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DEEP SEA MINING-Papua New Guinea (PNG) Case Study: Analyzing the promise of Deep Sea Mining



Deep-sea mining is a relatively unconventional metal extraction method which is now on focus because of the huge economic potential that it can unleash. It involves mining of valuable metals like cobalt, copper, manganese and most importantly Rare Earth Elements (REEs) from sea-floors. And the huge repository of such minerals which includes Co, Zn, Mg and REEs are very important for any country as they are needed for technological, military and high-grade equipment as well as nation’s infrastructural development and advancement. These categories of metals that are available in deep-sea are widely used in smartphone industries, laptops as well as new emerging hybrid automobiles. Currently, China controls to about more than 85% of global REEs (Cheng Xu, 2017). In the recent decade, it has used this monopoly to drive the market in its way by controlling the production and price of REEs. So, the internal community is trying to find and explore new possibilities for such minerals from other unconventional extraction methods like deep-sea mining. One of the first country to get the license for deep-sea mining was Papua New Guinea. This country has a diverse population which in recent years has been seeing some late economic growth. PNG has huge reserves of natural resources including those of precious gold, copper, silver and gas. Problem with these reserves on land is that not all of them have been identified and due to the difficult terrain of PNG and high infrastructural development costs the mining of many of these reserves has not been possible. This has resulted in the inability of the PNG government to exploit such valuable metals and RREs from the land for their economy. This country is also blessed with rich forests and hence timber as well as great fisheries. But regardless of all this, estimates indicate that more than 50% of the population still lives in poverty (Papua New Guinea Overview, 2017). This presentation comprehensively discusses the potential, opportunities and challenges of deep-sea mining in Papua New Guinea.
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Under the Supervision of Dr. Somnath Bandyopadhyay
Associate Professor, Water Science and Policy
Submitted by ANKIT PANDEY
School of Ecology and Environment Studies (SE&ES)
Nalanda University, Rajgir (Bihar), India
DEEP SEA MINING Papua New Guinea (PNG)
Case Study
Analyzing the promise of Deep Sea Mining
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Deep Sea mining would be an effective way to
obtain a large amount of rare earths; in one specific
section of the ocean floor, " square kilometre
could meet a fifth of the world's annual
consumption of rare metals and yttrium..."
(, 2011).
However, the economic viability of deep sea mining
is still questionable. If the environmental and
financial factors were cleared, then deep sea
mining would definitely be a feasible option for the
long term.
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DEEP-SEA MINING: A CONCISE HISTORY The 1982 UNCLOS and its deep-sea mining
Implementing Agreement of 1994 form the
framework for the International Seabed
Authority (ISA) Mining Code (Mining Code
The major repercussion of the UNCLOS/ISA
mining policy is that although the ISA has
issued seven deep-sea bed leases in the high
seas area the severity of the regulations
caused mining entities to focus the majority of
their efforts in Exclusive Economic Zones
Identification of key laws that are pertinent to deep-
sea mining in PNG
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In these zones, the respective nation has the responsibilities of issuing mining licenses and defining
environmental safeguards.
The International Seabed Authority has no jurisdiction in EEZs; the Authority only has jurisdiction in
international waters of the high seas.
Areas where vent water is mixed with and diluted by the surrounding cold water are typically the biologically
active areas, because complex vent food webs are supported by chemosynthetic primary production.
Chemosynthetic archaea and bacteria oxidize hydrogen sulfide to form sugar.
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Papua New Guinea, a country made up of over 600 islands that are populated by a diverse population of 6.2
million people.
PNG is situated in the Ring of Fire between the oceanic Pacific Plate to its north and the Indo-Australian
Plate to its south. This placement is an area of such tectonic activity and same tectonic activity also
contributes to the natural resource richness and diversity of PNG.
Manus Basin is located north of PNG in the Bismarck Sea and contains several areas of hydrothermal activity
and vent communities. As mentioned earlier, a product of hydrothermal activity is the production of gold,
copper, zinc, and silver sources called polymetallic massive sulfides.
A variety of organisms also inhabit Manus Basin vent sites.
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Typical Animal found at Hydrothermal Vent Sites in the Manus Basin
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The prosperity of PNG is impacted by the success of the PNG mining industry, which has been making the most
significant contributions to the PNG economy since the 1970s.
However, not all identified reserves are being mined due to the difficult terrain of the country and
infrastructure development costs as mentioned below.
Human Ecology Part A
Regardless of the country’s diverse population, its economic growth of late, and its plentiful natural
resources of gold, oil, gas, copper, silver, timber, and fisheries, estimates indicate that over half the
population lives in poverty.
The terrain as well as infrastructure development costs are obstacles to natural resource exploitation.
The national budget is now stable after years of political and social issues such as corruption, high
unemployment, and high crime rates, but recovering investor confidence and re-establishing integrity to
state institutions are two of the many challenges that PNG continues to confront.
