CALIFORNIA - Everyone take a deep breath. We need some clarity of thought on the Solwara 1 project in the territorial waters of New Ireland and East New Britain.
Sir Arnold Amet is the latest person to jump on the anti-Nautilus bandwagon. He served as Attorney-General and is familiar with many of the details of the Solwara 1 agreement.
In PNG Attitude recently, Sir Arnold made what I believe to be unfounded accusations against Nautilus Minerals, claiming that Solwara 1 is a “dodgy project” and “Nautilus is not a professional outfit.”
To the contrary, Nautilus has demonstrated its professionalism by investing at least K1.7 billion in the project. It has done due diligence in research, sending experts to dive into the Bismark Sea to ascertain the feasibility of the project and has engaged in 10 years of research and experimentation for the project.
Papua New Guinea is one of the few places on earth where very hot water shoots up through hydrothermal vents and then mixes with the cold water on the ocean floor to form hydrothermal “chimneys” rich in gold, zinc and copper.
These chimneys, which grow to sizes of three to 30 meters, eventually tip over and fall to the ocean floor. It’s been happening that way for thousands of years.
At 7%, the concentration of copper on these chimney shards is exponentially higher than the 0.7% found in land-based mines and the gold concentration is four times greater than land-based mines.
Very few countries have such valuable resources lying on the floor of their territorial waters. Those resources are not doing anyone in PNG any good as long as they continue to lie one-mile deep on the ocean floor. Experts agree these shards are definitely worth mining.
Land-based mines in PNG and elsewhere in the world are hard on the environment, with blasting, use of cyanide to isolate the gold, and dumping of tailings into river systems.
All indications are that the Solwara 1 deep-sea mining project will leave a minimal environmental footprint. Because of the greater concentrations of copper and gold, less material needs to be extracted from the ocean floor to achieve a similar production rate.
Because the mining will take place at a depth of 1,600 meters, the environmental impact will be minimal at 1,400 meters and very limited above that level. There will be no blasting. Compared to land-based mines, tailings will be minimal or non-existent. Why all the negativity?
Sir Arnold complains it’s an experiment. Of course it’s an experiment. A project like this has never been undertaken before. For the first time in history the technology is available to harvest the riches on the ocean floor. The government and the people of Papua New Guinea as well as Nautilus will be the beneficiaries.
Sir Arnold fails to mention what he should know to be true, namely that the most foolish action on the part of the PNG government would be to cancel the project.
The PNG government has already made a K294 million investment and those hundreds of millions of kina would be wasted, PNG will never benefit if the project is nixed.
Initially the PNG government stated it would exercise its option to make a 30% investment in the project, but then it never paid. The matter was brought before the courts which determined Nautilus had responsibly fulfilled its commitments whereas PNG had not honoured its end of the agreement.
Not able to afford the 30% investment (approximately K600 million), the PNG government then opted for a 15% interest in the project, but dragged its feet in paying its portion.
In October 2013 PNG was instructed by the court to pony up 15% of the project cost. Again the government failed to make a payment by the deadline. The matter was again brought before the courts and finally the government made the K294 million payment.
The procrastination by the government to pay its part of the project has probably led to a one to two year delay.
Sir Arnold knows all this. Why is he now so sour on the project when just a few years ago he was a member of the national executive council that approved it?