Seafloor Mining - Davey Jones' Treasure Locker

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  Davey Jones’ treasure locker

                                                                                                                                                              Image Courtesy of Canyon Offshore Inc.
John Chadwick examines undersea mining techniques being developed for
Nautilus Minerals and Neptune Minerals as they rush to mine massive seafloor
sulphide deposits, and looks at the innovations of Subsea Minerals

        ome seafloor mining is already underway,        Mine planning is well underway for the first      Seafloor Mining Tools (SMTs) for Solwara. At
        notably the well-established offshore        Nautilus (and the world’s) seafloor copper/gold      the time CEO David Heydon said, “the placing
        diamond mining of companies like De          mine in 1,500 m of water at the Solwara 1            of this first order is a historic step in the
Beers Marine Namibia, which is owned by De           project in Bismarck Sea in Papua New Guinea          creation of a new industry and a major
Beers (70%) and Namdeb (30%). It mines off           (PNG), 50 km north of Rabaul township.               milestone for the Nautilus team, who continue
the southwest coast of Namibia in the Atlantic       Nautilus holds more than 370,000 km2 of              to meet the development timelines for the
1 licence area of Namdeb, as the exclusive           tenement licences and exploration applications       delivery of the Solwara 1 Project. Nautilus is on
contractor. DBMN operates a fleet of five            in the territorial waters of PNG, Fiji, Tonga, the   track to commence commissioning for mining
mining vessels, of which it owns four and time       Solomon Islands and New Zealand along the            operations by the third quarter of 2010, subject
charters one. The vessels are the mvs Debmar         western Pacific Ocean's Rim of Fire.                 to timely PNG government approval.
Atlantic, Debmar Pacific, Gariep, Grand Banks           Neptune has granted exploration licences             Also in December 2007, Nautilus announced
and Ya Toivo. The mining system used on four         totalling more than 278,000 km2 in the               that Golder Associates had completed the
of the vessels is airlift-drill technology, with a   territorial waters of New Zealand, PNG, the          world's first NI 43-101 compliant resource
6.8 m diameter drill bit working in overlapping      Federated States of Micronesia and Vanuatu. It       estimate for a SMS system at Solwara:
circles on the seafloor. The fifth vessel uses a     has completed its second and third exploration       Indicated mineral resource: 870,000 t at
220 t track-mounted crawler. Mining takes            programs, Kermadec 07 and Colville-Monowai           6.8% Cu, 4.8 g/t Au, 23 g/t Ag, 0.4% Zn.
place on the ocean floor at water depths             07, offshore New Zealand. During Kermadec            Inferred mineral resource: 1.3 Mt at 7.5%
ranging from 90 to 140 m.                            07, Neptune discovered two new                       Cu, 7.2 g/t Au, 37 g/t Ag, 0.8% Zn.
   However, it is Nautilus Minerals (Canada and      hydrothermally inactive SMS zones over which            The estimate from Golder was based on the
Australia) and the UK’s Neptune Minerals that        the company plans to lodge a mining licence          results of 111 core drill holes drilled from the
have caught the attention of many in the             application. It has exploration applications         seafloor in 2007, surface mapping and
industry in the last couple of years. In the         covering 434,000 km2 pending in the territorial      sampling (133 samples), and supporting
formers case, that interest has translated into      waters of New Zealand, Japan, Commonwealth           information from 35 core holes drilled in 2006.
three leading international resource companies       of Northern Mariana Islands, Palau and Italy.        The estimate was further supported by an
taking shareholdings - Epion (22.4%), Teck                                                                electromagnetic (EM) survey, which very
Cominco (7.2%) and Anglo American (5.7%).            Major Nautilus progress                              effectively outlines the surface extent of
Both companies aim to tap vast offshore              Last December Nautilus awarded a contract            massive sulphide mineralisation. A cutoff of
resources and plan to mine high-grade seafloor       worth approximately £33 million to Soil              4.0% Cu was used.
massive sulphide (SMS) deposits of copper, zinc      Machine Dynamics (SMD) of Newcastle upon                Heydon noted the importance of Nautilus’
gold and silver.                                     Tyne, UK, for the design and build of two            mine plan drilling of a portion of the Solwara 1

