MAC: Mines and Communities

Why the rush to mine the seabed?

Published by MAC on 2019-07-20
Source: Statement, E&E News, The Ferret, Post Courier

As a follow up to our recent posting on deep sea mining (see: Greenpeace calls for freeze on deep sea mining) the International Seabed Authority (ISA) has started its deliberations on regulations for seabed mining within international waters in Jamaica.

A new report has been launched to coincide with this, examining what is driving the unseemly haste to mine the seabed. Entitled Why the Rush, it exposes the corporate capture of the ISA and the manipulation of Pacific regional decision-making processes by deep sea mining companies and their backers. The report joins the call for a moratorium on the development of the regulations for deep sea mining.

In a separate campaign, a freedom of information request has unearthed a report commissioned by Scottish Enterprise which raises concerns that deep sea mining could lead to “the potential extinction of unique species”

Meanwhile, the Papua New Guinean local company that was working with Nautilus Minerals on the proposed Solwara 1 project has registered a claim in the legal bankruptcy proceedings Nautilus has initiated in Canada (see: Nautilus Minerals gets protection order against creditors). This seems to signal the final breakdown in relations between the PNG government and the failed company.

Why the Rush for Seabed Mining?

Intrigue, Collusion and Interesting Bedfellows

Deep Sea Mining Campaign press release -

17 July 2019

Start-up companies are driving a speculative rush for seabed minerals in an unholy alliance with the very UN body charged with regulating them, the International Seabed Authority (ISA).

A hard hitting report released today exposes blatant corporate capture of the ISA and the manipulation of Pacific regional decision-making processes by deep sea mining companies and their backers. It calls for a moratorium on the development of deep sea mining (DSM) regulations and the issuing of exploration and exploitation licences in international and national waters.

Apparently shunning the ISA's mandate to benefit all (hu)mankind, its Secretary General, Michael Lodge eagerly promotes the narrow commercial interests of wannabee deep sea miner, DeepGreen Metals. The UN body's Secretary General obligingly advertises the company in marketing videos and advocates on their behalf to Pacific Island leaders.[1]

Aided and abetted by international donors, particularly the European Union, regional DSM regulatory processes have been fast tracked. This is before Pacific Island citizens, whose lives and livelihoods are intrinsically tied to the ocean, have had a chance to meaningfully discuss this unprecedented high-risk industry.

Entitled, 'Why the Rush?', the report describes how investors in struggling DSM start-up Nautilus Minerals[2] jumped ship early and used their speculative gains to establish DeepGreen. Nautilus now appears doomed[3] and has left in its wake the PNG Government facing a debt equivalent to one-third of the country’s annual health budget for 9 million people[4] and citizens angry that funds wasted on buying a stake in the company's Solwara 1 mine, could have been spent on much needed infrastructure and services.[5]

Dr. Helen Rosenbaum Deep Sea Mining Campaign Coordinator said, "The fate of Nautilus should send a salient warning to investors and to nations considering joint ventures with DeepGreen and other deep sea mining aspirants. It remains to be seen whether these companies will mine only the markets as Nautilus has done.”

“Either way, Pacific Island peoples stand to see little benefit and have much to lose. While the Pacific regional DSM regulatory framework conveys an impression of social licence, Pacific islanders are vocal in their opposition.”[6]

Dr. Catherine Coumans of MiningWatch Canada, stated, “The declining health of the world’s oceans is well documented, with warnings of alarming implications for human health, prosperity and long-term survival.[7] Given the urgency of the species extinction crisis we now face the last thing humanity needs is to hand the deep seabed over to a destructive industry that has proven itself to be so irresponsible on land.

“Rather, we need a moratorium on deep sea mining and on the development of seabed mining regulations. Society at large has not agreed to the emergence of this high-risk speculative industry that is driven by a narrow profit-focussed agenda of a handful of people.”

Andy Whitmore the Deep Sea Mining Campaign, UK-based Finance Advocate questioned, "Why the rush to mine the sea floor, when transitioning to a Circular Economy and Urban Mining, represents the most financially and environmentally viable way forward? Research indicates it will be more lucrative, will deal with an intractable waste problem[8] as well as being capable of meeting future global mineral demand."[9]

“As noted in the May 2019 UN IPBES report, the continued pursuit of an industrial extraction-based economy runs counter to planetary survival. We must see industry and ISA spin for what it is and call a halt to the DSM madness.”

