Nautilus Minerals’ seafloor Solwara 1 project has the potential to significantly reduce social and environmental impacts commonly associated with large surface terrestrial copper mines, according to an independent environmental and social benchmarking analysis. The report, based on natural capital accounting, was released by Earth Economics on May 31.

Earth Economics was commissioned by Nautilus to conduct an independent, objective environmental and social benchmarking analysis of the proposed deep seabed Solwara 1 project with terrestrial copper mines. Solwara 1 is expected to be the world’s first commercial high-grade seafloor copper-gold mine project.

Specifically, the report compares the social and environmental impacts of the proposed Solwara 1 project with three terrestrial mines - Bingham Canyon (Utah, USA), Prominent Hill (South Australia) and Intag (a proposed mine in Ecuador).

Key findings of the natural capital accounting report include:

  • World demand for copper continues to rise, with increasing global economic development, expanding renewable energy supplies (wind, hydro, wave geothermal, tidal power) and growing copper plumbing, electronics and communications sectors.
  • Recycling is likely limited to around 35% of the supply of copper. Copper ore concentrations are declining. Environmental and social impacts of copper mining are rising.
  • There is an urgent need to meet world copper demand while reducing fresh water use and contamination, damaging impacts to communities, mine footprints and CO2 emissions from copper mining.
  • Seafloor mining has the potential to minimize the impact of copper mining by producing more copper with fewer natural capital inputs, fewer damaging outputs and a smaller area of impact.
  • The proposed Solwara 1 project when compared to the terrestrial mines, entails far less environmental and social impact and less short and long-term risks.
  • Terrestrial mines have significant impacts. Measured on the basis of impacts per tonne of copper, the Solwara 1 project would outperform terrestrial mines: People will not be displaced by the proposed Solwara 1 project; there will be no impact to food production; there will be no impact to surface or groundwater fresh water supplies; there will be no significant risk of disaster (eg mine tailing slide into communities); and there will be no impact to pollination, soil formation, erosion, historic and cultural values.
  • The monetary damages resulting from terrestrial mines is estimated to be significantly more than that of the proposed Solwara 1 project (4 to 13 times per ton of copper produced for the three mines used in the comparison).
  • The long-term mining liabilities for freshwater contamination, tailings and overburden failures that threaten downstream communities do not exist in Solwara 1.

Nautilus’ CEO Mike Johnston said, “Growing copper demand requires our industry to look at more sustainable ways to meet this demand. As showcased in Earth Economics’ Report, seafloor mining has the potential to not only provide economic benefits within the communities nearest to the operations while minimizing the impact of copper mining, it also has the potential to change the physical nature of the mining industry for the better.

“We believe that the proposed Solwara 1 project will launch a new frontier in the blue economy and resource sector. As the first publicly-listed company in the world to commercially explore seafloor mining opportunities, Nautilus is committed to leading the way and setting a high bar for developing an environmentally and socially responsible approach for the industry. Commissioning this report is part of our ongoing process to review, estimate and evaluate project impacts through objective third-party experts,” he added.

Solwara 1 is located in the Bismarck Sea of Papua New Guinea and it is anticipated that the proposed Solwara 1 project will commence operations in the first half of 2018 subject to project financing and completion of the company’s seafloor production equipment and vessel.

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