20 International Mining MAY 2008

deposit, trialing new remotely operated                                                                               s The copper concentrates will likely
deep-sea drills, being accepted as             Seacore’s drilling team (inset)                                        contain significant gold contents and
competent to qualify for a NI 43-101           running in drill rods on DP Hunter                                     in some cases payable levels of silver.
resource. “This is a big step forward for      to take core samples from the sea                                      Further work into gold and silver
this new industry. We are focused on           floor in 1,700m of water                                               deportment is underway.
outlining a pipeline of mineral deposits
which we could aggregate over time                                                                                    Technology specialists
using a mobile ship supported mining                                                                                    Nautilus has brought together an
system. Apart from the Solwara 1                                                                                        extensive group of engineering and
Deposit, we have to date, identified                                                                                    technology collaborators from the
seven other prospects in PNG and have                                                                                   offshore oil & gas and the metals &
title over at least 10 mineralised areas in                                                                             minerals sectors:
territorial waters of the Kingdom of                                                                                    Technip is a world-leader in
Tonga.                                                                                                                  engineering, technology and
    The Solwara 1 resource is a subset of                                                                               construction services for the oil and
the Solwara 1 deposit. The resource is                                                                                  gas and petrochemical industries. It
open to the west and at depth where                                                                                     ranks among the five major players
38% of holes drilled this year finished in                                                                              in full-service engineering and
mineralisation. The mineralised system is                                                                               construction services in the field of
exposed at the surface and well                                                                                         hydrocarbons and petrochemicals.
supported by the EM survey which                                                                                        Technip is advising Nautilus on its
effectively maps the surface expression                                                                                 offshore vessel and mineral
of copper-rich mineralisation. This                                                                                     extraction technologies.
provides us with confidence in the                                                                                      Hatch is a leading global consulting,
extent and continuity of the resource.                                                                                  engineering, technologies,
Indicated and Inferred resources are                                                                                    information systems, and project and
categorised based on drilling density                                                                                   construction management
and drill core recovery with no fundamental                                                                 organisation. Hatch currently has a team of 70
geological difference between mineralisation in                                                             staff and consultants conducting front end
the different resource classes. We are confident                                                            engineering and design on Nautilus's proposed
that additional drilling could quickly upgrade                                                              onshore processing activities.
the resource in the inferred category if                                                                    Perry Slingsby Systems is the world leader in
desired.”                                                                                                   manufacture of deep ocean ROVs for the
    The Solwara 1 deposit is located on a                                                                   oil/gas and telecommunications industries.
volcanic sea mount. It consists of a zone of                                                                Vehicles to 750 kW are manufactured for
massive sulphides overlain by a thin zone of                                                                applications such as deep sea trenching for
barren or weakly mineralised sediments. Base-           G&T on composite samples recovered from             pipe and cable laying and for sub sea
metal rich chimneys occur above much of the             Solwara 1 during the 2007 drilling campaign,        construction activities to 3,000 m.
massive sulphide deposit. The massive sulphide          as documented in the Resource Report                   Allan Spencer, Business Development
zone exhibits strong geological continuity and          completed by Golder and Associates, released        Manager, Geotechnical Systems, explains that
correlates well with a distinct electromagnetic         on February 1, 2008. The program was                dedicated seabed coring rigs require dedicated
anomaly on the sea floor.                               designed to provide data to optimise the            vessels and handling systems to deploy and
                                                        flotation process design. The following key         recover and have limited global availability.
Solwara processing                                      points have been concluded from this                Perry Slingsby’s Rovdrill® was successfully
Towards the end of February, Nautilus                   mineralogical work:                                 engaged in the Solwara 1 drilling campaign
announced preliminary results from its first            s Chalcopyrite is the dominant copper ore mineral   during 2007, with favourable results. “The
phase mineralogical and metallurgical                   s The gangue is pyrite, barite, anhydrite and       [Rovdrill] which sits on the seafloor recovering
investigations of ore from a representative 1.2 t       minor silicate minerals, all of which are readily   drill cores up to 19 m in length has gone from
drill core sample recovered during the 2007             separated from chalcopyrite using standard          an idea, to design, to implementation within a
drilling campaign at Solwara 1. David Heydon,           flotation techniques                                year. This is a significant technical achievement
Nautilus’ CEO said: “The results of the                 s The majority of the massive sulphide tested is    – and bodes well for future exploration and
mineralogical program conducted at G&T                  course grained. Grinding tests indicate effective   mining activities.” David Hayden, CEO, Nautilus
Metallurgical Services of Canada and the initial        liberation with a likely primary grind size of      Minerals, said last September 4.
phase of metallurgical work carried out by              80% - 50 micron                                        “In summary, Rovdrill is a technically and
AMMTEC of Australia, provide clear evidence             s The principal impurity element arsenic is held    commercially practical solution for a range of
that the Solwara 1 material is a ‘simple ore’,          almost exclusively in the mineral arsenopyrite.     seabed survey, construction geophysical and
that should produce a commercial grade                  Grinding tests indicate that the arsenopyrite is    geotechnical tasks. The system, when
copper concentrate with low impurity levels             readily liberated from the chalcopyrite and         interfaced with a host ROV of opportunity is
and good recovery.”                                     flotation will produce concentrates with            currently capable of operating in water depths
    The mineralogical work was carried out by           acceptable arsenic contents                         of 3,000 m, or less, as limited by the depth

