Tag Archives: experimental seabed mining

Mining company paying holding rights for Cooks seabed area

Cook Islands’ waters include environmentally valuable coral reefs, seagrass beds and fisheries.

Radio New Zealand | 22 May 2017

The Cook Islands government has been earning $US8000 a month as part of a five-year deal with a US mining company to hold an area of seabed for potential mining.

Ocean Minerals Limited is paying for holding rights to secure an area between Aitutaki and Penrhyn until it can raise $US20 million to explore the area.

After conducting research the company said the area could yield valuable minerals from the seabed.

The Cooks Islands Seabed Minerals Authority Commissioner Paul Lynch says the holding rights are a precursor to the company applying for exploration application or a mining licence.

“They’re not able to just pay US$20 million to just fund a boat to come up and explore so they’re just asking the government to hold one of our key sites for them and they’re paying $8000 a month until they either apply for the exploration licence or and their time limit runs out and they lose it.”

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Shifting sands: Why seabed-mining dredges up such opposition

The South Taranaki Bight at Kaupokonui. Photo/Alamy

A second application for what would be the first seabed-mining permit in New Zealand is meeting heavyweight opposition from iwi, environmentalists and oil and gas interests. 

Rebecca Howard /  New Zealand Listener

The battle lines are again being drawn in the black ironsand of the South Taranaki Bight as Trans-Tasman Resources (TTR) makes a second bid for permission to mine a remote piece of seabed off the west coast of the North Island.

TTR, which describes the ironsand deposit as “world-class, with enormous, and currently untapped, economic benefit for New Zealand”, gained early government agency backing when it first began talking up the project in the late 2000s. Those opposed argue that the venture will do irreparable damage to the local environment and any benefits do not outweigh that cost.

In 2007, the company began investigating the deposits, most of which lie more than 20km west of Patea, within the 200km Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). Its aim is to excavate 50 million tonnes of seabed material a year and process it for export into up to five million tonnes of iron ore annually for 35 years. It is a seabed-mining version of the Taharoa ironsands export business, which has operated since the 1970s and was sold to Maori interests last month.

The material is mined using a slow-moving crawler, which creeps along the seafloor “vacuuming” up sand and seawater and pumping it to a vessel. The iron ore is magnetically separated and the residue sand, about 90% of the total, is immediately redeposited.

“It’s not sucked up, held on a ship for days and then put back. This is a continuous dredging operation where it’s coming in the front and going out the back while we’re mining,” TTR chairman Alan Eggers told the committee hearing TTR’s second application for a seabed-mining consent.

No chemicals are added and the iron ore never comes ashore; it is pumped straight to purpose-built vessels. TTR says this method of extracting ore is much cheaper than land-based mining. That insulates the venture from fluctuations in global ore prices, which tanked two years ago but have recovered somewhat lately.

The project, which the company estimates could make about $400 million in annual iron-ore sales, will cost US$550-600 million ($790-860 million) to develop.

The company says the vast majority of the redeposited sand will settle back on the seabed, filling areas already dredged. However, the process will form a “plume” in the water column, which will drift depending on tides, ocean currents and general weather conditions in an often turbulent part of the Tasman Sea.

The potential environmental impact of this plume was the reason TTR failed at its first attempt to be granted what would have been the first seabed-mining permit in New Zealand. In 2014, a committee appointed by the Environmental Protection Authority ruled that the effects of the proposal were too difficult to gauge on the evidence available. Under the terms of new and previously untested law governing the EEZ, that was grounds for rejection.

TTR, which has so far invested more than $70 million, decided not to appeal the original decision but rather submit a new application, which required a new committee. That second hearing has been under way since mid-February.

Opponents, including environmentalists, local iwi, Maori organisations, parts of the fishing industry and the Australian owner of the Kupe oil and gas field, Origin Energy, say TTR has failed to provide enough new evidence in the latest bid and there are still too many unknowns.

“TTR’s most recent application is simply the same old car with a new lick of paint,” said Robert Makgill, a lawyer for the fisheries submitters.

In a joint submission, Greenpeace and Kiwis Against Seabed Mining (Kasm) said the application “in no way overcomes the reasons the first application was denied”.

According to TTR, however, it has undertaken “significant new work to substantially improve knowledge of both the existing environment and the extent of the potential effects arising from the sand-dredging operations”. This evidence demonstrates that the effects of the proposal on both the marine environment and existing interests are “generally very small to negligible”, the company said.

However, expert witnesses for the project’s opponents take issue with the way the results of TTR’s modelling were interpreted, and the new committee asked TTR to provide more worst-case scenarios.

Danger to marine life

Ironsands support little marine life, but a plethora of opposition experts say the area covered by the application is home to creatures ranging from tiny organisms living in the bottom sediments to blue whales and the critically endangered Maui’s dolphin.

