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Radio New Zealand, 24 November 2016

Papua New Guinea’s public has the right to be informed about impacts of seabed mining, according to the NGO Bismarck Ramu Group.

The Canadian company Nautilus Minerals said it was looking to begin mining in PNG’s Bismarck Sea by 2018 as part of its Solwara 1 project.

The seabed mining project, set to be the world’s first, has been in the planning for about nine years and secured the backing of the government which bought a 15 percent stake.

However there remains strong opposition to the project among local communities and environmentalists, while caution has been urged by the World Bank among others.

Bismarck Ramu Group’s Christina Tony said it is concerning that government gave approval for the project after only one environmental impact study.

She said that study was done by Nautilus.

“And that environmental impact study has never came out to the public. And we’ve had an independent company in Australia actually reviewed that environmental impact statement and they had concerns over that statement, which they gave the information to the national government,” Ms Tony said.

“That information hasn’t been extended to the public yet.”

Bismarck Ramu Group and other civil society groups concerned about Solwara 1 have taken heart from this month’s New Zealand Environment Court ruling that a seabed mining company must disclose information about its plans.

Trans Tasman Resources applied to New Zealand’s Environmental Protection Authority to mine off the North Island’s west coast.

The EPA had withheld some of the application from public access on the grounds it was commercially sensitive.

However, the court ruled in favour of local civil society and fisheries groups that blacked-out parts of the application be made public.

A representative of the Alliance of Solwara Warriors, Jonathan Mesulam, said they had been fighting for the same public right to information in PNG for many years.

Last year, PNG’s Mining Minister Byron Chan said communities in the Bismarck Sea area had been continuously consulted about the project.

However, according to Mr Mesulam, “Nautilus does not have the consent of local communities. We still don’t know what the impacts of this experimental mining will be.

“Furthermore, the Solwara 1 site is right in the middle of our traditional fishing grounds. We are united in our fight against any destruction of our seas, culture and livelihoods.”

Saying PNG’s government stood to earn at least $US124million from the mining project, Mr Chan previously described the expected environmental impacts of the project as relatively small.

 

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MEDIA RELEASE

Tuesday 29th November 2016

The Sinking Titanic: International Seabed Authority and Mining the Common Heritage of Humankind

NGOs and civil society from Papua New Guinea and around the world challenge the development of regulations[1] for deep sea mining by the International Seabed Authority (ISA). Their call for a ban on this frontier industry highlights the need for debate on progressing deep sea mining when alternatives are available.

Natalie Lowrey, Deep Sea Mining campaign stated, “The development of regulations for deep sea mining is akin to loading more passengers onto a sinking Titanic. Report after report[2] demonstrate that the world’s oceans are already on the brink of peril. Recent research from the MIDAS consortium indicates a concrete risk that deep sea mining would lead to serious irreversible harm. The ISA is paving the way for yet another assault upon our oceans – an unprecedented and unnecessary assault.”

The Deep Sea Mining campaign made a joint submission to the ISA on the draft framework for the regulation of deep sea mining in May 2015. The submission highlighted that decisions on deep sea mining should be underpinned by implementation of the Precautionary Principle[3], achieving Free Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC)[4], and gaining broad civil society support.

“Our current submission reflects our disappointment that these critical elements have been ignored in the draft regulations now produced by the ISA. Without them there should be a complete ban on deep sea mining”, continued Ms Lowrey.

The call for a ban on deep sea mining reflects the views of communities in Papua New Guinea and across the Pacific. Opposition to deep sea mining throughout the Pacific is strong and growing[5].

Christina Tony, from the Bismarck Ramu Group in PNG said, “The oceans are part of our Common Heritage. The ISA’s prime mandate is to protect the deep sea (Article 145, UNCLOS). Where is the discussion on needs-based mining vs profit-based mining?”

“In Papua New Guinea and across the Pacific we do not see experimental seabed mining as a need for our communities nor a benefit for humankind as a whole. In PNG, and across the world, we already have plenty of land based mines and they have plenty of problems.”

