Company confident PNG seabed mining project on track

11:58 am on 15 May 2017

A Canadian mining company says it is confident that a controversial seabed mine will be operational off Papua New Guinea in 2019, as planned.

Mining for copper under the sea

Mining for copper under the sea Photo: Nautilus Minerals

There have been ongoing concerns about what the impact the Solwara 1 project off the coast of New Ireland Province will have on the environment and local communities.

Nautilus Minerals was granted an environmental permit in 2009 to develop the mine, but it is still yet to be built.

Nautilus chief executive Michael Johnston said the company has conducted robust consultations with a range of groups about the impact of the mine, and he says these had been factored into their planning process.

He said the company had run various hearings and workshops in New Ireland, Kokopo, Rabaul and Port Moresby and any issues that were raised at the meetings were recorded and, where appropriate, were attached as conditions to the company's licences.

"I know NGOs around countries like Australia and New Zealand jump up and down about free and prior informed consent, but you actually have a system in PNG where it's actually obtained."

There had been concerns raised about the process mixing the water column and the potential for it to cause plumes, but Mr Johnston said that the mining process had bee designed so that this wouldn't be an issue.

"We designed our system taking that on board and have a system where we take the water up on to the vessel, separate the ore-bearing material. It then goes through a de-watering plant which is basically a series of screens, cyclones and eventually filters to remove the ore material and we filter it to 8 microns and then the filtered water is then returned in pipes."

He said that the technology the company would use, was not new, and been used the the oil and gas industry for years.

"Deep water is anything over about 2000-25000 m. The machines that we are deploying are basically a modification of oil and gas of an oil and gas trenching machine."

The company is confident the project will be on track to start extracting ore in the first quarter of 2019, he said.

"So that's the budgeted first ore date and we're tracking to that schedule at the moment so I don't see any reason why it won't achieve it."