Tag Archives: experimental seabed mining

Troubled Papua New Guinea deep-sea mine faces environmental challenge

Seabed mining machine

Community groups accuse PNG government of keeping documents for its approval under wraps

Helen Davidson and Ben Doherty | The Guardian | 11 December 2017

A controversial experimental deep-sea mine is being challenged in court by environmental groups who have accused the government of withholding key documents about its approval.

Nautilus Minerals Inc, a Canada-based company primarily owned by Russian and Omani mining firms, wants to extract gold and copper deposits from 1.6km below the surface of the Bismarck Sea, using a seabed mining technique never before used in commercial operations.

Nautilus told the Guardian it has conducted dozens of community meetings – reaching more than 30,000 people from nearby islands – and has had its key documents, including a detailed environmental impact statement, publicly available for years.

But members of nearby communities, represented by the Port Moresby-based Centre for Environmental Law and Community Rights Inc (Celcor), claim they were not adequately consulted and that they hold grave concerns over its impact.

There are also concerns over its financial viability and the PNG government’s stake in it.

Celcor, which has been assisted by the New South Wales Environmental Defenders Office, formally lodged an application in PNG’s national court and served the PNG government last week.

It said key documents had not been published, and that under the PNG constitution affected residents had a right to the information.

The plaintiffs have previously sought documents including the original permit, the environmental management plan and independent reviews, all oceanographic data on the site, and any studies or modelling of the environmental, social, health, culture and economic impacts.

They had also asked for any agreements made between Nautilus and the PNG government or other entities in relation to the project, and evidence of the mining minister’s original granting of the exploration licence and his reasons.

“Our major concern is the environmental impact of this project, since there is no independent environmental study,” a plaintiff, Jonathan Mesulam, from PNG’s New Ireland Province, said.

Mesulam criticised the company’s consultation approach, and said the community at large did not give “free, prior and informed consent” on the company’s permit.

“They had no control. It has been organised by the former minister, and a few other people from the local level government,” he said.

The Solwara 1 field, in a volcanic area between the islands of New Britain and New Ireland, was identified by Australia’s CSIRO in 1996. Nautilus was granted an environmental permit for the field in 2009, and a mining licence in 2011.

Seabed mining – which Nautilus described as “the next big disruptive technology” – is usually based around areas of metallic nodules, or active or extinct hydrothermal vents, which carry valuable metal deposits.

The proposed process uses machinery previously used in other mining industries to excavate materials from the sea floor, then draw it up to the surface as seawater slurry. The slurry is then “de-watered” and transferred to another vessel for shipping. Extracted seawater is then pumped back down and discharged close to the sea floor.

Critics have said the environmental impact assessment is insufficient as it does not include a “rigorous risk assessment” or an environmental management plan.

“The mining process would generate plumes of sediment, and our critique of the EIS is that there is not sufficient scientific research or modelling done by Nautilus on what would be contained in those plumes,” said Dr Helen Rosenbaum, coordinator of the deep-sea mining campaign.

“Our reviews all show there are significant gaps in the document. The gaps are big enough to render the EIS not fit for purpose.”

Nautilus says the Solwara 1 deposit – Solwara means “salt water” in Tok Pisin – contains high grade copper and gold deposits, up to 10 times higher than typical grades for land-based mines, and has the potential to yield “far superior” ore to mines on land with far less impact on the environment and those who live nearby.

The chief executive of Nautilus Minerals, Michael Johnston, said seabed mining did not require large pits to be dug and created no waste, and the company had carefully modelled the impact of mining on the sea floor. He said there was no impact on fishing because the mining took place more than 30km offshore and far from reef fishing areas.

Johnston said the company has run public meetings every two years, reaching more than 30,000 people, on the progress of the project and the modelled potential environmental impacts.

He said the project had “broad and strong public support” and across all levels of government, and opposition was being led by “a handful of … professional activists”.

“You always get one or two people who jump up and down,” he said. “Some people think if they make a lot of noise, they’ll be given money to go away, and we don’t do that.”

Johnston said Nautilus had helped in developments on New Ireland island, bringing toilets and running water to 25 schools, and working with health organisations running vaccination programs.

He said the company had been transparent with all the information on the project, and he was “struggling to know” how they could be more open.

“Our EIS has been on our website since April 2009, and the executive summary has been translated into Tok Pisin,” he said. “It’s with the conservation and environment protection authority offices in Port Moresby for anybody to see, and we will happily print out copies for anyone who wants one. Anyone who is sceptical about the project, we are happy for them to contact us and we’ll talk them through it.”

There have been long-running concerns about the experimental project, including a 2012 petition with more than 20,000 signatures from the residents of the Madang, Oro and New Britain provinces calling for it to be stopped.

In 2016 the then PNG attorney general and minister for justice, Sir Arnold Amet, rejected the “Papua New Guinea-pig” project, which he said was approved under the Mining Act and without an adequate regulatory framework.

