Congressman Faleomavaega announced today that the U.S. House Committee on Natural Resources, Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources held a legislative hearing on Tuesday, September 13, 2011 to consider three bills – H.R. 2360 (Rep. Jeffrey Landry), H.R. 2752 (Rep. Bill Johnson), and H.R. 2803, his legislation on seabed minerals.
Witnesses included, for the first panel, Mr. Walter Cruickshank, Deputy Director of the Department of Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy, Management, Regulation, and Enforcement (BOEMRE), that testified on behalf of the Administration. He stated that the Administration would be very happy to work with the Subcommittee on Mr. Faleomavaega’s proposal. The second panel, consisted of Mr. William W. Britain, President and CEO of EnergyNt.com, Inc., Mr. Joseph Orgeron, Montco Offshore, Inc., and Mr. Gavin Higgins, Vice President of Business Development for Derecktor Shipyards, provided testimony on the other bills.
Mr. Faleomavaega also submitted written testimony and other materials in support of his bill. His statement is inserted below.
Mr. Chairman, Ranking Member Holt:
Research has shown that there are commonly four categories of mineral resources in the deep seabed. The first group includes liquid and gaseous substance such as petroleum, gas, condensate, helium, nitrogen, and carbon dioxide. The second group consists of minerals which occur under the seabed at depths greater than 9 ft (3 meters). The third group consists of ore-bearing silts and brines containing iron, zinc and copper and the fourth group includes useful minerals occurring on the surface of the seabed or at depths of less than 9 ft, including calcareous and siliceous oozes, and phosphorite and manganese nodules.
The focus of the proposed legislation, H.R. 2803, is on minerals other than gas and oil. These include deposits of polymetallic nodules, polymetallic sulphides, and cobalt-rich crusts that contain valuables minerals such as cobalt, nickel, copper, iron, lead, zinc, gold, silver and other metals. Research has shown that these deposits also include an abundance of supply of rare elements, which are increasingly used in modern applications including magnet, lasers, fiber optics, computer disk drives, fluorescent lamps, rechargeable batteries, catalytic converters, computer memory chips, X-ray tubes, high temperature superconductors and the liquid-crystal displays of televisions and computer monitors. As you may know, some ninety-five percent of the world’s supply of these rare elements is controlled by China.
Summary of H.R. 2803
H.R. 2803 would require the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEMRE) to conduct an assessment of the seabed area around the U.S. continental shelf including areas that are contiguous to and within the 200 miles economic exclusive zones (EEZ) of the United States territories and possessions in the Pacific Region, for valuable minerals other than gas and oil.
In essence, it would ask BOEMRE to do three things. First, BOEMRE is to conduct a survey of available sites for the recovery of such minerals. Second, it is to perform an assessment of all available domestic technological capabilities required for their location and their efficient and environmentally sound recovery. Finally, the bill would require BOEMRE to carry out an economic feasibility study on the recovery of such minerals.
The Secretary of the Interior would submit the findings and recommendations in a report to Congress within two years. As a result of discussion with DOI, about $500,000 is appropriated to carry out the provisions of the proposed legislation for fiscal year 2012 and 2013.
Economic Worth of Seabed Mining
Studies have shown that within the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of the Cook Islands, a group of 15 small islands in the South Pacific with a total landmass of around 240 square kilometers and a population of roughly 14,000 people, there are more than 16.5 trillion dry pounds of cobalt rich manganese nodules containing more than 70 billion pounds of cobalt, 60 billion pounds of nickel and 30 billion pounds of copper.
In the Independent State of Samoa, past deep sea mineral expeditions identified deposits of cobalt–rich crust within Samoa’s Extended Economic Zone (EEZ). At the current price of about $41 per lb for cobalt, the potential value could be worth well over $100 billion.
But these aren’t the only examples. Manganese nodules, typically rich in manganese and iron oxides, are known to also occur in EEZs' of Kiribati, Tuvalu and Niue, according to information provided by the Secretariat of the Pacific Community's Applied Geoscience and Technology Division (SOPAC).