“Enough is enough!” stated Jonathan Mesulam from the Alliance of Solwara Warriors. “People from the Pacific are custodians of the world’s largest oceans and it is these oceans that connect everyone in the Pacific. The oceans are as important as land as sources of food and livelihoods, they are of strong cultural and spiritual importance. Experimental seabed mining threatens this.”

“There are alternatives to extracting minerals resources from our oceans, these include the improvement of product design and the reuse and recycling of materials through processes as urban mining”, said Ms Lowrey.

“There is yet to be a rigorous and thorough examination of the potential impacts of deep sea mining on the environment and human health. Deep sea mining should therefore not proceed.”

Download the Deep Sea Mining campaign submission to the ISA

 

For more info:

Papua New Guinea:
Jonathan Mesulam, mesulamjonathan@gmail.com +675 70038933, Alliance of Solwara Warriors
Christina Tony, chrisamoka20@gmail.com +675 70942439, Bismarck Ramu Group

Australia:
Natalie Lowrey, natalie.lowrey@gmail.com +61 421226200, Deep Sea Mining Campaign

______

NOTES

[1] Comment by ISA members and stakeholders closed to the initial working draft regulations and standard contract terms on exploitation for mineral resources on Friday 25 November 2016. The purpose of the comments is so the Commission can get the “views and opinions on the content and structure (as opposed to any fine-tuning of the drafting language) of the working draft from the Authority’s stakeholder base. These views will be presented to the newly elected Commission in February 2017 together with a revised working draft. It is intended that the next Commission will formulate a clear methodology with regards to the elaboration of the Mining Code, timelines and stakeholder contribution in the regulatory content and drafting process in connection with regulatory development.” https://www.isa.org.jm/news/deadline-comments-working-draft-exploitation-regulations-extended

[2] Reports include: World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Reviving the Ocean Economy (2015) and The Living Planet (2016);  International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) State of the Ocean (2013) and Explaining Ocean Warming (2016); and the United Nation’s World Ocean Assessment 2016 which is a global inventory of the state of the marine environment and problems threatening to degrade the oceans.

[3] The United Nations World Charter For nature (1982) states that the precautionary principle requires that “activities which are likely to pose a significant risk to nature shall be preceded by an exhaustive examination; their proponents shall demonstrate that expected benefits outweigh potential damage to nature; and where potential adverse effects are not fully understood, the activities should not proceed.”

[4] Free Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) currently exists in many international law instruments. It is most clearly articulate in UN Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP, 2007). The Deep Sea Mining campaign calls for FPIC to recognised and extended to the Common Heritage and Benefit of Mankind including our international oceans.

[5] Lutherans Walk 9 days Across Highlands Region Campaigning Against Deep Sea Mining in Papua New Guinea, EMTV and VIDEO: Lutherans Campaign Against Deep Sea Mining in PNG, EMTV online.

 

isa_titanic_sinking

 

Deep Sea Mining Campaign submission to the International Seabed Authority on its Draft Regulations and Standard Contract Terms on Exploitation for Mineral Resources in the Area

25 November 2016 | Download Submission to ISA

About the Deep Sea Mining Campaign

The Deep Sea Mining (DSM) Campaign is an association of NGOs and citizens from Papua New Guinea, the Pacific Islands, Australia, Canada, Europe and the United States concerned about the likely impacts of deep sea mining on marine and coastal ecosystems and communities.

The DSM Campaign is a Project of The Ocean Foundation, a Partner of Mission Blue/Sylvia Earle Alliance and a Member of the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition.

The Deep Sea Mining Campaign gives its consent to the International Seabed Authority to make this submission publicly available.

For further information about this submission please contact Christina Hill (christinajhill@ozemail.com.au)

Comments on the draft Regulations

The DSM Campaign calls for a ban on all deep sea mining. Our call for a ban is based on the precautionary principle. The precautionary principle requires that “activities which are likely to pose a significant risk to nature shall be preceded by an exhaustive examination; their proponents shall demonstrate that expected benefits outweigh potential damage to nature; and where potential adverse effects are not fully understood, the activities should not proceed”[1].