Download ‘Why the Rush’ report -

For more information

Natalie Lowrey, Deep Sea Mining campaign
natalie.lowrey[at] +61 421226200

Dr. Helen Rosenbaum, Deep Sea Mining Campaign
hrose[at] +61 413201793

Andy Whitmore, Deep Sea Mining campaign
whit[at] +44 (0) 775 439 5597

Jamie Kneen, Mining Watch Canada
jamie[at] +1 (613) 5693439

[1] During a Pacific Island Forum panel discussion orchestrated by DeepGreen and their Pacific champion President Waqa of Nauru.

[2] Nautilus seeks financial protection, 14 March 2019, Deep Sea Mining Campaign media release,; Court document confirming Order of Court, 11 March 2019,

[3] Nautilus to Be Delisted from TSX, 29 March 2019, Subsea World News,

[4] Table 29 of the PNG Treasury Final budget outcome released in March 2019 indicates expenditure by sector - the debt of $US125m alone, ignoring interest and other costs, equates to K422m at March 2019 exchange rates.

[5] Joint Letter calling for the PNG Government to cancel all Nautilus Minerals deep sea mining licences, Friday 28 June 2019, full-page Ad in Post Courier, PNG from PNG Council of Churches, Voice of Milne Bay, Alliance of Solwara Warriors, Bismarck Ramu Group and Centre Environmental Law and Community Rights calling for the PNG government to cancel Solwara 1 licence and all Nautilus Mineral’s licences in the Bismarck and Solomon Seas,

[6] PIANGO pans seabed mining, 15 February 2019, Radio New Zealand,

[7] IPBES Global Assessment Summary for Policymakers,

[8] Extracting Metals from E-Waste Costs 13 Times Less Than Mining Ore, 9 April 2018, Environmental Leader,

[9] Renewable energy and deep-sea mining: supply, demand and scenarios, July 2016, S Teske, Institute for Sustainable Futures,; Responsible minerals sourcing for renewable energy, April 2019, Institute for Sustainable Futures prepared for Earthworks,

Seabed-Mining Foes Press U.N. to Weigh Climate Impacts

Minerals used in electronics are found on the seafloor, but disturbing them could release carbon

By Nathanial Gronewold

E&E News on Scientific American

16 July 2019

Mining interests are racing to extract minerals from the ocean bottom that would be used in batteries for electric vehicles.

Deep seabed mining could begin by 2025 or earlier, depending on the pace of international negotiations that resume this week in Kingston, Jamaica.

Environmentalists, who want to slow down the race to the seafloor, will be present in force at the 25th round of the U.N. International Seabed Authority (ISA), pressing for firm protections for the international seabed.

The Deep Sea Conservation Coalition, the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Greenpeace—which initially emphasized risks to biodiversity and the potential for permanent damage wrought to sensitive ecosystems—are now more closely scrutinizing the climate implications of allowing private companies to dig cobalt and other sought-after minerals used to make lithium-ion batteries.

“By impacting on natural processes that store carbon, deep sea mining could even make climate change worse by releasing carbon stored in deep sea sediments or disrupting the processes which help scavenge carbon and deliver it to those sediments,” Greenpeace argued in a report issued ahead of the talks.

Heightened worries over climate change and efforts to decarbonize transportation are a main driver of the revival of interest in seabed mining. An earlier push to speed things along at the authority abruptly ended with the 2008-09 global financial meltdown.

Cobalt is among the seabed resources prized by mining interests. Last year, the International Energy Agency warned that a rise in electric-vehicle battery manufacturing could lead to critical shortages of cobalt around 2025—around the time that experts are predicting that seabed mining will be mainstream.

Ancient geologic features that formed on the ocean bottom over millions of years are rich in cobalt, as well as copper, zinc, nickel, gold, manganese and rare earth minerals, resources that accumulated in higher concentrations within ocean floor deposits than what can be found in terrestrial mining.

Ocean Minerals LLC discusses cobalt demand for electric vehicle manufacturing in its pitches to potential investors. That company has a plan to mine for cobalt in waters near the South Pacific’s Cook Islands and presented its business plan at the most recent Advanced Automotive Battery Conference in San Diego, according to the company’s website.

Climate change will be a focus of side discussions at the ISA this week.

