protection Authority hearing to consider Trans Tasman Resources’ seabed mining application. Photo: RNZ / Robin Martin

Robin Martin | Radio NZ | 7 March 2017

Thousands of submissions against a proposed seabed mining project in Taranaki are being ignored, opponents say.

Greenpeace and Kiwis Against Seabed Mining (KASM) say the Environmental Protection Authority’s summary of the submissions is misleading, and its report should be withdrawn.

Hearings are underway now for Trans-Tasman Resources’ application to process 50 million tonnes of iron sands a year for up to 35 years, from a 65 square kilometre block off the coast of Patea.

A similar application was rejected in 2014, but the company said the science had progressed and any environmental damage would be minimal.

The environmental groups said a detailed analysis of submissions made for the application did not include more than 13,000 objections to the project that were made via their websites.

KASM spokesperson Phil McCabe said the report instead drew attention to the submissions made directly to the Environmental Protection Authority website, of which 56 percent were in favour.

“The analysis only looks in detail at the 262 submissions that went directly to the EPA website. They’ve all but ignored the other 13,400 or so submissions that came through third-party websites, through KASM and Greenpeace’s websites.”

Mr McCabe said the report gave the impression a majority of submitters were in favour of the project, which was not the case.

“It’s a bizarre approach and in our view it’s essentially disrespecting people that made submissions and not taking their views into account.

“Another issue is that those submissions are not available to be viewed on the EPA website, therefore they are not on the record.”

KASM and Greenpeace have asked for the report to be withdrawn.

But the authority’s decision-making committee said the report did not hide from the fact that there were a large number of third-party submissions opposed to the project and it would not be withdrawing it.

“In the decision-making committee’s view there is nothing misleading about the report… It does not attempt to suggest there were not a large volume of third-party web-based submissions that opposed the proposal.”

The key themes and character of the third-party submissions were set out in the report, the committee said.

“This report does not, and was never intended to, remove the requirement for committee to have regard to any and all submissions made and it will be discharging this duty accordingly.”

Iwi have lost faith

Busloads of South Taranaki Māori attended the hearings in New Plymouth yesterday where Ngāti Ruanui, Ngaa Rauru and Ngaruahine made submissions. All three iwi oppose the application.

Kaiarataki Te Runanga o Ngāti Ruanui spokesperson Debbie Ngarewa-Packer said the iwi had a good relationship with oil and gas companies and took issue with Trans Tasman Resources painting it as obstructive.

“We are not a tribe that will sit there and turn our back on opportunities. We can’t afford to be. So this myth, this legend, this whole Walt Disney story that the ‘haters and wreckers’ don’t want progress is simply not correct.”

The iwi had lost faith in Trans Tasman Resources and did not believe it could control the environmental impacts of the project, Ms Ngarewa-Packer said.

Outside the hearing, Hawera kuia Tangiora Avery simply worried about what the effect of the project would be on her mokopuna.

“The sea is a life-giving thing that has been going on for our people for centuries. It’s our food basket. We were taught from the time as babies how to go, where to go, what to do on the beach.

“When you have people tearing at your beach there’s going to be nothing left for the next generation that’s here.”

Hearings into Trans Tasman Resources’ application are due to end on 20 March and a decision is due 20 working days later.

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