It is our strong view that the exhaustive examination of the potential impacts of deep sea mining on the environment has not occurred and that the potential effects are not understood. Deep sea mining should therefore not proceed.

Reports by the DSM Campaign[2] and Professor Richard Steiner[3] examining the Environmental Impact Statement of the Nautilus Solwara 1 project in Papua New Guinea herald the widespread and unpredictable harms that may result from deep sea mining. Amongst other factors, the reports highlight the lack of baseline scientific data on the biota and fauna of the receiving environment; the lack of research into the movements of mining plumes; and the lack of understanding of the toxicology and the physical impacts of those plumes.

Further, our call for a ban on deep sea mining reflects the views of our partners and many communities from across the Pacific[4]. Opposition to deep sea mining in the Pacific is strong and growing. The Pacific Islands are big ocean states. People from the Pacific are custodians of the world’s largest oceans and it is these oceans that connect everyone in the Pacific. The oceans are important sources of food and livelihoods and are of strong cultural and spiritual importance. Deep sea mining threatens this.

DSM Campaign believes we need to look towards alternatives to traditional notions of mining, like urban mining, that produce little to no waste and abides by ecological limits to protect life and nature. Urban mining is the process of reclaiming, recycling and reusing compounds and elements from products, buildings and waste. Urban mining along with better product design offers an alternative to destructive land-based mining and to the emerging deep seabed mining industry. The DSM Campaign calls on policy makers in both governments and multilateral institutions – including the International Seabed Authority – to facilitate the transition to a new circular economy and reduced resource consumption before the planet’s resources are depleted.

Nevertheless, we offer the following comments on the draft Regulations.

The draft Regulations should place high importance on the precautionary principle as a key principle on which all decisions about deep sea mining projects are based. The current reference to using a ‘precautionary approach’ (in regulation 8) is inadequate. For one, it is not clear what a ‘precautionary approach’ actually is and whether or not it meets the threshold set by the precautionary principle as defined above. Further, the draft Regulations do not place any direct obligation on applicants to demonstrate they have undertaken an exhaustive examination of the potential risks of a deep sea mining project. The Regulations should place obligations on both applicants/contractors and the International Seabed Authority with respect to the precautionary principle. Due to the unprecedented nature of this industry, the Regulations should adopt the strong definition of the ‘precautionary principle’ contained in the UN World Charter for Nature.

We note that the draft Regulations define ‘confidential information’ and ‘environmental information’. There is a risk that information crucial for assessing the risks, impacts and benefits (and thus conducting costs benefit analysis) could be deemed to be confidential at the discretion of the International Seabed Authority and at the request of a contractor. A commitment to transparency should override concerns for confidentiality. We note that the New Zealand Environment Court recently determined that the Environmental Protection Authority and seabed mining company, Trans Tasman Resources (TTR), must release hundreds of blacked-out documents from TTR’s application for a mining consent on the grounds of transparency. The judge in the case concluded that the crucial nature of the sensitive information, combined with the public’s right to participate effectively in the consent process, outweighs any trade secret or business prejudice interest of TTR by a considerable margin[5].

Similarly, the definition of ‘environmental information’ should be expanded to include all and any information related to the environment, including how deep sea mining could impact on the environment and on human health via marine food chains and direct exposure to pollutants. Such information would therefore not be subject to confidentiality provisions.

In order to ensure there is public confidence in the regulation of deep sea mining, and to ensure the implementation of the precautionary principle, the Regulations should:

  1. Allow for stakeholder engagement, including review of and making submissions in relation to individual applications for an exploitation contract (while we note that the proposed Environmental Regulations will include such requirements, these requirements should be mirrored in the Exploitation Regulations)
  1. Allow for the establishment of a scientific advisory council and citizens advisory council to ensure that all decisions on deep sea mining are informed by independent scientific advice and the views of civil society

The recommendations made in this submission echo those we made in our submission in May 2015 on the draft framework for the regulation of deep sea mining. That submission highlighted the need to develop best practice deep sea mining decision making underpinned by the implementation of the Precautionary Principle, achieving Free Prior and Informed Consent, and gaining broad civil society support. We are disappointed that these critical elements have been ignored in the draft regulations now produced by the International Seabed Authority. Without them, there are insufficient checks and balances to allow this industry to proceed. There must be a complete ban on deep sea mining.

