Sir Michael remains in intensive care
High-speed internet introduced to PNG

PNG pioneers exploiting the ocean's riches


IN THE 1970s, the oil and natural gas industry decided to take a leap into the deep. With many of the biggest and cheapest petroleum deposits on land already discovered, the search for new finds went offshore into ever-deeper waters.

The move has transformed the energy business. About one-third of the world's oil and gas now comes from beneath the seabed, although some accidents and spills have caused extensive damage to the environment and been costly to clean up.

No one has yet attempted full-scale commercial mining to exploit the trove of seabed mineral riches. But earlier this year, the PNG government granted the world's first deep-sea mining lease to Nautilus Minerals Inc, a Canadian-based firm backed by several multinational and Russian mining groups.

Nautilus is assembling a combination of technologies from different industries - among them mining, oil and gas, and dredging - to create what it says will be a cost-efficient system for deep-sea mining.

In 2013, it plans to start mining a high-grade copper-gold resource about 1,600 metres below the surface of the Bismarck Sea in Papua New Guinea waters.

The company says it will use remotely operated undersea vehicles and machines to cut ore from the sea floor and pump it up to a production support vessel on the surface as seawater slurry. The water will then be removed and the ore shipped to shore for smelting into ingots.

After investing about $400 million, Nautilus aims to produce ore at an annual rate of more than 1.3 million tonnes, containing approximately 80,000 tonnes of copper and up to 200,000 ounces of gold for a number of years before shifting its moveable production system to other nearby deposits it has found.

Exploiting these deposits in national waters is controversial. After returning from a recent visit to PNG, Australia's Greens party leader, Senator Bob Brown, said he would seek a Senate inquire into the environmental impact of undersea mining.

Other critics say that the Asia-Pacific rim is being made a test bed for a potentially damaging new form of mining as technology races ahead of regulation.

Michael Richardson is a visiting senior research fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore

Source: Japan Times


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