Seafloor copper extraction better than traditional mining — report

Seafloor copper mining has less social and environmental impacts than open cut, underground — report

Extracting copper from the seabed may cause less disruptions to the environment and local communities than traditional mining. (Image courtesy of Nautilus Minerals)

A fresh study commissioned by Canadian seafloor miner Nautilus Minerals (TSX:NUS) shows than extracting copper from the seabed causes less disruptions to the environment and local communities than traditional mining, the company said.

The report, released by Earth Economics, compared Nautilus' copper, gold Solwara 1 project — located in the Bismark Sea, north of Papua New Guinea — to three traditional copper mines: Bingham Canyon (Utah, U.S.), Prominent Hill (South Australia, Australia) and Intag (a proposed project in Ecuador).

Based on the analysis of each mine’s social and environmental impacts, the research concluded that seafloor mining has the potential to not only provide economic benefits within the communities nearest to the operations, but also to minimize the impact of copper mining.

According to Nautilus Minerals, the study proves that the proposed Solwara 1 project would be "far superior" than existing and proposed terrestrial copper mines. “[Seabead mining] has also the potential to change the physical nature of the mining industry for the better," Nautilus' chief executive officer said in a statement.

The Toronto-based company, the first yet not the only one with projects to mine the ocean floor, summarized the key finding of the reports as follows:

1. World demand for copper continues to rise, with increasing global economic development, expanding renewable energy supplies (wind, hydro, wave geothermal, tidal power) and growing copper plumbing, electronics and communications sectors.

2. Recycling is likely limited to around 35% of the supply of copper. Copper ore concentrations are declining. Environmental and social impacts of copper mining are rising.

3. There is an urgent need to meet world copper demand while reducing fresh water use and contamination, damaging impacts to communities, mine footprints and CO2 emissions from copper mining.

4. Seafloor mining has the potential to minimize the impact of copper mining by producing more copper with fewer natural capital inputs, fewer damaging outputs and a smaller area of impact.

5. The proposed Solwara 1 project when compared to the terrestrial mines, entails far less environmental and social impact and less short and long-term risks.

6. Terrestrial mines have significant impacts. Measured on the basis of impacts per ton of copper, the Solwara 1 project would outperform terrestrial mines:
– People will not be displaced by the proposed Solwara 1 project.
– There will be no impact to food production.
– There will be no impact to surface or groundwater fresh water supplies.
– There will be no significant risk of disaster (e.g. mine tailing slide into communities).
– There will be no impact to pollination, soil formation, erosion, historic and cultural values.
– The monetary damages (measured in terms of USD/year) resulting from terrestrial mines is estimated to be significantly more than that of the proposed Solwara 1 project (4 to 13 times per ton of copper produced for the three mines used in the comparison).
– The long-term mining liabilities for freshwater contamination, tailings and overburden failures that threaten downstream communities do not exist in Solwara 1.

Nautilus settled a key dispute with the PNG’s government last year, and since then, progress has moved quickly on the Solwara 1 project. The company expects to have all its undersea mining tools ready to go by mid-2016.

It has also entered a charter agreement for a massive mining vessel, which it expects to receive in late 2017. After that, Nautilus expects to start digging up copper and precious metals almost right away.

The project, located in the minerals-rich Manus basin, is expected to become the world's first commercial high-grade deep-sea copper and gold mine.