MAC: Mines and Communities

Pacific inter-governmental science body under fire over seabed mining

Published by MAC on 2012-08-21
Source: Statement, Pacific News, AJM, Post Courier

The European Union is funding a drive to develop a regulatory system for sea bed mining in the Pacific by SOPAC, the Secretariat of the Pacific Community, specifically its Applied Geoscience and Technology Division.

SOPAC's avowed  purpose is to "help Pacific island people position themselves to respond effectively to the challenges they face and make informed decisions about their future and the future they wish to leave for the generations that follow." 

However, critics claim that the EU's own Communication on the Precautionary Principle will be violated by  the "reckless approach" now being advocated by the Secretariat.

For a recent posting on deep sea mining issue, see: Revealed: the new species threatened by deep-sea mining

EU funding for SOPAC's Reckless Approach to Experimental Seabed Mining in the Pacific Under fire

Deep Sea Mining Campaign Media Release

16 August 2012

Civil Society highlights SOPAC's corruption of the precautionary principle and questions EU support for a reckless approach to development that would be unacceptable in its own member countries.

Civil society in the Pacific voiced their concern about SOPAC Director Russell Howarth's misrepresentation of the intent of the precautionary principle during the Rio+20 meeting in June this year. In his speech at Rio, Howarth revealed that his priority is to promote the interests of foreign mining companies at the expense of communities and the marine ecosystems on which they rely.

The precautionary principle places the onus on developers to prove that harm will not occur to communities or ecosystems prior to a development gaining approval. The principle requires that a development would not proceed in the face of insufficient understanding about its impacts. In contrast, SOPAC's head advocates that the lack of scientific information about impacts should not be used as a reason for postponing deep sea mining projects.

Dr. Helen Rosenbaum, campaign coordinator for the Deep Sea Mining campaign in Australia and author of Out of Our Depth: Mining the Ocean Floor in Papua New Guinea said, "SOPAC's director essentially agrees with us that there's insufficient scientific data about the impacts of deep sea mining. However, that's where we part company. "

"We call for full understanding about impacts before exploration or exploitation of deep sea mineral resources is permitted. Howarth on the other hand entirely ignores his duty of care to Pacific communities. He's willing to sacrifice their well being for perceived profits. And who will benefit from those profits?"

"If the deep sea mining test case, Solwara 1 in PNG, is anything to go by then very little benefit will accrue to the communities who will be affected by the project - $5 in every $1000 earned by the company."

The European Union is funding SOPAC's drive to develop a regulatory system for sea bed mining in the Pacific. The EU's Communication on the Precautionary Principle describes a rigorous risk assessment process that strives to provide a high level of protection to humans and the environment.

Phil McCabe from Kiwis against Seabed Mining (KASM) said "How can the EU fund a regulatory system in the Pacific underpinned by the reckless approach advocated by SOPAC. It's entirely at odds with the European Union's Precautionary Principle's thorough risk analysis process. "

"It's also at odds with the UN Oceans Compact launched by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon at the Law of the Sea Conference in Korea on the 12th August 2012."

According to Kerry Tetzlaff , law lecturer at the University of the South Pacific, "The Pacific needs to proceed with a high degree of caution due to scientific and technological uncertainty, lack of institutional and regulatory frameworks, and issues with transparency, accountability as well as enforcement capacity."

Ms Tetzlaff, who is also Member of the IUCN Commission on Environmental Law further states, "The stakes are high both for the environment and the future of Pacific Islanders. It could be argued that an even higher degree of caution should be exercised than in similar circumstances in the developed world."

For more info:
Dr. Helen Rosenbaum (Australia), +61 413 201 793
Kerry Tetzlaff (London),, Skype: kerrytetzlaff +44 795 102 9813
Phil McCabe (New Zealand), +64 27 2943 451

SOPAC makes clear its role in promoting foreign mining interests

SOPAC Director Russell Howarth has made clear in a speech in Rio that SOPAC will continue promoting the interests of foreign mining companies over the interests of Pacific people and the environment.

By Makereta Komai

Pacific News

18 June 2012

It’s been suggested that Pacific Island Countries and territories wishing to make use of resources on the deep seafloor for economic returns need to adopt a ‘precautionary approach.