Scientists aligned with the Deep Ocean Stewardship Initiative (DOSI) recently held talks on the climate implications of seabed mining and published a policy brief to be presented to ISA’s member governments. Among the authors of the policy brief are researchers at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego, the Natural History Museum of London, and Philadelphia’s Temple University.

They concluded that seabed mining will exacerbate changes already occurring to the oceans and ocean floor as a result of global warming. They also agree that the mining activity itself could add to greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere by disturbing carbon stores, though they see too much uncertainty regarding the potential scale of impact.

“Disturbance of microbes and removal of animals, combined with changing temperature and oxygen depletion by sediment plumes, could alter midwater carbon transport and sediment sinks, important deep-sea ecosystem services that remove carbon from the biosphere,” they wrote. “However, the magnitude of these effects are theoretical at this stage and need to be further assessed and considered.”

Far from a done deal

Sessions held last summer to discuss ocean mining drew the highest number of participants ever and were livestreamed over the internet in five languages, underscoring the rising interest in exploiting the seabed as the electric vehicle market expands globally (Greenwire, Aug. 7, 2018).

ISA governments have given themselves a deadline of 2020 to finalize a mining code, but they also need to organize environmental controls and financial regulations, including a system for disbursing some of the proceeds of ocean mining activity to authority members, especially to developing nations.

And the company once seen as furthest ahead in developing and deploying deep-sea mining technology is now teetering on the brink of bankruptcy after going all-in on a plan to exploit sulfides near hydrothermal vents in Papua New Guinea.

“I would say it’s possible but not likely that the ISA will approve regulations on exploitation contracts this month. Next year is a better bet,” said Conn Nugent, director of the seabed mining project at the Pew Charitable Trusts. “And we shouldn’t forget that the contract regulations are just one part—though a very important part—of an overall ISA Mining Code.”

Governments are nonetheless determined to make the 2020 deadline, and the ISA passed a recent milestone when its legal and technical commission approved draft regulations in March, a move the U.N. body hailed as a “major step forward towards the delivery of a comprehensive legal regime for deep-seabed mining beyond national jurisdiction.”

Three features are the prime targets of seabed mining interests: polymetallic sulfides occurring near hydrothermal vents, ferromanganese crusts and polymetallic nodules.

Ultra-hot liquids spewing from hydrothermal vents feed energy to ecosystems that have evolved forms of life found nowhere else, but they also have deposited large volumes of copper, iron, lead and gold, according to ISA’s own studies. Such polymetallic sulfides as those found in the Mid-Atlantic Ridge are candidates for resource extraction.

The Canadian firm Nautilus Minerals Inc. has developed the technology to exploit polymetallic sulfides, but the business case is much shakier. Nautilus’ very survival is now in question after the company’s precarious financial situation forced it into court-supervised creditor protection and a delisting from the Toronto Stock Exchange. In April, four of the company’s five directors and its CEO resigned. Nautilus is now working with PricewaterhouseCoopers to either organize a restructuring or find a buyer.

Ferromanganese crusts are also a candidate for seabed mining. These relatively thin layers of mineral deposits form over the hard surfaces of seamounts, some of the most biodiverse features in the deep ocean. Getting at the cobalt, nickel, iron and other metals contained in these crusts would mean cutting and scraping the bottom.

Some believe exploitation is most likely to begin with polymetallic nodules. These potato-sized nuggets of manganese, cobalt and copper can be found throughout the oceans’ deep abyssal plains, but governments are particularly interested in a high concentration of nodules located in the Clarion-Clipperton Zone, a feature spanning some 3,000 kilometers of international waters in the Pacific.

Polymetallic nodules are the easiest to extract, as machines need only pick them up from the ocean bottom, disturbing loose sediment as they do. That’s Ocean Minerals LLC’s plan.

But even this activity can threaten deep-sea carbon stores, Greenpeace warns.

“Deep sea sediments are known to be an important long-term store for blue carbon, the carbon that is naturally absorbed by marine life, a portion of which is carried down to the sea floor as those creatures die,” the group argued.

Questions about climate impacts

Not all experts are convinced that ocean mining could further stress the climate.

The sediment churned up and organic carbon released by seabed mining will have “almost no effect” on climate, argued Dorrik Stow, a geoscientist from Scotland now on assignment at the China University of Geosciences in Wuhan.

“The amount of disturbance that could be caused to sequestered carbon dioxide in the sediment is almost terribly minimal in scale” compared with other factors that could lead to ocean mass carbon releases, Stow said in an interview.

