This week, Chinese investors signed an agreement with the government of Papua New Guinea to develop two giant industrial parks. One to focus on large scale processing of timber, fish, cassava and tropical spices, the other to produce steel and cement. Construction on the 4 billion dollar project could get underway as soon as next year and, as we hear from Neal Conan in today’s Pacific News Minute, another ambitious project could follow in 2019.
Seabed mining seems like the stuff of science fiction. Giant remotely operated machines gouging the ocean floor, grinding volcanic deposits and pumping ores up to massive vessels on the surface. The riches include lead, gold, silver, zinc and spectacular quantities of copper.
At a meeting on mining in Sydney this month, Adam Wright, the chairman of the Canadian company Nautilus put the grade of the deposits at a site called Solwara 1 at 7.2% copper, more than a hundred times the level at terrestrial mines.
Solwara 1 may well be the world’s first seabed mine. The site lies a mile beneath the surface of the Bismarck Sea, about 20 miles off the coast of New Ireland in Papua New Guinea. In partnership with the PNG state-owned company Kumul, Nautilus hopes to start mining there in early 2019.
Remaining hurdles include local opposition. Former PNG Attorney General Sir Arnold Amet recently described Solwara 1 as “a Papua New Guinea-Pig experiment.” Environmentalists question assurances that the gigantic machines would leave the fragile environment of the seabed undamaged. The recent plunge in commodity prices which has lead to questions about finances and the political stability of Papua New Guinea, which holds national elections next summer.
For Hawaii Public Radio, this is Neal Conan, with the Pacific News Minute.