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Deep sea mining to drive green growth and economy
Jeju, Korea

Deep sea mining to drive green growth and economy

Dr. Samantha Smith, environmental expert employed by the Canadian conglomerate Nautilus Minerals Inc. is promoting deep sea mining at the IUCN World Conservation Congress organized by the here in Jeju, South Korea, as the solution to the ecological destruction of ecosystems by terrestrial mining operations on land.

“The world demand for minerals is on the rise and with the land resources stretched and the grades of minerals declining, deep sea mineral production offer sound environmental advantages.”

She said the green growth can only be sustained by deep sea mining.

Nautilus argues that deep sea mining is needed now more than ever to drive the growth towards developing clean technologies such as solar and wind energy.

“To build just one wind turbine requires 500kg of nickel plus 1000kg of copper. This means that a single turbine requires 12 times more copper to create 1 kilowatt of power than fossil fuels,” Dr Smith said.

To put things into perspective, land only represents 30% of the earth’s surface while 70% is submerged underwater. Today 100% of mining is done terrestrially on 30% of the earth’s surface while 70% remains untouched on the seabed. 

Because most of these metals especially nickel are found in the equatorial regions, it is argued that the further we delay mining  the seabed, more virgin forests have to be destroyed to make way for mining, destroying biodiversity and tropical ecosystem as well as the earth’s capacity to absorb carbon emissions.

With declining quality in the average ore grade to 0.61% grade on ore extracted on land compared to a 7.2 % grade from samples obtained on the seabed in the Bismarck Sea in PNG, these large sulphide deposits on the seabed will become the world’s major source of gold, copper, zinc and silver.

Nautilus Minerals argue that building electric and hybrid cars with low carbon emissions and costs will require more minerals such as copper that terrestrial mining cannot offer without further destruction to the environment, loss of biodiversity and livelihoods from climate change.

The average car built in the US today has around 50-55 pounds or 22 to 24kg of copper. In a hybrid electric vehicle, this amount will double to 44 to 48kg of copper and triple to 66 to 72kg of copper in a pure electric vehicle. The vehicle’s inverter system alone which delivers power to the motors is connected to them by cables containing 8-18 kg of copper.

The trade off in using more copper in vehicles in the US is 93% less smog-forming volatile and organic compounds and 31% less nitrogen oxide, compared to a car on fossil fuels. The Copper Development Association Inc translates this into a one-third reduction in use of oil if three-fourths of American vehicles were electric. Operating costs of plug-in cars are likely to be significantly lower than those on fossil fuel-powered cars because electricity costs three to five cents per mile with average electric rates, of the equivalent of 75 cents to $1.25 per gallon of gasoline.

The rationale used is that the green economy will be driven by the use of renewable energy sources that has seen developed countries investing in new technology that seeks to make them become less dependent on fossil fuels for their energy supplies, building electricity based infrastructure for transportation. In-order to convert wind and solar energy directly into electric energy requires large amounts of metals whose terrestrial extraction have been cause of much destruction of nature’s biodiversity.

According to a technical report prepared by SRK consulting (Australasia) Pty Ltd released May this year for Nautilus Minerals Inc, it has made applications for prospecting licenses and mining leases in PNG, Solomon Islands, Fiji, Vanuatu, Tonga and New Zealand. Applications were made through Nautilus Minerals Offshore, a company registered in Vanuatu and fully owned by Nautilus Minerals Inc.

Nautilus has 41 granted Prospecting Licenses in Vanuatu covering an area of 3630km2 on the eastern side of the main islands while there are 14 further Prospecting License applications covering 1247km2

Safe and environmentally friendly
Deep Sea Mining has been hailed as the new frontier and the ‘Solwora 1’ site at the bottom of the Bismarck Sea is the experimental site and the new Wild West that needs to be conquered and subdued.

Dr. Smith said the deep sea mining is environmentally friendly because they will be using technology that will scrape the top of the ocean floor getting metals like a lawnmower cutting grass and transporting it in closed tubes back up to the to avoid spills and pollution to the surrounding environment.

In her presentation she said the mineral deposit under the seabed at the ‘Solwora 1’ site in the Bismarck Sea goes down to a depth of 30 to 50 meters, however, there was enough deposits on the surface to sustainably produce enough without having to dig.

When pressed about the drilling below the seabed to meet global demands she responded: “Even if we have to drill, 50 meters is not deep enough into the earth’s crust to trigger off a volcanic eruption, an earthquake or tsunami.”

The Solwara 1 deposit is a stratabound seafloor massive sulphide that occurs on the flank and crest of a sub-sea volcanic mound which extends about 150m to 200m above the surrounding seafloor.

Despite the safety assurances, opposing groups argue that there is too much that is unknown about seafloor mining to guarantee a full proof protection against any form of destruction of the marine biodiversity and ecosystems.

The irony of deep sea mining as a green solution to terrestrial mining is that after we have extracted all minerals, leveled mountains and dig deep holes towards the earth’s crust to milk every last bit of rock, we now want to shift into the sea which truly remains as the last frontier. Perhaps after we have depleted all mineral resources at the bottom of the ocean, the new frontier will become the moon and Mars. 

Capitalism, modern consumerism and our desire and wants to have more, bigger, better, faster, smaller and efficient has a funny way of justifying greed for profit in a green growth and green economy framework.