With consumers demanding products requiring increasingly scarce minerals, undersea sources of ore are becoming attractive to mining companies.
In the past, mining the ocean floor was dismissed as being too expensive to deliver profits for investors. However, newer technologies are removing many of the old engineering barriers, suggesting the concept may now deliver the profits not possible even a few years ago. The primary question remaining is whether or not mining companies, like Nautilus Minerals, can mitigate the environmental issues surrounding their operations.
What Types of Minerals Do Mining Companies Expect to Extract from the Ocean?
Copper, gold, manganese, and even diamonds are all on the list of elements mine operators anticipate recovering from ocean floor mining operations. In fact, most mineral mined on land can be extracted from the world’s oceans.
How Do Mining Companies Plan to Mine Minerals from the Sea Floor?
According to a recent Vice News article, De Beers Marine has employed a large crawler to dredge for diamonds off the coast of Nambia. Nautilus Minerals, according to the same article, will deploy “massive seabed cutters and collectors to extract copper-gold ore from the mineral-rich volcanic vents 5,000 feet down.”
The newer technology Nautilus anticipates using is controversial, as environmental organizations have long expressed concerns any disturbance of the sea floor is likely to cause significant damage to local ecological systems, especially at the depths Nautilus is expecting to operate in.
What Concerns with Ocean Floor Mining are Common?
“Deep-sea area targeted by mining claims frequently harbor high biodiversity and fragile habitats, and may have very slow rates of recovery from physical disturbance,” said Craig Smith, Professor at the University of Hawaii at Manoa.
In addition to the actual disturbance of the sea floor, the water in the area is likely to see some increase in turbidity due to the activities, which is expected to affect resident organisms. The type of technology used would greatly influence the turbidity levels.
Of course, environmentalists are concerned simply because of the lack of comprehensive evidence available to determine what the potential impacts of ocean floor mining are.
Are There Benefits to Ocean Floor Mining?
There are significant benefits gained from ocean floor mining, especially when the practice is compared to land-based mining operations, said Nautilus Minerals.
The company’s Solwara 1 project, located off the shores of Papua New Guinea, recently received approval for the project after several years of disputes with the Papua New Guinea government and is expected to be in operation by 2018.
“We believe that the proposed Solwara 1 project will launch a new frontier in the blue economy and resource sector,” said Nautilus Mineral’s CEO Mike Johnston. “As the first publicly-listed company in the world to commercially explore seafloor mining opportunities, Nautilus is committed to leading the way and setting a high bar for developing an environmentally and socially responsible approach for the industry.”
What Does the Future Hold for Ocean Floor Mining?
Mining companies around the world have a lot riding on the outcome of the Solwara 1 project. If, as Nautilus contends, the mining can occur with minimal impact on the environment, other countries may be more willing to evaluate the prospect of ocean floor mining. New Zealand, for example, has been hesitant to issue permits in the past, but might be willing to reevaluate their stand if the Solwara 1 project is both profitable and results in minimal environmental damage.
Information sourced from Vice News, Center for Ocean Solutions, and Mining.com