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Nautilus Minerals has submitted and the PNG Government has accepted the Environmental Impact Statement
(EIS) for the Solwara I Project. This acceptance serves as confirmation that the document complies with
Environment Act 2000 submission requirements, specifically that
§all possible impacts have been described,
§all reasonable measures will be taken to minimize those impacts,
§and that the activity and relevant environmental policies are in agreement with each other to the Directors satisfaction.
Human Ecology Part B
Not everyone approves of deep-sea mining in the region. Nautilus Minerals received a formal letter of concern
from representatives of tribal coastal villagers. The representatives were requesting the opportunity for
additional community participation and a broader Environmental Impact Statement. The villagers’ argument
was simple: They depend on the ocean as a food source and do not want to risk losing it by rushing into deep-
sea mining.
Generally, the indigenous groups are concerned that the impacts from the mining activities will derange the
coral ecosystems on which they depend and, therefore, negatively impact their health, livelihoods, and
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Tota l Ec ology of Pa pu a New Guinea
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Although scientific studies can convey some
knowledge regarding the risks, costs, and/or
benefits of an action, “everything is politicswhich
means that science is not nor should it be -the
only factor that will determine a given decision.
Just as scientific studies can convey knowledge, they
can also clarify what is not known and will always
be haunted by a degree of uncertainty.
Since decisions will always be made in the light of
some uncertainty, one must consider that while one
impact or risk is being avoided, another impact or
risk is being accepted.
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§Seabed sediments are stirred up, drifting with
the current and damaging other habitats,
§Organisms die with the absorption of the
material, if not before.
§The release of sediment and heavy metal-
containing waste water causes a sediment
§Noise, vibration, lights and pollution caused by
harvesting robots and ships can disturb,
damage or disperse seabirds, fish and marine
§Possible consequence: massive pollution of the
local seabed environment, resulting in the
degradation of maritime resources for
neighboring residents.
Source: Greenpeace: Deep Seabed Mining, 2013: 7
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§Deep-sea mining is a complicated issue. On the surface, the events in PNG seem like a race between industry and
government with other stakeholders such as non-governmental organizations and the Indigenous Peoples Council to see
whose interests will be represented in the policy outcome.
§Industry interests do want to make money but they are trying to go about mining in a responsible way by collaborating
with experts worldwide in developing a thorough Environmental Impact Statement and proposing to use efficient,
relatively precise technology.
§The PNG Government is trying to end the corruption in its own ranks while trying to carry out environmental and other
social responsibilities.
§Indigenous people are trying to make sure that their interests are represented in the face of major political and economic
forces and with the time many events will continue to unfold.
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School of Ecology and Environment Studies (SE&ES)
ResearchGate has not been able to resolve any citations for this publication.
Full-text available
Heavy rare earth elements (HREE) are dominantly mined from the weathering crusts of granites in South China. Although weathering processes occur globally, no economic HREE resources of this type have yet been found outside China. Here, we report the occurrence of unidentified REE minerals in the granites from South Chinese deposits. They contain high levels of both HREE and light REE, but are strongly depleted in Ce, implying high oxidation state. These REE minerals show higher initial Nd isotope than primary REE-rich minerals (eNd(t) ¼ 0.9±0.8 versus À 11.5±0.5). The mineralized weathering crusts inherited REE signature of the granites, but show more Ce depletion and more overall concentration of the REE. We propose, therefore, that highly oxidized, REE-rich fluids, derived from external, isotopically depleted sources, metasomatized the granites, which resulted in Ce depletion as Ce 4 þ and enrichment of the remaining REE, especially the HREE, contributing to formation of a globally important REE resource.
Interest in deep-sea mining developed in the early 1970s, with a focus on manganese nodules in international waters. Mining may actually occur first, however, on rich polymetallic sulfide deposits associated with hydrothermal vents within exclusive economic zones. Even though mining for polymetallic sulfides may not take place for several years, precautionary performance standards, environmental regulations, and the establishment of Marine Protected Areas may help guide the marine mining industry toward a goal of minimizing environmental impacts. Once substantial investments in prospecting and exploring a potential mining site are made, implementation of environmental regulations may prove to be much more difficult.
Compared to terrestrial and shallow-water habitats, deep-sea hydrothermal vents are unique environments characterized by their local insularity, global distribution, individual ephemerality, collective geological longevity, geochemical homogeneity, and their physical and energetic isolation from the catastrophic events implicated in the extinction and speciation of terrestrial and shallow-water forms. Development of vent communities has thus occurred in novel biogeographical contexts that challenge our ability to understand evolutionary processes in the deep sea. Recent field work by French, Canadian, German, Japanese and American scientists has revealed intriguing patterns in the taxonomic composition and distribution of vent organisms at geographically disjunct study sites.
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