This can simply be interpreted as “in any development where there are threats of serious harm to the marine environment, the lack of full scientific data shall not be used as a reason for postponing that development”, said Dr Russell Howorth, director of SOPAC Division of the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC).

But, that particular development, he added should use cost-effective measures to prevent environmental degradation.

The ‘precautionary approach’ has been in existence in Rio principle 15 for 20 years but hardly used in the context of bringing the economic benefits of the resources of Pacific islanders to improve their livelihoods, said Dr Howorth while addressing Oceans Day at the Rio +20 conference here in Rio de Janeiro.

Under Principle 15 of the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development (1992), the application of the Precautionary Approach is defined as “In order to protect the environment, the precautionary approach shall be widely applied by States according to their capabilities. Where there are threats of serious or irreversible damage, lack of full scientific certainty shall not be used as a reason for postponing cost-effective measures to prevent environmental degradation.”

Dr Howorth also revealed a ground breaking advisory opinion by the International Tribunal of the Law of the Sea Seabed Disputes Chamber which ruled that the precautionary approach is a legal requirement for States sponsoring deep sea mining activities.

    “The same advisory opinion also gave a significant indication that the ‘precautionary approach is on its way to becoming a binding legal principle of international customary law more generally.

Scientific research and exploration of deep sea minerals have been ongoing in the Pacific Islands region in the last 40 years. Since its inception in 1972, the then Pacific Islands Applied Geoscience Commission (SOPAC) was instrumental in the evaluation of seafloor minerals that occur within the Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ) of Pacific Island Countries and Territories, in collaboration with developed countries including the USA, Australia, France, Korea, Japan and Germany.

These early efforts have led to the discovery of some potential seafloor mineral deposits within the EEZs of Cook Islands, Papua New Guinea, Tonga, Marshall Islands, Fiji and Kiribati, said Dr Howorth.

    “Beyond the region under national jurisdiction, large areas of the Clarion Clipperton Zone of the Pacific Ocean are undergoing mineral exploration – these activities are overseen by the International Seabed Authority.

The SOPAC director said recent interests in deep seafloor mineral deposits have been revived in a number of Pacific Island Countries where a number of entities have either been granted or applied for commercial exploration licenses.

    “This new development is largely attributed to sustained increase in global metal demand along with land resources becoming increasingly stretched.

    “Additionally, new discoveries of high grade precious and base metals on the seafloor in Papua New Guinea and Tonga in recent years coupled with the granting of an offshore mining lease in Papua New Guinea in early 2011 have demonstrated the increasing interest in deep seafloor mineral resources in the Pacific islands region.

Also, in 2011 the International Seabed Authority (ISA) granted exploration licenses to Nauru Ocean Resources Inc (NORI – Nauru registered company) and Tonga Offshore Mining Limited (TOML – a Tonga sponsored company) to explore identified areas in the International Seabed Area (commonly known as “the Area”).

    “This is indeed a significant milestone for Nauru and Tonga, and they must be congratulated for embarking on this new initiative that resulted in joint venture partnerships with exploration companies to explore ‘the Area’, providing the opportunity for this industry to help these countries meet their development goals.

    “This was also a significant milestone for the ISA and the international community as it was the first time developing states had been able to participate in the Area and sets an important precedent for other developing states to follow, said Dr Howorth.

As the demand for minerals continues to rise, along with the environmental and social costs of land-based mining, seafloor mineral deposits will almost certainly play an increasingly important role in supplying society with an acceptable means of obtaining the metals needed to meet global development objectives.

    “The lack of access to metals (for example copper and rare earths) at affordable prices is a serious hindrance to social development and must be overcome if development objectives are to be achieved, and if we are to build affordable clean energy technologies on a global scale required to create a “Green Economy.”

Dr Howorth said because of the very high costs of collecting data to help build the knowledge base for Pacific Island Countries through exploration in the deep sea environment, this work must be carried out in partnership with the private sector, which is in a position to manage the financial risks.

