AN independent environmental and social benchmarking analysis, based on natural capital accounting, concludes that Nautilus Minerals’ Solwara 1 project has the potential to significantly reduce social and environmental impacts commonly associated with large surface copper mines. Solwara 1 is expected to be the world’s first commercial high-grade seafloor copper-gold mine project.

Earth Economics was commissioned by Nautilus to conduct an independent, objective analysis of the proposed deep seabed Solwara 1 project. The report compares the social and environmental impacts of Solwara 1 with three terrestrial mines - Bingham Canyon in Utah, USA; Prominent Hill in South Australia; and Intag, a proposed mine in Ecuador.

Key findings:

  • World demand for copper continues to rise, with increasing global economic development, expanding renewable energy supplies 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 while environmental and social impacts of 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 mining.
  • Seafloor mining has potential to minimize the impact of mining by producing more copper with fewer natural capital inputs, fewer damaging outputs and a smaller area of impact.
  • Compared to terrestrial mines, Solwara 1 entails far less environmental and social impact, and fewer short and long-term risks.
  • Terrestrial mines have significant impacts. Measured on the basis of impacts per tonne, Solwara 1 would outperform terrestrial mines; people will not be displaced; there will be no impact to food production; no impact to surface or groundwater fresh water supplies; no significant risk of disaster; and no impact to pollination, soil formation, erosion, historic and cultural values.
  • Monetary damages resulting from terrestrial mines are estimated to be significantly more than the proposed project (4 to 13 times per tonne of copper produced for the comparative mines).
  • 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 says, “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 communities nearest the operations while minimizing the impact of mining, it also has potential to change the physical nature of the industry for the better.”

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