                                                                                                                          MAY 2008 International Mining 21

rating of the host ROV of opportunity,”
Spencer explains.                                                                                                                       Deploying the
   “This system differs from other portable                                                                                                   Rovdrill
seafloor drilling and coring rigs currently available
in that it integrates 100% with the host ROV and
as such utilises the ROV power and telemetry
capabilities thus considerably simplifying and
economising on complex and expensive
equipment requiring mounting to the drill rig."
   Rovdrill uses conventional terrestrial drilling
and coring technologies and equipment,
subject to minor modifications required to
certain of the tooling to allow it to be
compatible with higher ambient pressures in
deep water operations. The system can be
easily reconfigured for RC drilling without
major alteration to the base system.
   “Rovdrill mobilises onto an existing work
class ROV spread, all deployment systems,
electrical power and hydraulic services are
provided by that ROV spread, negating the
requirement of having additional                        Nautilus deposits from the floor of the Manus     vessel DP Hunter to provide the drilling and
dedicated/specialist equipment on hand to               Basin in the deep western Pacific Ocean, north    sampling services. Seacore complemented this
complete the installation.”                             of PNG. Seacore, operating at a water depth of    equipment with a special drill string and suite
   “First Generation Rovdrill has limitations as a      1,700 m, drilled boreholes at over 30 locations   of drilling tools for the taxing contract.
broader geotechnical tool, including coring             and took core samples up to 20 m into the            Robert Goodden, the founder of Seacore,
depth capability being limited to 18 m to retain        seabed. The deposits are formed in mounds         has launched himself headfirst into a
compatibility with the existing host.” A second         and hydrothermal vents or chimneys, produced      challenging new marine mining venture,
generation Rovdrill design is currently in progress     by deep convection circulation of sea water       Subsea Minerals. This, he feels, could be
which aims to expand on the original concept            generated by submarine volcanic activity.         equally or even more rewarding than Seacore,
and move the tool forward into a broader                   For the Solwara project Seacore used its own   which became one of the world’s leading
offshore geotechnical investigation arena.              heave compensated R100 drill rig mounted          specialist marine and offshore construction and
Canyon Offshore is an international operator            onto the chartered multi-service construction     exploration drilling contractors. Fugro
of deep ocean ROVs for the oil/gas                                                                                  purchased Seacore in May 2006.
and telecommunications industries. It                                                                                  One of the first ventures Goodden is
owns equipment for sub sea                                                                                          working on is the co-operation with
construction as well as trenching for                                                                               Namdeb to mine for diamonds in the
pipe and cable laying at depths to                                                                                  raging surf along the Namibian
3,000 m.                                                                                                            coastline. The beaches along the west
Sandvik, based on its experience in                                                                                 coast of Africa have been mined for
roadheaders for hard rock tunnelling                                                                                years by small diver operated spreads
and of bolter miners for the coal                                                                                   dependent on the few calm days,
industry, is providing cutting head                                                                                 which occur each month. Subsea
technology to the project. At its                                                                                   Minerals, using walking jack-up
Austrian test facility it has conducted                                                                             platforms, complete with on board
tests of the engineering properties of                                                                              processing equipment to extract
SMS samples supplied by Nautilus.                                                                                   diamonds from the dredged material,
Williamson and Associates                                                                                           will enable almost continuous
conducted the geophysics program                                                                                    operation in the ultra shallow water or
for Placer Dome in 2005 (now owned                                                                                  surf zones, dramatically increasing
by Barrick Gold) that led to the                                                                                    productivity of a mining unit. These
delineation of the Suzette field in                                                                                 ultra shallow water zones have so far
which Solwara 1 is contained.                                                                                       not been exploited in any significant
                                                                                                                    way, but the co-operation between his
Subsea Minerals                                                                                                     new company and Namdeb, using
Back in 2006, Seacore (now owned                                                                                    technologies initially developed within
by Fugro) successfully completed one                                                                                Seacore and Namdeb, will represent a
of the most challenging exploration
projects in its 30 year history, drilling                                                                          ROV fitted with rock cutter for bulk
and recovering core samples of                                                                                     sampling