    “An EU-funded SPC Deep Sea Minerals Project is assisting Pacific Island countries to put in place law and policy to manage responsibly this relationship with private entities. The aim is to ensure the implementation of the Precautionary Approach and other international environmental law standards, and also to provide a stable regulatory environment providing comfort to private entities and their financiers, and to concerned citizens and commentators alike,” said Dr Howorth.

The total exclusive economic zone of 22 Pacific Island Countries and Territories is around 30 million square kilometers, four times the land area of Brazil’s 8.5 million square kilometers, which is the fifth largest country in the world.

PNG officials snipe at Nautilus go-ahead

Mike Foley

Australian Journal of Mining

16 August 2012

PNG local officials have been lining up to take a whack at Nautilus Minerals' Solwara 1 seabed mining project since it got a green light last week.

Nautilus was granted a 20 year licence by the PNG Government to mine high grade copper-gold resources that lay 1.6km below the sea, off the coast of New Britain.

The PNG Government has taken a 30% equity stake in the project and agreed to contribute funds for development costs. Despite this commitment, officials have been speaking out against Nautilus.

Mining Minister Byron Chan, speaking to NZ Radio, said "I have to monitor any activities of this company... if it's in breach of any part of its agreement, then the license will be revoked or re-looked at."

PNG's Post Courier quoted several officials opposed to the project.

Managing director of National Fisheries Authority, Sylvester Bartholomew Pokajam, said "I would have humbly thought that we should not allow it until PNG has an Ocean Policy and Ocean Act enacted... PNG should ban sea bed mining in our territorial and archipelagic waters."

Member of Parliament for the region, Ken Fairweather, said "I am hoping that this issue will be given prominence. I will not let up in parliament... I will even box if I have to."

Another MP, Anton Yagama, said, "no one from Nautilus has bothered to call me or paid me a visit to brief me on this project. This is great disrespect, never mind to me as a person, but to the people of Sumkar whom I am mandated to serve."

Environmental concerns over the project centre on damage to biodiversity in the little understood seabed environment and exposing marine life to toxic metals with sediment stirred up by mining activities.

Nautilus' chief executive, Steve Rogers, told the Post Courier, "This will be a relatively small footprint compared to a mine on land, on an area about the size of a dozen football pitches. We've sought out the best scientists in the world.

"This isn't in a fishing area and won't impact coral. Even if it were in a fishing area, it won't affect that upper area where the fish are."

PNG can't monitor seabed mining

By Ancilla Wrakuale

Post Courier

19 August 2012

PAPUA New Guinea does not have the capacity to monitor deep sea mining as shown from experiences with other mines says an academic.

Associate Professor with the Department of Mining Engineering at the University of Technology Associate Professor Dr Kaul Gena said we were not able to effectively assess and monitor submarine tailing disposal system used by Misima, Lihir Gold and Ramu Nickel Mines.

"The country continues to engage consultants who sometimes produce technically flawed reports and walk away with millions of kina at the expense of the tax payers," he said.

"There is no such thing as "no environmental impact" from such deep sea mining activity."
He said there are countless mineral deposits on the ocean floor that were explored since 1969.

"Most of these mineral deposits are either base metals or polymetallic type deposits like those in the Manus basin.

"Why is it that Nautilus is trying to develop Solwara 1 project when it is not giving due diligence to the environmental consequences of deep sea mining," Dr Gena asked.

He said there are still so many doubts among many Papua New Guineans about the Solwara 1 Project and the developer Nautilus Minerals has to come out clear on this.

"From scientific studies, we know that a small submarine hydrothermal activity on the ocean floor can discharge hydrothermal fumes that can diffuse through the seawater column both vertical and lateral from the point of discharge for up to 1000 metres.

"So the current mining method that Nautilus is planning to use for the Solwara 1 project will cause a severe environment impact that will affect the entire Eastern Manus Basin because this is an open environment," he said.

"The submarine hydrothermal vent communities that live around the sulfide mound and on the chimney structures will go into extinction because they survive solely on the hot hydrothermal fluids as a food source.

"Most of the marine invertebrates such as tubeworms and bivalve mollusk derive their nutrition from methane-oxidising and if their habitats are destroyed than these organisms will die instantly. These are some issues that Nautilus needs to inform the people of this country," said Dr Gena.

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