PNG ill-equipped for undersea mining

Letters, Normal

The Nationl, Thursday 13th September, 2012

recent debates have been centred on seabed mining and the focus has shifted so much to economic gains rather than the social and environmental impacts.
I support Prof Kaluwin’s view that the environmental impacts and the probability of it happening must be reassessed.
In reviewing the environmental impact assessment or social impact statement, it is important to raise questions on the ocean flows, nearby tuna breeding grounds, reefs systems, tourism, etc and who should bear the costs of cleaning up the mess should any mishap occur.
The saying “prevention is better than cure” holds truth for it is difficult to treat pollution on the inter-tidal zones or coral reefs systems should they be affected due to tidal changes when mining starts.
Seabed mining at the Manus Ba­sin is based on high sulfidation mi­nera­lisation along active arc magmatism and is related to the broader Pacific-Caroline/Bismarck tecto­nic plate boundary to the north of Manus and a possible spreading centre immediate south.
Plate boundaries are defined by active tectonic activities such as earthquakes and volcanism.
Oceanic crust is shallow compared to continental crust and one can see fumaroles actively degassing un­derwater around the Manus Basin.
Because no drilling has been conducted before, we do not know when the tip of the magma may be encountered when drilling on oceanic crust.
Removal of waste material could also cause isostatic rebounding of the magma material beneath to rise to the surface and, consequently, melt more rock material along its path, which is a possible precursor to volcanism.
Scientists can only make assumptions and we already have enough resources with more exploration going inland to support the economy apart from agriculture, which is the backbone of the country.
At the moment, we are not sure how to handle the money that would be generated from the LNG project and other major projects, with the government still undecided whether to establish the stabilisation fund either onshore or offshore.
Too much money coming in without us having the capacity to manage it will drown us.
From a scientific angle, the Earth Scien­ce Department is under-equipped to teach courses such as marine geology, tectonic modelling, oceanography, hydro-geology, etc.
Thus, we are not prepared and are ill-equipped to embrace seabed mi­ning as we lack human capacity and technology.
The government must think care­fully as it would be held liable in the future should any environmental impacts associated with this untried technology were to occur.
If this project is to go ahead, I support recent sentiments by Prof Ka­luwin to review it with local geologists, engineers, environmental scientists, marine ecologists and law experts.

Samuel Yuguru