“We are a developing nation, we don’t have the capacity, we don’t have the resources … There is not a tenable argument that says we ought to be used as an experimental locality,” he told the ABC.

In 2016 Oregon State University scientists discovered that hydrothermal vents and methane seeps were emerging as “a major force in ocean ecosystems, marine life and global climate” but were under threat from human activity, including seabed mining.

In June, Blue Ocean Law and the Pacific Network on Globalisation said that compared with industries with a proven track record of sustainability, seabed mining was “a gamble”, risking potentially irreversible environmental impacts and destruction of local fisheries.

Beyond the legal challenge, the Solwara 1 mining venture has also been plagued by financing issues and delays, including a three-year dispute between the company and the PNG government over the equity agreement.

In 2013, arbitration found PNG had breached the agreement, which had previously been described as “high risk” and “low return”, according to a report by Blue Ocean Law and the Pacific Network on Globalisation.

The PNG’s current stake, held by a government company, is 15%, financed by a loan from the Bank of the South Pacific.

Last week the opposition spokesman on treasury and finance, Ian Ling-Stuckey, called for an end to “silly investments best left to the private sector”, labelling the US$113m Nautilus deal a “foolhardy investment”.

Nautilus told its AGM this year “there is increased uncertainty and economic and technical risks of failure associated with this production decision”, and that it required significant additional funding to advance production.

This month Nautilus issued a statement to the Toronto Stock Exchange warning of cashflow and financing difficulties, deferring for a third time its due date for a required $10m funding injection.

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Nautilus EIS in public domain for 8 year

More lies and deception from Nautilus and the mining industry. The court case by local communities is NOT about the EIS, it is about understanding in full the information on which licensing decisions were made and the environmental, health and economic impacts…

PNG Industry News | 11 December 2017

THE environmental impact statement for Nautilus Minerals’ Solwara 1 seabed mining project has been on the company’s website for more than eight years.

The EIS – full document with all the appendices – has been available to anyone who wished to see it since April 2009.

 “We translated the summary of the document into pidgin [Tok Pisin], and that is available as well. And there are also copies of our EIS at the offices of CEPA (Conservation Environment Protection Authority),” said Mike Johnston, Nautilus chief executive officer.

Johnson was responding to a comments by an activist NGO which says it intends to launch legal proceedings against the Papua New Guinea government to “obtain key documents” relating to the Solwara 1 project. 

“We have had three public hearings for the EML (extractive minerals lease) – in Port Moresby, Rabaul and Kavieng,” said Johnson, who was responding to the claim that there had been “very little information about the Solwara 1 project” by NGO Centre for Environmental Law and Community Rights (CELCoR).

Johnston said that all the information about Solwara 1 had been freely available on the company’s website and there were public hearings through the EIS process. Solwara 1 is in the Bismarck Sea, about 30km from the nearest coast in New Ireland Province. 

“We have had ongoing community engagement and meetings,” he said.

“All of their claims are baseless, from what I see,” Johnston said, predicting that the court would throw out the proceedings.

 “It is just another publicity stunt by NGOs to try and keep things in the newspapers.  I am not sure what they are trying to achieve or where it is going to go. People believe some of this stuff. The government has followed due process, PNG has good mining laws which are very similar to Australia’s. The adopted Queensland’s mining regulations,” Johnston said. 

On Friday CELCoR said that acting on behalf of “coastal communities”, it had launched legal proceedings against the PNG government in a bid to obtain key documents relating to the licensing and the environmental, health and economic impacts of the Solwara 1 project.

Activist Jonathan Mesulam, from the west coast of New Ireland Province, said this “information” had been requested for the past four years, but the government had ignored its requests.

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Locals file case to stop seabed mining

Jemimah Sukbat | Loop PNG | December 8, 2017

The Solwara Alliance has filed a case against the government at the Waigani National Court to stop the operation of seabed mining in West Coast New Ireland.

Filed on Thursday afternoon, the Alliance wants the Government to make public all necessary and relevant documents under seabed mining agreement, who is involved in approving the project and on what grounds and why the government is still pursuing the project.

Jonathan Mesulam, a West Coast New Irelander and a member of the Solwara Alliance, says the people in the village are strongly against seabed mining because their livelihood will be affected by the project. They want the Government to ban the project.

“No one knows the environmental impacts of this project. There is also no independent environmental studies so why is the government pushing for this project?

“There will be negative impacts in the local and national economy, especially the fisheries sector,” says Mesulam, who is currently in Port Moresby to file the case.

“Solwara 1 is not a good investment, it will only last for three years.”

They want the developer, Nautilus Minerals Limited, to pack up and leave by next year.

When asked if the villagers were consulted before the agreement was signed, Mesulam said the developer never consulted the locals.

“This MOA was signed by a few people who only think about themselves.”