___

NOTES

[1] The United Nations World Charter For Nature (1982)

[2] http://www.deepseaminingoutofourdepth.org/wp-content/uploads/Out-Of-Our-Depth-low-res.pdf and http://www.deepseaminingoutofourdepth.org/wp-content/uploads/EIS-Review-FINAL-low-res.pdf

[3] http://www.deepseaminingoutofourdepth.org/wp-content/uploads/Steiner-Independent-reviewDSM1.pdf

[4] Lutherans Walk 9 days Across Highlands Region Campaigning Against Deep Sea Mining in Papua New Guinea, EMTV and VIDEO: Lutherans Campaign Against Deep Sea Mining in PNG, EMTV online

[5] http://www.stuff.co.nz/business/86392828/released-mining-documents-pivotal-to-understanding-southtaranaki-submission

 

Rachel Shisei | EMTV News | 23 November 2016

It took 9 days and an estimated total of 261 kilometres, for a group of Lutherans, to walk four Highlands provinces.

Their outreach awareness focused on the issues affecting ‘God’s creations’, or the natural resources in the country. The campaign specifically aimed at the Experimental Seabed Mining project, the only kind in the world licensed by the government, to operate in the country.

“We are not in favor of this ‘experimental’ seabed mining project to happen in the country, so we’re including and doing awareness in our outreach. If we don’t do it, who else will?” said Pastor Matei Ibak, the Lutheran Youth Bible Study Master.

Ibak said, despite speaking about the ‘sea’ to people of the Highlands provinces; most people were in tears when the youth group from Karkar Island performed dramas and songs, expressing the importance of the sea to their livelihood, and country as a whole. This, he said, is a sign that people agree, that things are going the wrong way and may become worse, if nothing is done in time.

Former Chief Justice, a Karkar Islander and a Lutheran churchgoer himself, Sir Arnold Amet weighed in on the issue saying that in terms of awareness, the government has a lot more work to do to help the people understand the environmental; biological; and oceanographic impacts that the mining activity can have on the sea once disturbed.

“The potential impact upon the sea life is still uncertain so I am expressing the view against the project from continuing until those issues are fully explained to the people.

Sir Amet said, it is very vital that for such projects, the whole government, regardless of the various departments and levels of government, should unite and respond in accordance.

“There’s a lack of united response that results in many issues remaining outstanding until disasters strike,” said Sir Amet.

Pastor Ibak pointed out, that their awareness is not based only on the Lutheran faith, but promoting Christianity as a whole in the country; that in the beginning God created the earth, and gave man his first duty to look after the land and everything on it.

MEDIA RELEASE

Thursday 16 November 2016

Public Right to be Informed on Experimental Seabed Mining

PAPUA NEW GUINEA | NGOs and civil society in Papua New Guinea demand that the PNG government and Nautilus Minerals make public key documents relating to the licensing of the Solwara 1 deep sea mining project. This follows a recent decision from the New Zealand Environment Court calling for transparency of seabed mining.

Jonathan Mesulam, Alliance of Solwara Warriors said, “We congratulate and stand in solidarity with New Zealand’s victory for the public’s right to information. We have been arguing for this same right in PNG for many years in regards to experimental seabed mining.”

Kiwis Against Seabed Mining, with the support of Taranaki iwi Ngati Ruanui and Talleys Fisheries Group, had a significant win in the New Zealand Environment court earlier this month against a secretive seabed mining application. It was ruled that the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) and seabed mining company, Trans Tasman Resources (TTR) must release hundreds of blacked-out documents from TTR’s application on the grounds of transparency.

Natalie Lowrey, Deep Sea Mining campaign said, “Very little information about the Solwara 1 project has been disclosed by the PNG Government or the project developer, Nautilus Minerals. Papua New Guineans have a right to see this information especially as their Government has invested heavily as a shareholder in this project. In the interest of transparency and informed debate the PNG Government and Nautilus should release the information requested by PNG civil society for the past four years.”[1]

The New Zealand Environment court Judge stated, “Ultimately we conclude that the crucial nature of the sensitive information … when combined with the public’s right to participate effectively in the consent process, outweigh any trade secret or business prejudice interest of Trans-Tasman by a considerable margin.”

