Deep sea mining in the Pacific

Written By : SOURCE: SOPAC. The importance of setting rules for seabed mining in the Pacific was heard at a meeting in Fiji last week. Michael Lodge, Legal Counsel for
24 Jun 2011 12:00

image Written By : SOURCE: SOPAC. The importance of setting rules for seabed mining in the Pacific was heard at a meeting in Fiji last week.
Michael Lodge, Legal Counsel for the International Seabed Authority (ISA), who was invited to speak at the three-day meeting, said rules that govern mineral resource related activities in the international seabed area should be basically the same, or of an equivalent standard.
The meeting also the launch of the Deep Sea Minerals Project organised by the South Pacific Commission (SPC)/SOPAC Division and funded by the European Union (EU).
The meeting addressed legislative, regulatory, capacity requirements and environmental issues pertaining to deep-sea mineral mining for countries in the Pacific region.
The ISA has been mandated with signatories of 162 countries to manage the mineral resources of the international seabed beyond national jurisdiction.
“You want private money to invest in a seabed mine, because it’s only going to happen with private money because of the expense.
“The problem is that you cannot get that entrepreneur to invest unless he knows what the rules are.”
He said it was a part of the role of governments to support the research required to verify resources, with the help of companies like Nautilus Minerals, to take the challenge and invest the “serious money”.
The Pacific’s first commercial mining lease has been granted in Papua New Guinea territorial waters to mine ‘high grade’ Seafloor Massive Sulphide (SMS) deposits, with startup scheduled for latter part of 2013.
Mr Lodge said the rules set by the island countries on seabed mining should be just as effective as those set by ISA.
“The rules that are set for inside national jurisdiction should be no less effective than those set for outside national jurisdiction, and vice versa.
“Definitely, we have international rules that we’ve developed by consensus. So that really forms a baseline for island countries to set up their own national laws and policies.
“Of course, they can be more stringent if they want to, and in some areas, maybe they should be, but they’ve definitely have to be no less effective.”
He said the ISA had spent the last 10 years developing the environmental rules and guidelines for the international seabed area, but pointed out that Papua New Guinea was far ahead of the world in developing environmental standards for seabed mining.
“Environmental standards like those Papua New Guinea has applied to Nautilus, and that Nautilus has developed as an environmental plan, that’s a model that we can take and use in international waters,” Mr Lodge said.
He reiterated that there should be no difference between the standards set by island countries and those set by ISA.
“The standards have to be the same. And the one thing that the countries have to be aware of is that if we get into exploitation, then it could become a matter of competition.”
Mr Lodge cited the environment as an area that could be exploited but emphasised that if the same rules governing both island countries and the International Seabed Authority, among other facets of seabed mining, commercial companies would understand their limitations.
“Presently there are no regulations addressing waste removal in seabed mining because nobody has done it yet, so it is very hard to regulate until we know exactly what technology is going to be used.”
Although the ISA is based in Kingston, Jamaica, in the Caribbean, Mr Lodge was asked if the authority had plans to open a regional office in the Pacific.
“There is merit in this,” he said. “A major part of the world’s seabed exploration is now taking place in this part of the world. We should certainly take a close look at the possibility.”

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