From the footages taken from the villages along West Coast New Ireland, the people say they own both the land and sea and the mining will greatly affect their lifestyle, especially in shark-calling.

Mesulam said New Ireland does not need a seabed mine. They already have fish, cocoa, coconut and other resources where they can depend on for economic benefits.

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Nautilus can’t pay its suppliers and may fold

Nautilus is again warning it has no cash and may need to sell

Talks still on over seafloor system

The National aka The Loggers Times | December 7, 2017

NAUTILUS says discussions between the company and various parties involved in the manufacture of the seafloor production system is continuing.
Nautilus in a statement said it was making progress with respect to deferring some of its immediate cash-flow requirements.
And as a result, the company is updating its previous reference to a funding requirement of US$10 mil (K31.45mil).
Nautilus said there could be no assurances that the company would be successful in securing the necessary additional financing transactions within the required time or at all.
Failure to secure the necessary financing may result in the company engaging specialist advisers and taking various steps aimed at maximising shareholder value such as undertaking various transactions including, without limitation, asset sales, joint ventures and capital restructuring.

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Villagers oppose Solwara 1 project

Concerns have been raised on how seabed mining would affect marine life/resources of the Bismarck Sea

Jemimah Sukbat | Loop PNG | December 4, 2017

West Coast New Ireland villagers near the Solwara 1 project strongly oppose the Nautilus Minerals Limited operation.

John Merebo, a Messi villager, revealed to Loop PNG that West Coast New Irelanders were never part of the agreement when it was signed.

The seabed mining agreement was signed in 2012 by the then Mining Minister and Namatanai MP Byron Chan, the New Ireland Provincial Government and National Government.

He said they do not want the development of the project to go on because they do not see any benefits in it.

“There is not a lot of economic activity out of the project because everything will be done by the company off shore.”

But since the government has already signed for the project, Merebo said they want to be part of the negotiating team in the next part of the operation. This is to discuss spin-off benefits.

Meanwhile, during a recent conference, UPNG Professor Chalapan Kaluwin said seabed mining would be disastrous for New Ireland Province.

Professor Kaluwin stated the project could be catastrophic for our waters given the fact that PNG has 20 percent of the world’s tuna; it also has the world’s warmest waters and fastest currents.

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Karkar Islanders against seabed mining: Leader

Brian Kramer at the event at UPNG

Jemimah Sukbat  | Loop PNG | December 2, 2017

Karkar Island has joined New Guinea Islanders in the fight against seabed mining.

This was the message from senior statesman Sir Arnold Amet.

His message was relayed by Member for Madang Brian Kramer at the School of Natural and Physical Sciences forum at UPNG’s main lecture theatre recently.

Kramer, who was just there as an observer, relayed Sir Arnold’s written speech as he was unable to attend the forum.

Sir Arnold says the Karkar Island, where he comes from, is located in the western part of the Bismarck Sea. Therefore, he and the islanders are pledging their support in the stand against the development of seabed mining.

He said the project will be the world’s first deep sea mine operation and a high level of uncertainty surrounds it.

Furthermore, the mine is situated on traditional fishing grounds thus it threatens the villagers’ main source of income, food and the tourism industry.

The mine is 25km from Kono and Messi villages of west coast New Ireland. It is also 40km from the Duke of York Island of East New Britain.

In 2012, PNG decided to issue the world’s first commercial mining licence to Canadian mining company, Nautilus Minerals Inc, to mine the Solwara 1 project in the Bismarck Sea.

The project is expected to be a reality in 2019.

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Seabed mining would be disastrous: Professor

Jemimah Sukbat | Loop PNG | November 30, 2017

Seabed mining would be disastrous for New Ireland Province.

The Solwara 1 project is an “experimental project” and is expected to be a reality in PNG in 2019.

During a discussion forum at the UPNG main lecture theatre yesterday, Professor Chalapan Kaluwin, acting Dean UPNG, pointed out that the project by Nautilus Minerals is a new global concept.

He says the developer is pursuing it because it is an investment, but what about the sustainability of the ocean resources and the livelihood of the people?

Professor Kaluwin states the project could be catastrophic for our waters given the fact that PNG has 20 percent of the world’s tuna; it also has the world’s warmest waters and fastest currents.

“Whose ocean is it? Does it belong to the people or the Government? “These are sustainable development issues,” says Professor Kaluwin.

He points out that though the country does not have an ocean policy nor a policy on o -shore mining, the Government still decided to support the development of the project.

Additionally, environmental activist Rosa Koian says because it is a research project, it would have a short lifespan.

She questions the Government as to whose responsibility would it be to clean up after the research project.

Meanwhile, during the Mining and Petroleum conference on Tuesday, Minister for Mining Johnson Tuke stated that one of the government’s outlook is to see the Solwara 1 project be fully operational in the next 10 years.

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