Christina Tony, Bismarck Ramu group in Papua New Guinea said, “As in New Zealand, there is a high level of community concern in PNG about experimental seabed mining. This should result in equally high levels of transparency from both the PNG government and Nautilus Minerals. Especially since this is the world’s first venture of this kind and our people are feeling like guinea pigs. Public access to information allows Papua New Guineans to better understand the potential environmental and social impacts of the Solwara 1 project.”

“Nautilus does not have the consent of local communities. We still don’t know what the impacts of this experimental mining will be. Furthermore, the Solwara 1 site is right in the middle of our traditional fishing grounds”said Mr. Mesulam.

“We are united in our fight against any destruction of our seas, culture and livelihoods. We are a strong and committed alliance demanding seabed mining to be banned.”

For more info:
Papua New Guinea: Jonathan Mesulam, +675 70038933, Alliance of Solwara Warriors
Papua New Guinea: Christina Tony, chrisamoka20[at]gmail.com +675 70942439, Bismarck Ramu Group
Australia: Natalie Lowrey, natalie.lowrey[at]gmail.com +61 421226200, Deep Sea Mining Campaign

[1] In 2012 the Deep Sea Mining campaign sent a letter to PNG PM Peter O’Neill requesting the release of key documents relating to the Solwara 1 seabed mining project. No response was received and those documents are still not in the public domain. View letter here.

Mongabay.com
18 November 2016 / David Hutt

Hydrothermal vents create both hotspots of deep-sea biodiversity and rich mineral deposits. Papua New Guinea is at the center of a debate about whether these sites should be preserved or mined.

  • Plans are moving forward to launch operations at the world’s first deep sea mine, in Papua New Guinea’s coastal waters.
  • Nautilus Minerals, Inc. claims the project will have less ecological and social impact than on-shore mines.
  • The mine’s opponents say too little is known about the risks such projects pose to deep sea ecosystems and coastal communities.
  • Despite its mineral riches, Papua New Guinea has very poor indicators for human health and well-being, and a long history of unrest centered on resource extraction.

 

Remote-controlled vehicles will soon begin churning up the ocean floor off the cost of Papua New Guinea, searching for millions of tons of copper and gold. In 2011, Canada-based Nautilus Minerals, Inc. was granted a 20-year mining license by the government of Papua New Guinea to begin exploring almost 500,000 square kilometers (193,000 square miles) in the Bismarck Sea. The project, called “Solwara 1,” was granted the first-ever permit for deep sea mining. After a series of disputes and financial setbacks, extraction is slated to begin in the first quarter of 2019.

The project aims to mine deposits laid down over thousands of years around underwater hot springs, otherwise known as hydrothermal vents. These are found between one or two kilometers (0.6 to 1.2 miles) below sea level, where islands of life are created by a  rare combination of superheated highly mineralized vent fluids, cold seawater and microbes that are capable of using these conditions to produce organic nutrients. The resulting ecosystems are rich in carbon dioxide, hydrogen sulfide, organic carbon compounds, methane, hydrogen and ammonium. What’s more, as one report opined, there is evidence to suggest that deep sea hydrothermal vents may be “where life first evolved on earth.” These same conditions make deep sea vents very attractive for resource extraction companies; when hot, mineral-rich vent fluids hit cold seawater water, gold and other precious metals drop to the sea floor.

 

Barnacles attached to hydrothermal vent spires feeding at Kawio Barat. Image courtesy of NOAA Okeanos Explorer Program, INDEX-SATAL 2010
Barnacles attached to hydrothermal vent spires feeding at Kawio Barat submarine volcano off the coast of Indonesia. Image courtesy of NOAA Okeanos Explorer Program, INDEX-SATAL 2010

 

“We know very little about deep sea ecosystems; some scientists say we know more about the surface of the moon,” said Natalie Lowrey, communications coordinator for the Deep Sea Mining Campaign told Mongabay. “The proponents of this ‘frontier’ industry are pushing the line that deep seabed mining will have less impact than terrestrial or land-based mining. This is a very irresponsible argument as there is no scientific evidence yet provided to say there will be little to no environmental impact.”

