Thursday, May 15, 2008

Undersea minerals - new prospecting in SI waters

Solomon Islands is part of the next great mining rush - taking place under the sea.

A Canadian-listed company called Nautilus Minerals (NMO) has acquired exploration and prospecting rights to an area of the SI EEZ roughly southwest of New Georgia. These areas form part of what the company calls its "Solwara" projects, spanning seafloor areas in the PNG, Tongan and SI EEZs. The Solwara project has a number of different fields (Solwara 1- 8) and aims to exploit seafloor sediments called SMS deposits, which are rich in gold, silver, copper and zinc.
The "Solwara" project areas (click to enlarge)

Seafloor massive sulphide (SMS) deposits are a class of minerals deposits at the centre of a new mining industry focusing on the seafloor. They are formed during a process called hydrothermal circulation, in which seawater enters deep cracks in the earth's crust below the seafloor. The water is superheated and returns to the ocean via undewater volcanic vents called black smokers. The water carries with it considerable deposits of minerals which are
then deposited on the ocean floor. These deposits are found anywhere from a few metres to more than a kilometer under the sea surface.

And they exist in SI EEZ waters.

According to Nautilus sources, they have been granted more than 10 thousand square kilometers of tenements by the SI govenrment. Whether these tenements have exploration, prospecting or mining rights attached is not immediately clear:
As of November 14, 2007 Nautilus had been granted 14 tenements covering 10,641 km2 in the Exclusive Economic Zone of the Solomon Islands, continuing the Company's tenement holding in the highly prospective Woodlark Basin to the east of PNG. The licences granted in the Solomon Islands are an extension of our highly prospective Woodlark Basin tenements to the east of PNG. All of the Solomon Island licences are 100% owned by Nautilus
The tenements stretch for a considerable distance south and southwest from the Western Province islands of Ranonnga, Rendova and New Georgia.

Given a national mining scene that is heating up all over the place and significant economic pressures forecast, this development is sure to attract the attention of a lot of people - economic planners and the Western provincial government especially. Also with, some of the tenements abutting the shoreline of Rendova, customary landowners may begin taking a new interest in reef and coastal rights.