Copper grade from deposits on the sea floor of the Bismarck Sea is 10 times higher than the average copper mine on land.
An average copper mine on land has a deposit grade of around 0.6% whereas the Solwara 1 deposit is 8% copper, says Nautilus Minerals Chief Executive Mike Johnson.
The Solwara 1 project site is located about 30 kilometres from New Ireland and 50 kilometres from East New Britain provinces.
Speaking on an episode of Innovations with Ed Begley Jr which aired on the Discovery Channel, Johnson says “it’s more than 10%-12% higher grade copper. “It also comes with 6 grams of gold. The average open pit gold mine is lucky it has got a grade of 1.5 grams.”
He says the economic benefits are quite pronounced. “Looking at how much 0.1 square kilometres is going to be produced, if put in economic terms, the revenue that get produced per square kilometre for an SMS (sea floor massive sulphide) deposit is of the order of US$10 billion to US$15 billion.”
Johnson says the deposits occur in relatively small areas, thus, the damage is not that significant to the sea floor. “There is little fish life in the deep ocean, with no humans living 15,000 metres down there where it is pitch black. There is no social impact as it (Solwara 1) is 30 kilometres off land so no village will be disturbed.
Jonathan Lowe, Nautilus vice-president – strategic development and explorations, says Nautilus’ exploration is based on discipline and systematic search approach that is different from the rest.
“It takes the equation of lady luck out as it is ever present in explorations. And if the technology does not exist we need to develop them to plug any holes in our exploration approach,” he says.
The government has granted a 20-year mine lease for the project to Nautilus Minerals as well as take a 30% stake in the venture.
However, the newly established PNG Group against Seabed Experimental Mining (PNGGaSEM) is campaigning strongly against the decision.
Chairman of the group, lawyer Moses Murray, warns “the costs of any possible environmental damage can be catastrophic and immeasurable.”