Before mining is allowed to commence, Lowrey said, “independently verified research must be conducted to demonstrate that neither communities nor ecosystems will suffer long term negative impacts.”

Nautilus maintains that it carried out extensive impact studies before applying for a mining permit, and found that mining more than 1,300 meters (4,265 feet) below the surface would not affect shallower water, due to the temperature and density of water at such great depths.

The company also commissioned US-based consultancy firm Earth Economics to write a report on the possible implications of the operation. The overall conclusion of the report, titled Environmental and Social Benchmarking Analysis, was that the deep-sea mine would be “remarkably advantageous” because no people live at the site, so there would be “no cultural or historical claims to the site.” The report also concluded natural resources will be “less impacted” than with conventional mining since fresh water will not be contaminated, and that the possible impact of the mine would be less significant than the impacts of a nearby erupting underwater volcano. “The overall conclusion is that Solwara 1 has the potential for far fewer social and environmental impacts than the existing terrestrial mines examined,” it stated.

 

Bubbles of liquid CO2 float out of the seafloor at Champagne vent in the Mariana Arc region. Photo courtesy of Pacific Ring of Fire 2004 Expedition. NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration; Dr. Bob Embley, NOAA PMEL, Chief Scientist.
Bubbles of liquid CO2 float out of the seafloor at Champagne vent in the Mariana Arc region. Photo courtesy of Pacific Ring of Fire 2004 Expedition. NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration; Dr. Bob Embley, NOAA PMEL, Chief Scientist.

 

When the report was published last year, it was widely criticized by environmental groups, economists and civil-society organizations. The critique was encapsulated in a rival report, titled Accountability Zero, authored by Helen Rosenbaum of the Deep Sea Mining Campaign and Francis Grey, of Economists at Large.

According to its critics, the Earth Economics’ report used an unsatisfactory comparison between Solwara 1 and existing land-based copper mines to examine environmental impacts. Conservation biologist Richard Steiner told Mongabay Nautilus has “absolutely not” done enough research into possible affects. “These are poorly understood deep sea communities, and we are unclear what the full immediate and long-term impacts of mining disturbance would be,” Steiner continued.  “But we do know that thousands of vent chimneys, and their associated biological communities, would be destroyed. It is likely that species yet to be identified may become extinct.  And that raises some very serious ethical concerns.”

A 2011 report, again authored by Helen Rosenbaum, titled Out of Our Depth, noted that even before last year’s Earth Economics’ report, the “government of Papua New Guinea has granted a 20 year license for Solwara 1 based on a flawed Environmental Impact Statement and a superficial understanding of social and economic impacts.” The report added: “It may be concluded that in the case of Solwara 1, Papua New Guinea’s environmental approvals process has failed to protect the health of the marine environment, the livelihoods and well-being of coastal communities, and fisheries of national and regional economic importance.”

Aside from the unpredictability of the operation, there are more practical risks associated with the endeavor. Janet Tokupep, the Alliance of Solwara Warriors, a community group that opposes deep sea mining, said in a statement last yearthat since the proposed mine site lies only thirty kilometers away from the mainland, it will greatly impact on the coastal communities, especially the fishermen who earn their living in the area daily. “The serious liabilities associated with the risks of Solwara 1 make it a disastrous investment,” Tokupep said.

What this means is that, today, very little is known for sure about the possible risks of the Solwara 1 project. The human and ocean life near the mine are set to be the proverbial Guinea pigs for a still untested technology.

 

Barnacles with cirri extended at Kawio Barat. Photo courtesy of NOAA Okeanos Explorer Program, INDEX-SATAL 2010.
Barnacles with cirri extended at Kawio Barat. Photo courtesy of NOAA Okeanos Explorer Program, INDEX-SATAL 2010. 

