Mining the Antarctic a big no-no

Mining the Antarctic a big no-no

Antarctica safe from mining 'indefinitely', scientist told polar law forum last week.

Mining in the Antarctic is not likely to happen any time soon, as scientists believe the treaty that bans exploration and exploitation of the region’s resources may be revised in the next century.

Speaking at a polar law symposium, former head of the Australian Antarctic Division, Tony Press, said the Antarctic Treaty — which vetoes mining in the region and it’s backed by the 50 countries that operate bases there — is “ indefinite,” ABC reports.

Even without the pact, set to be revised in 2048, mining in the Southern pole doesn’t seem a viable option. Unlike the warmer and much more accessible Arctic, the Antarctic would “welcome” miners with hurricane-strength winds and the world's largest icebergs. All this while crews try to figure how to drill pass the mantle of ice covering 99% of the continent, which is over 2 miles thick, but it stores an abundance of highly sought resources, including coal, iron ore, manganese, copper, lead, uranium, diamonds and billions of barrels of oil reserves.

SEE ALSO: Massive diamond deposit said to be hiding beneath Antarctica’s icy hills

The situation in the Artic is comparatively better, but far from optimal. Articles rarely mention nightmarish logistics, polar bears and steel-snapping cold when they confidently predict that as the Northern pole warms up, melting sea ice and shorter winters will open up the expanse to exploration.

All that talk of a bonanza has masked the harsh reality of working in an icy wasteland that stretches across Russia, Scandinavia, Alaska and Canada. And rather than making life easier, the warming of the Arctic and the thawing of its permafrost could make operating there even more complicated.

Temperatures plunge to minus 50 degrees centigrade (minus 58 Fahrenheit) in winter, bringing with it the risk of almost instant frostbite and mechanical failures.

Miners packing up

Besides the known challenges, low commodity prices are discouraging investors and companies to consider proceeding at deposits, which have turned to be too expensive to exploit.

Several small mining companies are struggling to make ends meet, and a few others have started to pack up as raw material prices plummet, Alaska Dispatch News reports.

A case in point is the massive Swedish Kaunisvaara iron ore mine, 20 km from the mining town of Pajala, which is about to close its doors and leave hundreds out of job, Barents Observer reports:

Seven years ago, the Kaunisvaara mine was anticipated to revitalize the aging Arctic town. One in ten people had no job, more than twice the national average. Healthcare work made up a quarter of the town’s jobs, with the young taking care of the old who remained as the town withered. Its population had dropped from a thriving 15,000 in the 1950s to just over a third of that as its youth moved away in search of opportunity.

Others remain optimistic. Northern Iron (ASX:NFE) has not made a profit since it started up mining in Arctic Norway in 2009, and deficits are steadily growing. Yet the firm trusts it will make it through the industry downturn.

“We believe we can make it,” company representative Harald Martinsen said last month according to Alaska Dispatch.

"There is absolutely no hurry,” Norwegian shipping magnate Fred Olsen told Reuters last week. “There is much too much oil right now. And in any case it will be the most expensive oil in the world."

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