“There are places where organism live that we really have only just discovered and we don’t understand very much, and the deep-sea habitats there could be irreparably damaged in terms of habitat destruction, but that’s not such an implication for CO2,” Stow said.

DOSI scientists say the uncertainty over the climate implications of seabed mining is no reason for complacency. The group says the ISA currently doesn’t address climate change in any of its existing or pending regulations. They will push for the U.N. agency to incorporate climate change when drafting formal regional environment management plans.

Environmental groups attempting to influence the ISA process are pushing for the establishment of mining no-go zones in areas identified for concessions. They want as much as 50% of the areas of interest deemed off-limits to miners, with strict environmental protocols enforced in the remaining portions.

Climate change forecasting and modeling must also play a role in companies’ environmental impact assessments, DOSI insisted.

“Environmental impact assessments, monitoring, and regional environmental planning can address how changing oceans enhance risks of harmful effects to the marine environment,” the group stated.

“Fundamental is the evaluation of expected changes, using the best available scientific information, including detailed ocean climate modelling.”

The DOSI scientists added, “Climate change considerations can improve environmental management and reduce the risk to the common heritage of humankind.”

ISA council discussions kick off today. The 25th session of the full U.N. International Seabed Authority Assembly convenes on July 22.

Reprinted from Climatewire with permission from E&E News. E&E provides daily coverage of essential energy and environmental news at

Scottish Enterprise urged to rule out ‘damaging’ deep sea mining

Joe Lo

15 July 2019

Environmental campaigners have called on the Scottish Government’s economic development agency not to spend taxpayers’ money subsidising a controversial new form of underwater mining.

A report commissioned by Scottish Enterprise echoed concerns that deep sea mining could lead to “the potential extinction of unique species” – but the agency has refused to rule out investing in the industry.

Deep sea mining envisages machines sucking up the seabed so that minerals like cobalt and manganese can be extracted for use in products such as mobile phones, wind turbines and batteries.
The ferret subscribe narrow

Although no mining has begun yet, mining sites have been proposed in the Pacific Ocean, the Indian Ocean and near Peru and Japan.

The UK government, in collaboration with US arms company Lockheed Martin, has a license to mine an area larger than England off the west coast of Mexico.

An April 2017 report into deep sea mining commissioned by Scottish Enterprise was made public in July after a freedom of information request by Greenpeace’s Unearthed website.

The report was written by the research arm of Subsea UK which describes itself “the champion” of the UK under-sea industry. “The environmental impacts of deep sea mining are not fully understood,” cautioned the report.

“The activities involved in subsea mining could have detrimental impacts on localised populations as well as an impact on world oceans through the potential extinction of unique species that form the first rung of the food chain.”

Scottish Enterprise said that it regularly undertook research into markets to understand their potential for Scotland’s businesses. “This report was commissioned to highlight the market potential in a range of sectors such as aquaculture and marine renewables, that Scotland’s subsea capability could be appropriate for in future market activity,” David Rennie, the agency’s head of oil and gas, told Unearthed.

“As yet we have not made any decisions, or progressed any activity, on how we might develop seabed mining. Other sectors such as marine renewables and aquaculture are likely to offer more immediate opportunities and any significant developments in seabed mining are likely to be some years off.”

But Friends of the Earth Scotland called for funding to be blocked now. “Scottish Enterprise should immediately rule out any support for deep sea mining,” said the environmental group’s head of campaigns, Mary Church.

“It is absurd to even be considering putting public money into such a damaging activity at a time when the life in our oceans is already under so much threat from climate change, over fishing, plastic pollution and oil extraction.”

Greenpeace UK urged politicians to be held to account for planning to spend taxpayers’ money on deep sea mining. “Scottish Enterprise is well aware of the potential environmental risks and there needs to be much more of a public conversation about whether citizens, including avid Blue Planet fans, are prepared to permit the potential extinction of species and risking making climate change worse,” said the group’s oceans campaigner, Louisa Casson.

She authored a Greenpeace report in 2019 warning that deep sea mining could make climate change worse by releasing carbon stored in sediments or by disrupting process which help scavenge carbon and deliver it to those sediments. Marine life naturally absorbs carbon, carrying some of it to the seafloor when they die.

Wildlife broadcaster, David Attenborough, has pointed out that the deep sea is where life began. “That we should be destroying these things is so deeply tragic,” he told the BBC. “I mean, that humanity should just plough on with no regard for the consequences, because they don’t know what they are.”

