PNG mining minister says govt committed to deep sea mining

9:23 am on 15 December 2017

Papua New Guinea's Mining Minister says the government is committed to the controversial Solwara 1 seabed mining project.

The project, led by Canada-based Nautilus Minerals, seeks to extract gold and copper from deep under the surface of the Bismarck Sea.

Collecting machine.

Collecting machine. Photo: Nautilus Minerals

However local community groups have launched legal proceedings in a bid to obtain key documents around the Solwara 1 agreement.

They accuse the government of withholding information on the project's approval and environmental impact reviews.

But the Minister, Johnson Tuke said the government has been open about the project, and that Nautilus has already released a thorough environmental impact statement.

"Of course this government is responsible. The environment context of it has to be taken on board, and proper due diligence has been conducted already...I suppose. Government have bought into it already, on a 15 percent stake," said Johnson Tuke.

Papua New Guinea's parliament.

Papua New Guinea's parliament. Photo: RNZI / Johnny Blades

Mr Tuke, who is new in the ministerial role, recognised the long-running community concern about the project, but echoed the former Mining Minister in expressing satisfaction with the level of risk in the environmental impact study that Nautilus had submitted.

He claimed the mining would be taking place in an area where no life existed, some 1.6 kilometres under the ocean surface.

"I'm really not a marine biologist who has got a preview for you but... Nautilus has given us a feasibility study. That is the reason why the license was granted," he explained.

"And from what I know, there is a certain dark area (in the seabed to be mined) where it is out of photosynthesis. They say there is no life beyond that point."

Sampling copper under the sea

Sampling copper under the sea Photo: Nautilus Minerals

However lack of financing appears to be another obstacle to Nautilus advance the project. It recently released a statement to the Toronto Stock Exchange indicating it was struggling to secure funding for the project.

Mr Tuke was reluctant to undermine the project but indicated there remained uncertainty about whether funds are available to get Solwara 1 up and running.

"They can obviously look for money here and there, but... I don't know if their financial system is sound," he said, adding that he had attended one of Nautilus' presentations a month ago where the company said they had the required capital.

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