Experts for TTR claim there is a low likelihood of marine mammals being present in the proposed mining area. There was “nothing to suggest that the mining area is of any significance to any marine mammal species”, said scientist Simon Childerhouse of Blue Planet Marine New Zealand.

His view was disputed by zoology professor Liz Slooten, who blasted TTR for “poor information”, including an incomplete species list and a lack of data about the effect of noise.

“There is no way that we can estimate the number of individuals of each species that might be affected by noise, through physical injury or behavioural disturbance, or that might be impacted by other effects from the mining operation,” she said. Debbie Ngarewa-Packer of Te Runanga o Ngati Ruanui Trust told the committee that “there is too much uncertainty”.

Origin, concerned with the potential impact on its own offshore operation, hasn’t seen “sufficient difference” in TTR’s new evidence to justify a different result for this application and worries particularly about the potential for a collision at sea. Origin and TTR have agreed conditions if consent is granted, but “we would prefer not to have TTR operating in our area”, said Origin’s Martin Aylward.

The committee, headed by former Wellington deputy mayor Alick Shaw, has extended its deadline from the original April 13 to May 31, citing “a number of evidential matters still to be addressed”. Even that decision was fraught with controversy: submitters argued that the company had failed to dispel any of the uncertainties and should not be given more time to do so.

Greenpeace and Kasm argued the committee should have “returned the application as incomplete” and said it is crucial that the next closing submissions be final. Fisheries and iwi submitters say they will not bear the additional cost and effort “to address information gaps in TTR’s application during this hearing”.

Greenpeace and Kasm may apply for a judicial review of the TTR bid, arguing the process is flawed.

The critical question for TTR may be whether scientific uncertainty can ever be sufficiently dispelled for a new activity in a little-understood ocean environment. If the answer is no, it won’t be dredging any time soon.

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NZ seafood companies, iwi slam EPA over seabed mining application

Undercurrent News | May 16, 2017

Seafood companies have slammed the New Zealand Environmental Protection Authority’s (EPA) handling of the application to mine for 35 years 50 million metric tons of iron sand from the ocean floor off the coast of Taranaki.

The application by Trans-Tasman Resources (TTR) is opposed by Fisheries Inshore New Zealand, the New Zealand Federation of Commercial Fishermen, Talley’s Group, Southern Inshore Fisheries Management, and Cloudy Bay Clams.

A range of environmental groups have also submitted opposition to the bid.

TTR’s first application was refused in June 2014 after a decision-making committee appointed by the EPA found the application was premature and more time should have been taken to understand the proposed operation, its effects on the receiving environment and existing interests.

“TTR’s latest application is almost identical to the first, and does not address the EPA’s key reasons for refusing TTR consent in 2014,” Fisheries Inshore New Zealand’s chief executive, Jeremy Helson, said.

“TTR‘s 2014 application was refused due to inadequate information, and adverse effects on the environment and existing economic activity. It is hard to understand why the EPA allowed TTR to resubmit a largely unchanged application,” Helson added.

TTR’s latest application, lodged with the EPA in August 2016, has been dogged with controversy from the start, as the TTR sought to withhold information on the effects of the sediment plume from the public for reasons of commercial sensitivity, said the release.

The EPA’s decision to approve this withholding of information was overturned by the Environment Court, on the application of the seafood industry, iwi and environmental groups.

TTR has a responsibility to provide robust information to support its application. Its  failure to do so has seen the EPA directing those opposing the application to fill in the gaps, said the complainants.

“The extension of the process and continued re-submission of evidence has resulted in submitters incurring unreasonable costs to address the deficiencies in TTR’s application.”

The hearing began in February and was initially to have ended on April 12. Instead the EPA extended the hearing to May 31 to address further questions concerning the information provided by TTR in support of its application.

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Company confident experimental PNG seabed mining project on track

Nautilus CEO falsely claims communities have given their free prior informed consent to experimental seabed mining – a COMPLETE LIE. 

He also fails to mention the company doesn’t yet have the funds to start mining!

Radio New Zealand | 15 May  2017

A Canadian mining company says it is confident that a controversial seabed mine will be operational off Papua New Guinea in 2019, as planned.

There have been ongoing concerns about what the impact the Solwara 1 project off the coast of New Ireland Province will have on the environment and local communities.

Nautilus Minerals was granted an environmental permit in 2009 to develop the mine, but it is still yet to be built.

Nautilus chief executive Michael Johnston said the company has conducted robust consultations with a range of groups about the impact of the mine, and he says these had been factored into their planning process.

He said the company had run various hearings and workshops in New Ireland, Kokopo, Rabaul and Port Moresby and any issues that were raised at the meetings were recorded and, where appropriate, were attached as conditions to the company’s licences.

