Deep Sea Mining, Death of the Boom

I own a few shares in the mining company which is about to start mining the largest deposit of Rare Earths outside China. Those shares are accumulating value very nicely as China has closed off access to its 97% share of the worlds Rare Earths.

This is a microcosm of Australia’s mining boom. We Aussies are digging up our countryside and flogging it off to the highest bidder. This has insulated us from the worst of the Global Financial Crisis. With huge markets developing in China and India Australia looks set for several decades of un-interrupted prosperity. Possibly even longer.

Or it did. Until.

Until a new technology which will ruin the dream within twenty years crept up on us.

Up until now, all mining throughout the world has been in full view of the public. Even in remote and dangerous locations we have had access to news and images of the necessary damage being done to our land. Whether in Australia, Africa or anywhere else on the surface of the Earth.

This has meant that mining companies have had to spend money on royalties, taxes and  to protect, in some small way, the environment which is of concern to all of us.

Out of Sight and Out of Mind would be a much cheaper way for mining companies to go. Not the fanciful “Asteroid Mining” option which was put forward as we began to explore the Solar System. Going down will be the way of the future. But not in mines!

Thermal vent, Deep Sea MiningJapanese researchers say they have discovered vast deposits of rare earth minerals, used in many hi-tech appliances, in the seabed. The geologists estimate that there are about a 100bn tons of the rare elements in the mud of the Pacific Ocean floor. The minerals were found in areas which have, or have had, thermal vents at depths of 3,500 to 6,000 metres (11,500-20,000 ft) in international waters east and west of Hawaii, and east of Tahiti in French Polynesia.

The British journal Nature Geoscience reported that a team of scientists led by Yasuhiro Kato, an associate professor of earth science at the University of Tokyo, found the minerals in sea mud at 78 locations. “The deposits have a heavy concentration of rare earths. Just one square kilometre (0.4 square mile) of deposits will be able to provide one-fifth of the current global annual consumption,” said Yasuhiro Kato, an associate professor of earth science at the University of Tokyo.

Deep Sea MiningIt’s Not a Pipe Dream as the number of firms seeking licences to dig through the Pacific Ocean floor is growing rapidly. The listed mining company Nautilus has the first licence to mine the floor of the Bismarck and Solomon oceans around Papua New Guinea. It will be recovering what is called seafloor massive sulphide, for its copper and gold content.

Deep Sea MiningThe Sea Floor Will Be Unprotected as this new style of mining develops. All we will see is a ship sitting on the ocean. What we will not see are the clouds of silt and muck being stirred up my the mining activity.

Nor will we see the extinction of colonies of deep sea life which we still do not understand. The time to act and create protections for the sea floor, its life-forms and its still unknown value to human beings may already have passed.

Nautilus are looking at mining permits from Governments who control the small bit of sea floor where they currently have interests. The real worry is the open sea. Where no Government rules and giant corporations will be able to exploit the resources of the sea bed without oversight.

Land Based Mining Will Become Too Expensive and those countries which are relying on mining royalties and mining employment are all in for a very rude shock. Within ten to twenty years land-based mining companies will have a new big stick to wave around at resource-based economies. Give us what we want cheaper or we will go where there are no mining royalties, no taxes, no environmental worries!

In the meantime we are all oblivious to the ramifications. The debate on Global Warming and a Carbon Tax continues and my rare earth shares have gone up 6% today.

8 Responses

  1. oh dear, its like the worst kind of science fiction coming true and it has ‘disaster’ writ large upon it.

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  2. Absolutely … it is disaster … it scares me. Here we are worrying about what our children’s children will eat in the future and trying (in vain, for the most part) to continue with our selfish “I’m all right, Jack – bugger the next generation!” attitude without being punished for it, and you see a snippet of film on the TV news bulletin about children starving in Somalia, Kenya and surrounding areas and the land dying and we say “I’m all right, Jack … bugger them – their land can’t support them then they all have to die”. And worrying about the reefs and the islands and the ice caps … and I think of my great-great-great-grandparents who came to Australia to make a better life for their children, which is all documented for me as I enjoy me feeling of having roots deep in this land. And I wonder … what will my great-great-great-grandchildren think of me, even if there is such a thing as genealogy left in those far off days?

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  3. Oy vey. Like the open pit mines, strip mines, long wall mining, and mountain top removal (in West Virginia) isn’t rapine enough. Now let’s trash a completely mysterious and unexplored portion of the earth to fill our “pockets” with electronic symbols of wealth that used to be actual precious metal coins.

    Personally, I’m beginning to wonder if there will BE any great-great-great-grandchildren.

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