The opening of the world's first mine in the deep ocean comes closer to reality as Canadian mining company, Nautilus Minerals, signs an agreement with the Papua New Guinea Government to start excavating an area of seabed.
The project will extract ores of copper, gold and other valuable metals from a depth of 1,500m, 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.
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, according to a BBC report.
The plan is to break up the top layer of the seabed so that the ore can be pumped up as a slurry.
Nautilus' CEO, Mike Johnston, said the Company was pleased to have achieved an amicable resolution of its issues with the State.
"This step represents a major vote of confidence in Nautilus Minerals and the Solwara 1 Project. Through this joint venture, the State will provide a significant capital investment and will retain a direct interest in the long term success of the Project. We look forward to working closely with the State and Petromin on Solwara 1, which will generate significant economic activity within the State and the Province of New Ireland," he said.
Under the agreement, the state will take an initial 15% interest in the project with an option to take up to a further 15% interest within 12 months of the agreement becoming unconditional. Papua New Guinea has paid Nautilus a non-refundable deposit for its initial 15% interest of US$7,000,000.
Source: Nautilus Minerals/BBC News