“I know NGOs around countries like Australia and New Zealand jump up and down about free and prior informed consent, but you actually have a system in PNG where it’s actually obtained.”

There had been concerns raised about the process mixing the water column and the potential for it to cause plumes, but Mr Johnston said that the mining process had bee designed so that this wouldn’t be an issue.

“We designed our system taking that on board and have a system where we take the water up on to the vessel, separate the ore-bearing material. It then goes through a de-watering plant which is basically a series of screens, cyclones and eventually filters to remove the ore material and we filter it to 8 microns and then the filtered water is then returned in pipes.”

He said that the technology the company would use, was not new, and been used the the oil and gas industry for years.

“Deep water is anything over about 2000-25000 m. The machines that we are deploying are basically a modification of oil and gas of an oil and gas trenching machine.”

The company is confident the project will be on track to start extracting ore in the first quarter of 2019, he said.

“So that’s the budgeted first ore date and we’re tracking to that schedule at the moment so I don’t see any reason why it won’t achieve it.”

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Resource-Hungry India to Invest $1.5 Bln in Seabed Mining

© AFP 2017/ ARUN SANKAR

India is set to step up efforts to harness mineral wealth from the seabed of the Indian Ocean with the government soon to launch a $1.5-billion deep ocean mission. The proposed mission aims to rein in energy, food, medicine and other natural resources that surround the Indian peninsula.

Sputnik | 9 May 2017

The major components of the project have been said to be deep ocean energy, desalination plant along the Chennai coast, deep sea science and fisheries, minerals and polymetallic nodules.

India needs vital minerals such as copper, cobalt, nickel and manganese for future generation manufacturing including the production of hybrid cars, and smartphones. Currently, China has a monopoly over such minerals. Indian scientists estimate 380 million tons of polymetallic nodules in the retained Indian Pioneer area.

India’s National Institute of Ocean Technology has been working on a mining concept where a crawler-based mining machine collects, crushes and pumps nodules to the mother ship using a positive displacement pump through a flexible riser system. 

“A deep-sea research center is coming up. We are going to launch an inter-disciplinary and inter-ministerial Deep Ocean Mission. The Ministry of Earth Sciences is preparing a proposal that will be put before the Cabinet for approval,” Madhavan Nair Rajeevan, Secretary of India’s Ministry of Earth Sciences, said.

Last year, India signed a 15-year contract with the International Seabed Authority (ISA) for exploration of Poly-Metallic Sulphides in the Indian Ocean. It is expected that basic exploration activities would require no more than $100 million.

India has a 7,500-km coastline and 2.4 million square kilometers of Exclusive Economic Zone.

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Ocean explorers find “Forests” of coral near Cook Islands

One of the Remote Operated Vehicles (ROV) exploring deep seas of the Pacific Ocean during the NOAA ship Okeanos Explorer’s 2017 mission Photo: NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research, Mountains in the Deep: Exploring the Central Pacific Basin.

“We have seen quite a few very large corals. There’ve been a couple as tall as the ROV, a couple as wide as the ROV. They’ve been absolutely stunning”

Dateline Pacific | Radio New Zealand | 4 May 2017

Dense coral forests are among the surprising discoveries in the ocean depths near the Cook Islands.

Robots have been videoing the seafloor and collecting samples as part of a US mission to better understand the Pacific’s unknown deep waters.

Sally Round spent an afternoon exploring with the mission.

“We’re making our way up the ridge here at a depth of 2150 metres…”

Dr Del Bohnenstiehl is on the Okeanos Explorer sitting on the high seas 260 kilometres north of the Cook Islands.

“We’re just going to try to make a little progress up this slope and really get a sense of how broad this bamboo coral forest is ….”

Darting luminous dots, waving fronds and crawling sea creatures loom into sharp focus via a remotely operated vehicle or ROV hovering above.

“Much better seeing it on the big screen … look at that …”

I’m sitting in Wellington with scientists from the New Zealand scientific agency NIWA and we’re “virtually” exploring, via a big screen, with the American team, thousands of kilometres away.

On the ship is the expedition’s co-ordinator Kasey Cantwell.

“We have seen quite a few very large corals. There’ve been a couple as tall as the ROV, a couple as wide as the ROV. They’ve been absolutely stunning. A couple of dead corals but in this sort of environment, that’s pretty typical.”

The New Zealand scientists aren’t just watching, they’re part of the research team, asking for samples which are collected by a robotic claw.

NIIWA principal scientist Malcolm Clark says the exploration is valuable for future management of the Cook Island’s Marae Moana.  

“Getting information like this enables us to put the biodiversity in a much more regional context, to find out what is unique, what’s quite common, where boundaries occur, where species can’t cross from one area to another.”

