Mineral Production from the Deep Sea: Social and Environmental Considerations

Sunday, 16 February 2014
Columbus EF (Hyatt Regency Chicago)
Samantha Smith , Nautilus Minerals, Brisbane, Australia
As the world’s demand for minerals and metals continues to rise, along with land resources becoming increasingly stretched, a holistic view of our planet – which includes the sea - is needed when making decisions about resource supply.

Seafloor-based mineral deposits can offer many environmental and social advantages for mineral development compared to similar land-based operations.  These advantages include high metal grades and minimal ‘overburden’ (unwanted material), resulting in less waste than what is typically produced on land.  There is also a small social footprint, in that no one needs to be relocated for extraction to proceed, resulting in reduced pressure on land which is already experiencing increased conflicts over its use.  

Of course these advantages should not be taken as a ‘green light’ to take a no-care attitude towards the environment or environmental management and, as always, balance is needed between meeting the demands of society with environmental protection.  

Examples exist where science and industry (and other stakeholders) have successfully worked together to develop strategies for responsible environmental management of seafloor-based resources at individual sites.  The approaches, experiences and strategies thus far developed form a good basis for further developing strategies to enusre responsible environmental management occurs on a wider, more regional, scale as society continues to explore new parts of our planet, including the deep sea, to help meet its demands.