Agreement reached on deep sea mining

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Plans to open the world's first mine in the deep ocean have moved significantly closer to becoming reality.

A Canadian mining company has finalised an agreement with Papua New Guinea to start digging up an area of seabed.

The controversial project aims to extract ores of copper, gold and other valuable metals from a depth of 1,500m.

However, environmental campaigners say mining the ocean floor will prove devastating, causing lasting damage to marine life.

The company, Nautilus Minerals, has been eyeing the seabed minerals off Papua New Guinea (PNG) since the 1990s but then became locked in a lengthy dispute with the PNG government over the terms of the operation.

Under the agreement just reached, PNG will take a 15% stake in the mine by contributing $120m towards the costs of the operation.

Mike Johnston, chief executive of Nautilus Minerals, told BBC News: "It's a taken a long time but everybody is very happy."

"There's always been a lot of support for this project and it's very appealing that it will generate a significant amount of revenue in a region that wouldn't ordinarily expect that to happen."

The mine will target an area of hydrothermal vents where superheated, highly acidic water emerges from the seabed, where it encounters far colder and more alkaline seawater, forcing it to deposit high concentrations of minerals.

The result is that the seabed is formed of ores that are far richer in gold and copper than ores found on land.

Mr Johnston said that a temperature probe left in place for 18 months was found to have "high grade copper all over it".

For decades, the idea of mining these deposits – and mineral-rich nodules on the seabed – was dismissed as unfeasible because of the engineering challenge and high cost.

But the boom in offshore oil and gas operations in recent years has seen the development of a host of advanced deep sea technologies at a time when intense demand for valuable metals has pushed up global prices.

The mine, known as Solwara-1, will be excavated by a fleet of robotic machines steered from a ship at the surface.

The construction of the largest machine, a Bulk Cutter weighing 310 tonnes, has just been completed by an underwater specialist manufacturer, Soil Machine Dynamics (SMD), based in Newcastle, UK.

The plan is to break up the top layer of the seabed so that the ore can be pumped up as a slurry.

Written By: David Shukman
continue to source article at bbc.com

8 COMMENTS

  1. The controversial project aims to extract ores of copper, gold and other valuable metals from a depth of 1,500m.
    However, environmental campaigners say mining the ocean floor will prove devastating, causing lasting damage to marine life.

    I don’t want to give the impression I’m anti-environmentalist or anything like that, but I think this is a bit much. The bottom of the sea would be the less environmentally damaging location to conduct mining operations, since the major ecosystems in the sea are focused near the surface in the sunlit zone, where the majority of the photosynthesizing plankton and algae are found. It would be better if the mines were located deeper (ignoring, for the moment, the considerable engineering costs), where life is scarcer still, but mining on land would probably be more destructive than either option. If anything, I’m more concerned about the safety of the mining crew assigned to such a deep-sea location: mining isn’t the job with the best safety record, and deep sea operations add on a whole new level of risk.

    • In reply to #2 by Zeuglodon:

      major ecosystems [ ] life is scarcer still

      The “needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few”? Exquisite deep sea critters oppose.

      safety of mining crew

      Give me a break, no one is forcing them to. Whereas, as usual, mother nature has zero defense.

      • In reply to #3 by bluebird:

        The “needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few”? Exquisite deep sea critters oppose.

        If we’re going to have operations that are at least somewhat environmentally unfriendly, the next best thing is to pick a location that minimizes the impact. I’m not saying I think such operations are necessary (just that they might be) or that 1500m below sea level meets such a criterion (it might not, despite the reasons I gave). I might be persuaded otherwise.

        safety of mining crew

        Give me a break, no one is forcing them to. Whereas, as usual, mother nature has zero defense.

        It’s not a question of whether they’re being forced into such work or not. I was worrying about, say, the possibility of the companies involved cutting corners when constructing the mining facility, given the double barrel of mining being a dangerous occupation and underwater work introducing more risks than usual.

        Moreover, I don’t like the idea of the operation’s effects on some aquatic animals, especially if the local water gets poisoned for whatever reason, but I like less the idea of even more damage being done closer to the surface or on land. It seems to me to be a case of the lesser of two “evils”, so to speak.

        • In reply to #4 by Zeuglodon:

          Moreover, I don’t like the idea of the operation’s effects on some aquatic animals, especially if the local water gets poisoned for whatever reason, but I like less the idea of even more damage being done closer to the surface or on land. It seems to me to be a case of the lesser of two “evils”, so to speak.

          The problem with toxic bodies of water, is that they do not readily mix and become diluted. but move around within the seas for a long time, killing whatever sea bed life they pass over, or anything which swims into them. The mining of metals is notorious for contaminating water sources and leaving polluted land in its wake.

          • In reply to #5 by Alan4discussion:

            In reply to #4 by Zeuglodon:

            Moreover, I don’t like the idea of the operation’s effects on some aquatic animals, especially if the local water gets poisoned for whatever reason, but I like less the idea of even more damage being done closer to the surface or on land. It seems to me to be a case of…

            Does this mean that underwater mining could actually cause more environmental damage than land-based mining? Land-based mining also involves direct destruction of habitat, such as clearing of forest or desertification. Also, I am wondering if the proposed water mining will prevent such poisonous leakages.

          • In reply to #7 by Zeuglodon:

            In reply to #5 by Alan4discussion:

            Does this mean that underwater mining could actually cause more environmental damage than land-based mining?

            It is difficult to say. Where there is enforced government regulation, some of the polluting effects have been mitigated. In some third-world countries unregulated pollution is rampant.

            My perceptions of this are based on 1960s studies of effects of bodies of polluted water emanating from the mouths of heavily polluted rivers in industrial areas, before the Greenpeace campaigns forced the governments to make industries to clean up their effluent discharges.

            Unregulated pollution in difficult to observe places with corrupt governments, is well known!

            http://www.richarddawkins.net/news-articles/2014/4/28/a-toxic-legacy#

  2. There are examples of the general disregard of environmental issues by some governments where mining is involved:-

    **Unesco has threatened to list the Great Barrier Reef as a World Heritage in Danger site, amid controversy over a plan to dump dredged sediment. ** – http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-27233810

    Reef authorities granted permission for the dumping in January as part of a project to create one of the world’s biggest coal ports.

    But scientists have warned that the sediment could smother or poison coral.

    Unesco said given “significant threats” to the reef, it should be considered for inclusion on the danger list.

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