22 International Mining MAY 2008

new breakthrough, which                                                                                                           focused on Neptune’s
Goodden and Namdeb are                                                                                    Seawalker 1 in and      exploration tenements in New
both excited about.                                                                                         out of the water      Zealand’s Exclusive Economic
                                                                                                                                  Zone (EEZ). Subject to vessel
God of the sea                                                                                                                    and equipment availabilities,
Neptune is not as far advanced                                                                                                    AUV survey and sampling
as Nautilus, but is nevertheless                                                                                                  operations are planned to
fast approaching project                                                                                                          commence in mid-2008 with
development. It has 100%                                                                                                          continuous operations for a
interest in three prospecting                                                                                                     minimum 12-month period,
licences for SMS deposits in                                                                                                      with options to extend to 24
New Zealand territorial waters,                                                                                                   months and beyond.
totalling over 236,000 km2.                                                                                                          Neptune’s Chief Executive
The company says it targeted                                                                                                      Officer Dr Simon McDonald:
New Zealand for its initial                                                                                                       “We are very pleased to
operations because of:                                                                                           progress Project Trident, the undertaking of
s Its stable political environment                                                                               which will allow the company to significantly
s Government legislation and support for                                                                         ramp up its exploration activities in New
offshore mineral exploration                                                                                     Zealand. A dedicated survey vessel will allow
s Well established offshore oil and gas marine                                                                   Neptune to define the SMS zones identified
industry                                                                                                         during Kermadec 07 and systematically locate
s An active marine contracting sector which                                                                      and define SMS deposits which will then have
includes ships, platforms and ROVs                                                                               Mining Licence Applications placed over them.”
s Seamount sites at depths of 120 to 1,800 m                                                                        C&C Technologies Asia-Pacific Survey
under water are well within the operating                      marine survey companies, for the provision of     Division Manager, Gad Habiby: “C&C looks
range for existing technologies.                               autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) survey,       forward to working closely with Neptune on
   In Mid-March Neptune signed a letter of                     sampling and vessel charter services. The LOI     Trident and, while carrying out the AUV survey
Intent (LOI) with C&C Technologies, through its                commits both parties to contract negotiations     and sampling program, to introducing
Asia-Pacific operation based in Singapore. C&C                 and project preparations towards Project          appropriate new technology to maximise the
Technologies is one of the world’s leading                     Trident – a long-term exploration program         value of the data set gathered.” IM

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