Nick Hutchings: Politics Of Deep Sea Mining

February 14, 2015

[Opinion column written by Nick Hutchings]

Strong minds discuss ideas, average minds discuss events, weak minds discuss people.” – Socrates.

Deep sea mining featured in the political arena last year during the Throne Speech debate with veteran politician Glenn Blakeney and new comer Glen Smith squaring off over the issue.

Blakney claims deep sea mining has the potential to create jobs, pay down the national debt and diversify the economy while Smith points out that jobs resulting directly from mining operations are a decade away.

Both men are correct. That being the case and faced with so many other pressing issues why think about it now leading up to what is bound to be a belt tightening Budget?

Actually there are several very good reasons.

  • First, given the rapid advancements being made in deep ocean engineering and technology, the predicted time line could easily compress giving us less time than we think.
  • Second, years of exploration and preparation precede mining operations. Therefore, if we want to be ready a short decade from now, we need to start right away.
  • Third, if investors see that we take the potential value of our mineral resources seriously, i.e. we have established policies and procedures providing a clear path to development including robust requirements for environmental assessment and mitigation, they will invest now meaning economic benefit can start immediately and increase incrementally over a relatively short period of time until they are fully realised.

The good news is that we are no longer arguing over whether or not we have deep sea mineral resources within our sovereign territory as there is compelling geological evidence from highly reputable institutions like the International Seabed Authority, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute and the Lamont–Doherty Earth Observatory Deep Sea Drilling Project that these minerals do exist.

The November 2013 National Geographic article “Expanded Boundaries, Hidden Treasures” further demonstrates the growing acceptance that these minerals are in Bermuda’s Exclusive Economic Zone [EEZ] and maps them specifically as Cobalt, Nickel, Manganese, Tellurium, Platinum and Rare Earth Elements.

The question now becomes whether or not any of these mineral deposits are economically viable? The answer is we do not know but given the potential for jobs, paying down the national debt and diversifying the economy we should make it a priority to find out.

The only way to do that is through very specific geo-technical surveys which build on the existing science. This survey work is conducted in four phases which are: an initial survey, exploration, resource drilling and resource definition.

The initial survey is conducted using a fast, cost effective vessel and is primarily dedicated to the acquisition of bathymetric data. The exploration phase examines areas identified by geologists as being prospective with higher resolution mapping, sub-bottom profiling and magnetic survey equipment followed up with ROV sampling operations.

Resource drilling determines the extent and depth of mineralisation in a prospective area. Resource definition evaluates all the geological, chemical, metallurgical and assay data collected to compile a technical report defining the geology, extent, volume and mineralisation of a resource.

NI 43-101 is a good example of a technical report. It is a national codified set of rules and guidelines for reporting and displaying information related to mineral properties owned by, or explored by, companies which list their results on the Canadian stock exchanges.

A comprehensive technical report will transform rocks on the sea floor into assets on a balance sheet enhancing the island’s credit rating and reducing the national debt burden. Furthermore, an environmental impact assessment for a deep sea mine is expected to cost between five and ten percent of the capital expenditure [capex] or thirty to sixty million dollars.

Much of the work is applied science so the local marine science community can expect to benefit directly and substantially. All of the above work needs to be completed before mining can begin.

If we are to be in a position to realise the socio-economic potential of Bermuda’s mineral resources when the deep sea mining industry matures to viability, we need to start now. When investors see that we take this potential seriously, i.e. we have established policies and procedures providing a clear path to development, they will invest.

We do not need to reinvent the wheel. A number of countries including Norway, Namibia, New Zealand and Australia are well ahead of the game with legislative frameworks governing offshore mining already in place.

Of particular interest to Bermuda should be the collaboration between the Secretariat of the Pacific Community [SPC] and the European Union [EU] which is funded by the EU to help Pacific Island nations improve the governance and management of their deep-sea minerals resources with particular attention to the protection of the marine environment and securing equitable financial arrangements for their people.

While ideas are the genesis of every plan, without critical analyses we cannot know if they are feasible and therefore whether or not it is reasonable to allot the resources necessary to implement a plan of action to develop them.

Glenn Blakeney has kept the idea of defining the socio-economic value inherent in Bermuda’s deep sea mineral resources on the front burner. Glen Smith has taken the next step and begun the process of critical analysis.

I have the utmost respect for both men but given the recent state of Bermudian politics it seems like a forlorn hope that these two capable politicians can work together and finish what they started.

- Nick Hutchings, Ocean Projects Limited

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Comments (6)

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  1. “Strong minds discuss ideas, average minds discuss events, weak minds discuss people.” – Socrates. May I also add: “Fools rush in where wise men fear to tread.”
    Granted, there just maybe some “wealth” laying below the ocean bottom that Bermuda and its people can benefit from but, what will it cost us to venture into such research? Who will be the principle investor/s? and what returns are there for us if something/s of wealth can be /would be abstracted from the oceans?

  2. diver says:

    just as a note, does anyone have the rights to do this mining? if so who. If not is it a government operation or is it going to tendered. Nick since you seem to know a lot about this subject do you have any answers

    • Herb says:

      These are exactly the answers that Nick is talking about, I am sure it will benefit every Bermudian when it comes to pass, and it will for sure as we dont seem to have any ideas to get us out of this mess that we are in right now.

      Raymond Ray, try trillions of $ return on whatever we invest to find this information out, and what Nick is asking is certainly not FOOLS RUSHING IN. Lets try another parable, for every one man who has a great idea, there are a thousand who will try and negate that idea. Evidently you are one of the thousand, too bad.

  3. aceboy says:

    What jobs will there be available for everyday Bermudians?

    What are the environmental dangers involved?

    How much will this research cost? Right now we have an event we know will stimulate a broad section of our economy and people are screaming that we *might* lose money on our investment.

    This is penny stock stuff. We could sink hundreds of millions into this and lose it all.

    Back to my original point, how exactly will this provide jobs along the way? For Bermudians…..???? I see a need for foreign investment and expertise, not local labour.

  4. Bermuda Jake says:

    This is a very interesting idea, professionally presented. Well done, Nick for taking the time to research this concept in a way that others can learn about what some of the possibilities are.

    Bermuda needs more thoughtful discussion and this piece is clearly an excellent contribution.

  5. Kim Smith says:

    I am late to this party (reading of this article) but a question that pops up for me is whether the goal is for mining rights/opportunities or salvage rights/opportunities?