Deep Sea Mining: The Next Frontier

For decades those in search of oil have gone far offshore to harvest the natural resource, however mining in deep waters was still out of reach. A treasure trove of minerals lies beneath the ocean waves but environmental concerns and technology constraints kept them at arm’s length. Now businesses are beginning to take the leap forward and investigate the true potential of deep sea mining and it seems as though it can revolutionize the mining industry.

The first deep sea mining expedition is scheduled for 2019. A Canadian firm, Nautilus Minerals Inc., will utilize three massive, 200 ton remote-controlled mining robots to embark on this journey. Their goal is to send these behemoth machines to the bottom of the Bismarck Sea off the coast of Papua, New Guinea with the hopes of reaching rich copper and gold reserves.

The size of a small house, these rock-crushing monstrosities will traverse the ocean floor on enormous trends. These machines will grind away at the seabed in search of the large deposits of copper, gold and potentially other valuable materials. Prized materials are collected on the seafloor after cold water makes its way into the earth and is geothermally heated which dissolves the metals and materials from rock which then flows back out to sea. This process is continuous, meaning there could be an incredible amount of valuable metals just waiting for miners at the bottom of the ocean.

“A lot of people don’t realize that there are more mineral resources on the seafloor than on land,” according to Michael Johnston, CEO of Nautilus. He continued saying, [Now] “Technology has allowed us to go there.”

A United Nations organization, the International Seabed Authority, which regulates the seafloor outside of any national jurisdiction already approved over two-dozen contracts. These contracts will grant companies access to hundreds of thousands of square miles of ocean floor. This could not only be a treasure trove for the businesses willing to undertake the challenge but also has the potential to disrupt the global mining industry.

Depending on how truly fruitful and cost effective these deep sea mining operations actually turn out to be, it could lead create a low cost environment for valuable metals. If land based mining operations can’t compete with deep sea mining projects, it may completely redefine how the world looks at mining. Of course, one operation focused on deep sea mining won’t put the world’s miners out of work but it could lead to incredible advancements throughout the industry in the future.

As of now, environmental concern and high equipments costs will mean it’s a slow transition from conventional mining to deep sea operations. However, as the technology costs begin to fall and the environmental impact is studied more in depth, it could mean the beginning of an entirely new kind of mining industry.

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