New Zealand may approve underwater mine this week

New Zealand may approve first underwater mine this week

New Zealand will announce Wednesday the fate of Trans Tasman Resources (TTR) $70 million underwater iron sand project, which could become the world's first commercial metals operation on the ocean floor, off the country's west coast.

Backed by Australian, American and New Zealand investors, the mine will suck in iron-rich seafloor sands, to later extract the desired titano-magnetite for export to Asian steel mills, with about 90% of the sand being returned to the bottom of the sea.

According to Reuters, if South Taranaki Bight project is approved it will encourage others looking to mine copper, cobalt, manganese and other metals deeper on the ocean floor, but concerned about barriers to dig in Neptune's kingdom.

TTR aims to raise as much as US$550 million in debt and equity to fund the project, expected to begin production by 2016.

New Zealand may approve first underwater mine this week

Kiwis Against Seabed Mining (KASM) led opposition to the initiative, claiming there was too much scientific uncertainty about environmental impacts of the proposal, as well potential effects on surf breaks and other coastal formations.

TTR argues the iron sands are mainly inhabited by sandworms, which typically re-establish themselves after disturbance over a period of years.

"Our view, supported by our science experts, is that between five and 10 years you will get almost full recovery of the area that's been mined … because the organisms and environment are already quite adapted and recover quickly," TTR Chief Executive Tim Crossley told Reuters.

Trans Tasman Resources already has a mining licence, but is awaiting a marine consent from New Zealand's Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Nautilus Minerals (TSX:NUS), the first company that began exploring the ocean floor for polymetallic massive sulphide deposits, reached an agreement with Papua New Guinea in April. The deal will allow Nautilus’ Solwara 1 gold, copper and silver underwater project, located in the Bismarck Sea, north of Papua New Guinea, to finally move towards production.

The Canadian company, which is also in talks with New Zealand, expects to begin production at Solwara in 2017.

The push to explore the ocean for mining minerals is gaining momentum as ore deposits on land are on the decline, and demand for hard-to-find rare-earth elements needed for portable electronics and batteries for hybrid vehicles continues to grow.