The UK parliament’s cross-party environmental audit committee has warned that deep sea mining would have “catastrophic impacts on the seafloor site and its inhabitants”. In a report, MPs called on the UK government not to use its deep sea mining licenses and to pressure other countries and the International Seabed Authority (ISA) not to issue any more licenses.

The committee also criticised regulation of the industry.”We are concerned that the ISA, the licensing body for seabed exploration, also stands to benefit from revenues, which is a clear conflict of interest,” they said.

A Scottish Enterprise spokesperson told The Ferret: “Developments in seabed mining are closely controlled and regulated by the International Seabed Authority and the industry is very much in its infancy. Should any project be brought forward in the future it would be subject to rigorous economic and environmental due diligence.”

The Scottish Government said it supports “clean, healthy, safe, productive and biologically diverse seas, balancing sustainable development with environmental protection”.

A government spokesperson added: “Any deep sea mining would be subject to regulatory controls and thorough assessment, including conducting an environmental appraisal.‎”

Three companies mentioned in the Scottish Enterprise report as potential recipients of support are Royal IHC, 2H Offshore and Soil Machine Dynamics. They all design machinery which could be used in deep sea mining and are all ultimately foreign-owned.

Royal IHC is majority-owned by the wealthy Dutch de Bruin family. 2H Offshore is ultimately owned by two US billionaires close to Donald Trump, Henry Kravis and George Roberts. Soil Machine Dynamics is ultimately majority-owned by the Chinese government.

When asked if it subsidises foreign owned companies, Scottish Enterprise said it works with “both indigenous and international companies”. On investing in companies owned by the Chinese state, a spokesperson stressed that the agency carried out “rigorous due diligence”.

Kumul Minerals seeks K173m from bankrupt Nautilus Minerals - GOOD LUCK!

Post Courier -

17 July 2019

Kumul Minerals Holdings has led a claim for unearned contribution to the Solwara 1 Deep Sea Mining Project.

KMH chairman Peter Graham announced this on Monday that the wholly owned subsidiary, Eda Kopa (Solwara) Limited, has led a claim for approximately US$51 million (K173m) under a Canadian court supervised creditors process initiated by the parent company of its joint-venturer in the Solwara 1 Project, Nautilus Minerals Niugi- ni Limited.

The claim relates to the unearned component of the contribution originally advanced by Eda Kopa to the Solwara 1 Project.

The Solwara 1 Deep-Sea Mining Project is a venture to mine polymetallic sulphide deposits located on the seabed in an area approximately 50km north of Rabaul and 30km west of New Ireland Province.

Mr Graham noted that in 2014 Eda Kopa contributed $120 million (K375 million) representing its full share of all project construction and development costs, both past and future, for its 15 per cent interest.

“Eda Kopa funded its contribution to the project by way of a K375 million loan from Bank South Pacific that was guaranteed by the State.

“Nautilus PNG, the project manager and joint-venturer responsible for funding the remaining 85 per cent of the project, has not been able to meet its funding obligations and, as a result, the project has stalled with a substantial proportion of the development work still to be undertaken.

“Eda Kopa has made claim for the portion of its contribution relating to the stalled development work.

While the prospects of creditors achieving any meaningful recovery appears low, this claim has also been led in an effort to preserve Eda Kopa’s rights and position,” said Mr Graham.

In February 2019, the Canadian listed parent company of Nautilus PNG, Nautilus Minerals Inc, sought protection from its creditors under the court supervised Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act (CCAA) process and initiated a sales and investment solicitation process (SISP) to restructure its business and financial ffairs.

The SISP was terminated in June 2019 and Nautilus and its principals are now directing their efforts towards reaching an agreement with creditors under the CCAA with a view towards potential restructure of Nautilus’ various projects and assets.

Eda Kopa’s claim has been made in accordance with this process.

Mr Graham said that; “While Eda Kopa has been patient in its dealings with Nautilus as that company has undertaken various efforts to secure funding, in light of Nautilus’ difficult circumstances, Eda Kopa now feels compelled to make the claim and take such action as it can to best protect the State’s interests.”

The project to date is yet to get off, and was initially set to begin production this year.

With the current action by KMH, an attempt to recoup possible earnings, it is also a desperate attempt to recoup what could possibly be half a billion kina loss that continues to grow, the longer the project fails to get to the ocean floor.



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