Commentary: Seabed Mining: Long on Promises, Short on Delivery – by Stuart Burns (Metal Miner – February 26, 2015)

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If you think miners or developers on land struggle with environmental legislators, spare a thought for those looking to develop resources under the ocean via seabed mining.

The International Seabed Authority, a UN agency, has so far issued 26 exploration licenses to governments and companies enabling them to operate in international waters but none of them have reached commercial realization. Even in national waters governments are coming down on the side of the environmental lobby when new applications are being put forward.

After leading the way in supporting early proposals, the New Zealand environmental regulators have recently turned down an application from an ocean mining firm Chatham Rock to develop a site off the coast, some 450 kilometers southeast of Wellington, the FT reports.

The site in question is said to be rich in phosphate, used in fertilizer manufacturing, and said to hold enough to meet 25 years of New Zealand’s current consumption. Chatham Rock have invested $33 million over seven years researching the environmental impact and developing the extraction processes.

It is not hyperbole to say the ocean floor is the last great mineral reserve on the planet. Polymetric nodules, sometimes called Manganese nodules, sea floor massive sulfides and cobalt rich ferromanganese crusts between them hold many times the availability of certain metals as there is on land.

One of the largest deposits is the Clarion-Clipperton Zone. The CCZ covers an area of around 9 million square kilometers, approximately the size of Europe, and is located in the Pacific between Mexico and Hawaii according to World Ocean Review.

Although concentration of nodules varies on average, one square meter in the Clarion-Clipperton Zone contains around 15 kilograms of manganese nodules (33 lbs. per 10 square feet). Especially rich areas can have up to 75 kilograms. The total mass of manganese nodules is calculated to be around 21 billion metric tons.

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