Dr Clark says the information will be sent to the Cook Islands authorities and will help with sustainability around fishing and seabed mining. 

“The sort of information we’re collecting with these dives gives us a very good indication of what is down there at the depths they might be interested in but it gives us an idea of what the wider environmental impacts could be of any human disturbance, any mining activity on the deep sea floor.”

Dr Clark says the scientists were amazed at the dense coral forests near the Cooks compared to some of the relatively barren areas they’d seen on other dives.

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Apple’s Commitment to a No-Mining Future Makes Experimental Seabed Mining Unnecessary

Scientists and civil society organisations from around the world welcome Apple’s 2017 Environment Responsibility Report announcing the communication technology giant’s goal to “stop mining the earth altogether”[1].  They call on other companies to match this commitment.

Apple’s goal is at odds with the excitement generated in some circles over proposals to mine the deep sea, and in particular by the world’s first deep sea mine (DSM) to be granted an operating licence in Papua New Guinea[2]. 

The announcement by Apple recognises the strong groundswell building for a circular economy that has eco-design, re-use, repairing, and recycling at its core. This will require other companies to also develop innovative business models and in particular mining companies to move beyond the current crude approach to sourcing minerals.

Professor Richard Steiner of Oasis Earth stated:

“One of the default arguments of DSM proponents is that the world economy will need the Rare Earth Elements and other minerals from the deep ocean for a growing demand for communications technologies.  Apple’s announcement shows this is will not be the case. The days of digging holes for raw materials, using them once or twice, discarding them into landfills, and then digging more holes for more raw materials to waste – are clearly numbered!”

Christina Tony, from the Bismarck Ramu Group in Papua New Guinea said:

“Our coastal communities in the Bismarck Sea are subject to the world’s first deep sea mining experiment – driven by Nautilus Inc. and investors such as Anglo American.  Why are these companies happy to sacrifice our people’s heath, livelihoods, culture, and marine environment.  This primitive and violent approach to mining belongs with the dinosaurs.   Apple is showing us a sophisticated vision of a sustainable future.”

Dr. Helen Rosenbaum, Deep Sea Mining campaign stated:

“Deep Sea Mining is risky business as both the environmental impacts and the returns are complete unknowns. Nautilus’ Annual Information Form, lodged with Canadian securities, emphasizes the experimental nature of the Solwara 1 project. In addition, report after report[3] demonstrates the world’s oceans are already on the brink of peril. With our Pacific partners we call for a complete ban on Deep Sea Mining and for  mining companies and electronics manufacturers to instead turn their mind to developing closed loop economies.”

Dr. Catherine Coumans of MiningWatch Canada says:

“Some mining for virgin minerals on  land may still be required in the short term to meet demand not satisfied by recycling, urban mining and reducing consumption[4]. But these alternatives provide win-win solutions for society, the environment and the economy.  The right choice is really a “no-brainer” and we welcome Apple’s foresight in leading the way. There is absolutely no need for deep sea mining [5].”

_______

NOTES

[1] No Mining Required; No more mining says Apple; and Apple will stop relying on mining for minerals ‘one day’.

[2]  See reports: Out of our Depth: Mining the Ocean Floor in Papua New Guinea (November 2011) http://www.deepseaminingoutofourdepth.org/wp-content/uploads/Out-Of-Our-Depth-low-res.pdf  ;  Physical Oceanographic Assessment of the Nautilus Environmental Impact Statement for the Solwara 1 Project – An Independent Review (November 2012) http://www.deepseaminingoutofourdepth.org/wp-content/uploads/EIS-Review-FINAL-low-res.pdf ; Accountability Zero: A Critique of Nautilus Minerals Environmental and Social Benchmarking Analysis of the Solwara 1 project (September 2015) http://www.deepseaminingoutofourdepth.org/wp-content/uploads/accountabilityZERO_web.pdf

[3] Reports include: World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Reviving the Ocean Economy (2015) ; The Living Planet (2016);  International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) State of the Ocean (2013) ; 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. Recent research from the MIDAS consortium indicates a concrete risk that deep sea mining would lead to serious irreversible harm.

[4] For example, California based Blue Oak Resources estimates that every year mining companies spend roughly $12 billion for virgin ore deposits. While tons of cell phones and other electronics are thrown out every year, each ton contains 70 times the amount of gold and silver found in virgin ore. For copper the number is even higher, with the equivalent of roughly one-third of global mining production thrown out in e-waste globally every year; ‘Urban mining’: UBC engineers say e-waste richer than ore pulled from the ground;  Can ‘urban mining’ solve the world’s e-waste problem?

[5] For example, http://www.savethehighseas.org/publicdocs/DSM-RE-Resource-Report_UTS_July2016.pdf

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