Environmental defenders are waging another war in the Pacific– this time, against deep sea mining. As land-based resources continue to deplete amid growing demand for natural resources, private companies are relentless in their quest for minerals beyond the frontier.
Nautilus Minerals Inc. (Nautilus), with corporate office in Toronto Canada and project office in Brisbane, Australia, got a green light to drill the ocean floor in the territorial waters of Papua New Guinea to extract polymetallic seafloor sulphide deposits.
The company has also plans to extend its tenement holdings in the exclusive economic zones and territorial waters of Fiji, Tonga, the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu and New Zealand as well as other areas outside the Western Pacific.
A pioneering project, Nautilus went through rigorous negotiations with the PNG government, including settlement of commercial dispute for equity participation. The company applied for Mining Lease (ML), along with the submission of development proposal, in 2008 and was granted in 2011. The Environmental Permit was also given in 2009 by the PNG’s Department of Environment and Conservation. The lease term covers 25 years until 2035 to exploit the seabed for the prospect of copper, gold and silver.
Under the agreement, the State of PNG takes an initial 15 percent interest in the project with an option to take up to a further 15 percent interest within 12 months of the Agreement. PNG paid Nautilus a non-refundable deposit for its initial 15 percent interest of US$7,000,000.
Support from resource industry
The mining industry admits the challenges in the world market and thus supports this development. In Sydney, 13th Papua New Guinea Mining and Petroleum Investment Conference is being held for three days, Dec.1-3, to discuss prospects of mining.
The theme, “PNG Resources – Expanding Horizons”, articulates the optimism of the PNG oil and gas sector which has been facing challenging times in the world market. Commodity prices are falling amid rising costs and falling productivity.
The conference highlights how the mining industry can address the changing conditions and significant progress which is being made in responding to the new environment.
Solwara 1 offers a bright prospect. “Development is well under way on the Solwara 1 deep sea mining project and several of PNG’s world class mineral prospects have made further substantial progress,” its conference website reads.
The conference also offers a wide range of prestigious sponsorship opportunities and the large trade exhibition which presents an exclusive opportunity to showcase the company to a very large audience.
Protest in Sydney
On Tuesday noon this week, human rights and environmental activists staged a PNG mining and pollution divestment protest on George Street in Sydney juxtaposing the conference being held at the Hilton Hotel. They said mining has been destroying communities and the environment since 1972.
Dan Jones, Melanesian Studies advocate said, “From Bougainville to Ok Tedi, to Porgera and Ramu Nickel in Madang, the extractive industry continues to cut corners purely to maximise profits causing massive environmental damage and social upheaval which continues to spark social uprising, ecocide and serious conflicts.”
Nautilus is one of the speakers at the conference and organizers want the message to get across.
Natalie Lowrey, acting coordinator for Deep Sea Mining campaign said, “The Nautilus Environmental Impact Assessment is deeply flawed, neither the Precautionary Principle or Free Prior and Informed Consent has been adhered to despite growing opposition in PNG. This only further disenfranchises communities in PNG who have not yet made an informed decision on whether they want to be the guinea pigs of such a new industry.”
Protesters also decry Bank of South Pacific which provided Nautilus funding for Solwara 1. The bank is a sponsor and presenter at the conference. BSP is criticised for allowing the project to progress after it stalled.
BSP, who considers itself the ‘greenest’ bank in the Pacific provided a loan of $120 million (2 percent of BSP’s total assets) to PNG for a 15 percent stake. Those finances are due to be released to Nautilus from an escrow account on Dec. 11.
The Deep Sea Mining campaign sent a joint letter with PNG-based NGO Bismarck Ramu Group to BSP asking if they have undertaken a full risk analysis on its loan to the PNG government that is allowing this project to advance. However, the groups had not received an answer.
Jones explained that most Papua New Guineans do not see any benefit of mining, coal, and gas explorations to the community. They only see exploitation of their land and damage being done to their spiritual connection to land and sea. Jonas said culturally diverse subsistence agricultural communities rely on clean environments and waterways for survival. He added:
“Papua New Guineans want support for their own initiatives, like value adding to existing cocoa and coconut industries. There is an increasing demand for organic health food export markets utilising fair-trade virgin coconut and cocoa in recent years is an industry PNG is failing to tap into.”
“Development to Papua New Guineans is much more than an expedient cash cow benefiting foreign investors and local officials. Real development includes cultural development including environmentally custodial customs, responsibilities and spiritual connections to land and sea.”
Meanwhile, Mining Australia admitted that while deep sea mining generates enormous profits, the risks associated with it cannot be ignored. Potential consequences may include pollution, accidental spillage which may release toxic substance into the surrounding area, and a fear that could damage uncharted area of the sea — just to name a few.
News blog link: The Green Journal at Asian Correspondent