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

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.

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[Japan] Govt aims to commercialize seafloor mining in 2020s (The Japan News – February 22, 2015)

The Yomiuri Shimbun

The government is aiming to commercialize the mining of rich seafloor deposits around Japan of such mineral resources as copper in the 2020s, according to officials.

The nation has relied on imports to meet demand for mineral resources like copper, lead, gold and silver since many domestic mines were shut down by the end of the 1970s. Mining these resource-abundant seafloor deposits could help shake off Japan’s reputation as a nation with few resources.

At a press conference at the end of January, Tetsuro Urabe, a professor emeritus of the University of Tokyo, could hardly conceal his excitement. He was announcing the discovery of a deposit about 1,400 meters below the ocean surface off Okinawa Prefecture’s Kumejima island.

“The minerals there are of a quality I’ve never seen before,” Urabe said. “One could say this discovery is astonishing.”

The research was conducted by Japan Oil, Gas and Metals National Corporation (JOGMEC) using a remote-controlled vehicle, which retrieved six samples of ore with copper concentrations 15 to 30 times higher than those mined in South America.

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Deep sea mining hopes hit by New Zealand decision – by Jamie Smyth (Financial Times – February 22, 2015)

Sydney – A decision to block a deep sea mining venture off the New Zealand coast has cast a shadow over an emerging global industry that proponents say could revolutionise how minerals are extracted.

The sea floor is rich in copper, nickel, manganese, cobalt, zinc and a host of other minerals used in technology products. Improvements in undersea extraction technology have now put these within reach of miners.

New Zealand has lead the way in developing sea floor mining. But progress has now stalled following this month’s rejection by environmental regulators of a proposed project by Chatham Rock Phosphate off the coast of Canterbury, the second mine application refused within a year.

The decisions were welcomed by green groups, who fret that mining would damage vulnerable undersea ecosystems, which are relatively underexplored. But their delight is not shared by companies eyeing deep sea prospects.

“To say we are bitterly disappointed is an understatement,” said Chris Castle, Chatham Rock Phosphate’s managing director. “This will make it even harder, if not impossible for companies to attract capital for new projects in New Zealand.”

For almost 20 years deep sea mining has been flagged as a commercial opportunity. David Cameron, UK prime minister, claims it could be worth £40bn to the UK over a 30-year period.

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