Thursday, 10 March 2016 00:00

‘Deep sea mining is less wasteful; than land-based mining’ – NAUTILUS MINERALS

This week we are privileged to run two separate interviews on deep-sea mining. These interviews are rare insights and knowledge gems in understanding this subject. We invite you our reader to read the views of Nautilus Minerals who are actively involved in deep sea mining as a private sector concern and also troll through the views of the environmental defence lobby Greenpeace on deep-sea mining. If you wish to join the debate drop us a line by contacting us on: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

As this is an emerging issue will be publishing insightful pieces and opinions on this subject.

IOO: What measures should be put in place as environmental safeguards before deep sea mining commences?

NAUTILUS MINERALS: First of all, deep sea mineral production offers many environmental and social advantages to mineral development   compared to what is traditionally done on land, where resources are becoming stretched.  Compared to land-based mining, deep sea mineral production produces little waste as the deposits are essentially sitting on the seafloor with minimal overburden, no people need to be relocated and no infrastructure roads or access needs to be built. Many of these advantages are due to the high grades of deposits, more than 10 times higher than those found on land. Most mining operations on land produce a huge amount of waste while deep sea mining proves to be much less wasteful.

Secondly, even with these advantages, Nautilus is dedicated to setting a high environmental responsibility standard. Taking a multi-stakeholder approach to develop various environmental safeguards, Nautilus has made a number of environmental commitments which go above and beyond what is required under legislation – this is something we are extremely proud of.  Some examples of our commitments include:

  • A fully enclosed pipe and pumping system ensures that the copper resource is taken from the seafloor to the surface vessel without ever coming into contact with the seawater above the Solwara 1 site.  This is not the cheapest option, but it is the most environmentally and socially responsible solution to ensure water quality and fish stocks would not be impacted.
  • There will be no blasting at Solwara 1.
  • Solwara 1 will use biodegradable fluids and oils in all equipment operated subsea.
  • No hazardous chemicals or tailings will be discharged to the sea. 
  • There will be no extraction impact shallower than 1300 m water depth at Solwara 1 (well below where tuna, etc, live)

Limiting the impacts in the deep sea:

Impact mitigation strategies have been developed with a team of independent world experts. We are very proud to be able to say: all strategies suggested were accepted by Nautilus.
Protection measures include:

  • Setting aside a reference site within the Mining Lease
  • Establishing Refuge Areas within Solwara 1
  • Nautilus has committed to Animal relocation out of the path of mining
  • Installation of artificial substrates (habitat) to help the success of the relocation efforts (see image below).

“Deep sea mineral production offers many environmental and social advantages to mineral development.” Nautilus Minerals [Image: NM].

IOO: You are among the first companies to be awarded an ocean floor mining license. How did you achieve this?

NAUTILUS MINERALS: We should probably note that we are actually the second company.  Diamond fields International has a Mining License for the Atlantis II Deep deposit in the Red Sea, which was granted in 2010.  The Solwara 1 Mining Lease was granted in 2011. 

Examining the wealth from the deep seas. [Image: NM]

The path that Nautilus took to be awarded the mining lease was extensive involving multiple scientific studies, numerous community consultations and meetings will all levels of government in Papua New Guinea. Here is the timeline:

1990s – November 1997
Very high grades of copper, gold and silver were known to be found in the area now called Solwara 1, as a result of scientific exploration carried out in the 1990s. Based on the findings from analysis of on-site samples, Nautilus applied for an Exploration License which was granted in November 1997. 

February 1999
PNG hosted an expert group that met and produced The Madang Guidelines on offshore mineral development policy. Soon after, the International Marine Minerals Society (IMMS) developed a draft Code for Environmental Management of Marine Mining. The Code was updated in 2011. Together with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), these important documents are an internationally recognised basis for effective policy, legislative, environmental, industry and stakeholder consideration.

December 2005 – September 2008
Internationally recognized experts in marine geology and biology were identified in preparation of the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). To ensure the participation of the best international marine scientists in conducting the studies we agreed they would be free to publish their results and to date more than 36 papers and articles have been published in peer-reviewed journals and/or presented at international conferences.

Nautilus began extensive consultations through public forums with communities in New Ireland and East New Britain Provinces and elsewhere within PNG. More than 11,000 people so far have participated in these discussions about environmental, socio-economic and technical issues.

Nautilus used an extensive multi-stakeholder approach in preparing the Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA) and subsequent EIS for the Solwara 1 Project. We held workshops involving local and international NGOs, local and international scientists and government officials to determine the studies required to properly evaluate the environment, to identify which groups should conduct the studies and to estimate project impacts. 

April 2008
Nautilus conducted further consultation with various expert stakeholders to examine the results of all the ESIA studies holistically and to develop a number of strategies to minimise environmental impacts whilst maintaining overall biodiversity and ecosystem health and function. One such strategy, which Nautilus has committed to, involves a “set aside” area within the Mining Lease.

September 2008
Nautilus submitted the Solwara 1 Development Proposal and Mining Lease application to the Mineral Resource Authority.
September 2008
Nautilus submitted the Environmental Impact Statement and all supporting studies to the Department of Environment and Conservation (DEC).

November 2008
Public hearings were held as part of the EIS review.

January – July 2009
The Department of Environment and Conservation and an independent international consulting group they engaged reviewed the EIS over a six month period.

April 2009
Public hearings (Wardens Hearings) were held as part of the Mining Lease application review.

August 2009
The EIS was reviewed by the Environment Council, a group of leading PNG scientists who recommended Approval in Principle of the EIS in August 2009.  The Environment Minister granted the Solwara 1 EIS “Approval in Principle” status in August 2009. 

December 2009
Following the Approval in Principle by the Environment Minister, Nautilus applied for an Environmental Permit, which was granted in December 2009.

January 2011
Following the submission of the Solwara 1 Development Proposal, Mining Lease application and Environmental Impact Statement in September 2008, the State conducted a thorough review using a team of experts from Departments and agencies including Mining, MRA, State Solicitors, Provincial Affairs, Environment, Treasury, National Maritime Safety Authority and Commerce. A full technical audit included government technical team visits to the US and UK (where key equipment for the Solwara 1 Project is being built) in 2010.

The State of Papua New Guinea demonstrated confidence that all technical and environmental mandates were complete by issuing a Mining Lease to Nautilus Minerals in January 2011.

Nautilus is now developing the Environmental Management Plan (EMP) for submission to the DEC for their review prior to commercial production.

Nautilus Minerals staff examining samples from the ocean floor [Image: NM]

IOO: What are the safety precautions that need to be met by mining companies?

NAUTILUS MINERALS: One of the advantages of going to the deep sea for minerals is that no one needs to work at the “mine face” (all operations are carried out remotely) and there are no communities who will be directly impacted by mining operations (no one lives in the deep sea; no people need to be moved). 

Nautilus is taking the best practises from the offshore oil and gas and mining industries to ensure operations are conducted to the highest standard.  

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