Is this the next frontier in mining?

Deep-sea gold rush

The ocean floor is literally swimming in natural resources, and the mining industry is taking notice.

Mining activity could push down into the deep ocean as miners search for materials such as rare earth elements, says Accenture consultant Adrienne Ratmansky.

“Over the next few years, many will be keeping a close eye on who is winning the race to successfully mine the sea floor,” she wrote on a recent blog. But first, mining companies will have to satisfy governments they won’t harm poorly understood ecosystems.

Miners are most interested in two types of rich deposits:

  • sea-floor massive sulphide (SMS) deposits from hydrothermal vents, which typically contain high concentrations of iron pyrites – sometimes more than 90 per cent
  • polymetallic nodules, which typically contain 29 per cent manganese, six per cent iron and three per cent silicon.

Canadian company Nautilus Minerals has won a licence to operate a deep sea mine off the coast of Papua New Guinea. A second company, Chatham Rock Phosphate, wants to mine off New Zealand. But these projects are stalled while the respective governments examine the possible environmental effects.

Deep-sea mining could be worth many billions of dollars. As an indicator, global deepwater oil and gas production was worth around US$200 billion in 2010 alone.

This article is from the August issue of INTHEBLACK

August 2015
August 2015

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