Papua New Guinea's government has just granted a Canadian mining company a 20-year licence to harvest its deep sea territories for copper and gold. Once it commences, it will be the first commercial deep sea mining operation ever carried out. The controversial project has been in the works for years now, but proponents count this as among the last major hurdles that need to be cleared.
The Guardian explains that the "Canadian firm Nautilus Minerals has been granted a 20-year licence by the PNG government to commence the Solwara 1 project," which will "mine an area 1.6km beneath the Bismarck Sea, 50km off the coast of the PNG island of New Britain. The ore extracted contains high-grade copper and gold."
Obviously, other mining companies are paying close attention. Put your ear into a seashell in Papua New Guinea; that's the sound Rio Tinto licking its chops. And activist groups are outraged:
The Deep Sea Mining (DSM) campaign, a coalition of groups opposing the PNG drilling, estimates that 1 million sq km of sea floor in the Asia-Pacific region is under exploration licence. Nautilus alone has around 524,000 sq km under licence, or pending licence, in PNG, Tonga, New Zealand and Fiji.So it's a story we've heard so, so many times before—an impoverished nation offered the promise of revenues, economic development and new jobs in exchange for access to its natural resources.
"PNG is the guinea pig for deep-sea mining," says Helen Rosenbaum, the campaign's co-ordinator. "The mining companies are waiting in the wings ready to pile in. It's a new frontier, which is a worrying development ... Nautilus has found a place so far away from people that they can get away with any impacts. They've picked an underfunded government without the regulation of developed countries that will have no way of monitoring this properly."
And this time, the resource extraction will take place in totally unprecedented terrain, and may eventually impact up to 620,000 square miles of deep sea ecosystem in ways we can't yet comprehend. But given we humanfolk's track record with such matters thus far, we should probably already have an inkling or two about how this one ends.