 

Why is Papua New Guinea risking so much?

“Papua New Guinea undoubtedly is a mining state.” So reads the homepage of the country’s Mineral Resources Authority. Indeed, Papua New Guinea relies on its natural resources, including oil and gas, copper, gold and other valuable minerals. The Asian Development Bank estimates that from a high of 30 per cent of the GDP in the 1990s, the mining and petroleum sectors now amount to around 20 per cent of the country’s GDP. However, there is reason to believe this is significantly higher. For example, a report by PricewaterhouseCoopers suggested that gold alone contributed to 15 per cent of the country’s GDP in 2012, the highest contribution to a gold-mining country’s economy in the world.

In 1988, then-prime minister Paias Wingti announced his ‘look north’ policy, intended to court investment from China and Japan.  In recent years, Chinese companies have invested heavily in mining in Papua New Guinea. In May, the firm PanAust Ltd announced a $3.6 billion investment to expand the Frieda River copper-mining project, though this may take another two-years for approval.

So far, the growth of the extractive sector has rarely translated into tangible improvements for the majority of the country’s inhabitants. In 2013, the Center for Global Development released its Millennium Development Goals (MDG) Progress Index, which tracked progress toward reducing hunger, poverty, child mortality and improving health and education. Papua New Guinea came second from bottom, only beating the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Mineral rich Papua New Guinea has also suffered greatly from the extractive industry. In 1988, civil war broke out in the islands of Bougainville following protests over the Panguna copper mine. Sabotage and attacks were carried out by the Bougainville Revolutionary Army, which led to the closure of the mine and the call for independence. The civil war came to an end in 1998, costing the lives of between 15,000 and 20,000 people, and led to Bougainville being made an autonomous region of Papua New Guinea.

While this was the most serious of the crises, it was not the only problem caused by mineral extraction. Protests are common throughout the country as many of the country’s poor feel they have been left out from reaping the benefits, only to suffer from the process.

 

Active "smoker" chimneys precipitating iron, copper and zinc sulfides from 230øC fluid. Photo courtesy of Pacific Ring of Fire 2004 Expedition. NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration; Dr. Bob Embley, NOAA PMEL, Chief Scientist.
Active “smoker” chimneys precipitating iron, copper and zinc sulfides from 230øC fluid. Photo courtesy of Pacific Ring of Fire 2004 Expedition. NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration; Dr. Bob Embley, NOAA PMEL, Chief Scientist. 

 

Global concerns

As Mongabay reported last month,  Solwara 1 is the beginning in a new trend in deep-sea mining. Using software developed by Deep Sea Mining Watch that allows internet users to track vessels engaged in deep sea mining activities from anywhere in the world, researchers found that five Russian-flagged vessels were charting waters belonging to the  Polynesian kingdom of Tonga, and another vessel has been scouting areas near the Mariana Trench.

As of last year, the Center for Biological Diversity estimates there to be 26 permits in operation for deep-sea mining. For example, an estimated 1.5 million square kilometers (about 580,000 square miles) of ocean floor in the Pacific Islands Region is now believed to be under exploration by private companies and state-owned firms. “Deep Sea Mining is a highly experimental and untested activity. At present, there are no viable deep-sea mining operations – and there are no enforceable regulations governing such exploitation,” said Payal Sampat, Mining Program Director of Earthworks. “It’s hard to imagine that DSM will be commercially viable in the next few years given the many uncertainties and risks involved.”

According to Lowrey, the Solwara 1 project, based on such limited research and information, has established “a frightening precedent” for the Pacific region. “Very little is understood about the possible impacts of this one project let alone the many projects for which exploration is starting throughout the Pacific,” she said.

Steiner argues there should be a 10-year moratorium on issuing any permits for deep-sea mining. “We simply do not have the understanding of these deep ocean biological systems to feel comfortable with moving forward with this scale of industrial development,” he said. “Unfortunately, with such strong coast state government support and industry interest, and demand for more raw minerals in the global economy, there is a great deal of pressure to conduct deep-sea mining.”

He added: “The effects could be greater than any industrial activity to date anywhere.”