Data from SOPAC also shows seafloor massive sulfide deposits (SMS) have higher mineral content compared to on-land deposits. In the case of copper, for example, on-land deposits have mineral content of 0.5% to 2% compared to 5% to15% for SMS deposits. For zinc and lead, the mineral content for on-land deposits is between 5% and 20% compared to up to 50% for SMS deposits. Moreover, the typical value of one pound of land-based ore is about $50-$180 compared to about $800-$1500 for a pound of SMS ore.
In the U.S., the unrealized potential for economic benefit from seabed mining could be worth some hundreds of billions of dollars from harvesting important minerals such as cobalt, nickel, copper, zinc, gold, lead and the rare earths. In a time when economic growth and job creation is needed for our nation, it is important for us to fully utilize our available resources in an efficient and responsible way, if not for now, for future generations.
U.S. involvement in Seabed Mining
It is ironic, therefore, that the United States, once considered a leader in the exploration and research of seabed mining, is gradually losing ground in the international community. In a recent article, The Wall Street Journal reported that U.S. investment in seabed mineral exploration and research has diminished over the past two decades.
This decline in U.S. interest is highlighted by the fate of the deep seabed mining program at the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). According to Project Chief James Hein, during the 1970s and ‘80s, research and development for deep seabed mining was considered “world class” and quite extensive in the United States, with a program that consisted of 12-13 full time equivalents (FTEs). During this time period, there was also a small amount of funding at the Bureau of Mines (now abolished) to complement work that was being done at the USGS.
Funding for deep seabed mining had also been authorized under the Marine Mineral Resources Research Act of 1996 (P.L. 104-325). Three Mineral Technology Centers were established including the Oceans Basins Division in Hawaii, which focused on, among other things, deep seabed characterization in the Pacific Basin and Rim region. The three centers were funded under the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (formerly the Minerals Management Service), but funding for the centers was discontinued in 1999.
Currently, funding status for U.S. programs relating to deep seabed mining is about one-half FTE—about $119,000/year. USGS programs have been carried out under the agency’s Coastal Marine Geology Program.
Besides the lack of funding, another debilitating factor for seabed mining in the United States is the fact that Congress has not ratified the 1982 United Nation Convention on the Law of Sea (UNCLS). As of now, the United States has only observer status.
International Community involvement in Seabed Mining
Meanwhile, countries such as China, Russia, Korea, and India have invested millions of dollars annually to fund deep seabed exploration and mining technology research and development. Governed under rules set by the International Seabed Authority (ISA), many of these countries have secured contracts with ISA to explore seabed mining in the five Areas identified as showing potential for rich deposits of ore.
Interestingly, of these five Areas, three are located within close proximity of U.S territorial waters including: the Clarion-Clipperton area in the Pacific Ocean (located between the U.S. coast and Hawaii); the Pacific area which is located in the U.S. exclusive economic zone (EEZ) around the Hawaiian Archipelago; and the South Pacific area. The other two are the Central Indian Ocean Basin and the Red Sea area. Together these five areas account for only two percent of the Earth’s total seabed floor.
Just recently, ISA announced that it has approved four applications for exploratory contracts with authority in deep seabed areas. The four entities – Nauru Ocean Resources Inc., (NORI), Tonga Offshore Mining Limited (TOML), the China Ocean Minerals Resources Research and Development Association (COMRA), and the Russian Federation’s Ministry of Natural Resources and the Environment – have had their plans approved for the exploration of polymetallic nodules and polymetallic sulphides in the international deep seabed Area.
Seabed Mining in the Pacific Region
Representing American Samoa in the U.S. Congress, I am encouraged to know that there is tremendous potential for seabed mining in the Pacific Region. The enclosed report by SOPAC shows several sites in the Pacific Region that contain rich deposits of manganese, cobalt, copper, and other valuable minerals. Data shows the occurrence of manganese nodules, cobalt-rich crusts and seafloor massive sulfide deposits in the seabed surrounding neighboring Pacific Island countries like Fiji, Samoa, Tonga, the Marshall Islands and the Federated States of Micronesia.
This bill will allow us the opportunity to identify available sites not only within the U.S. continental shelf, but also within our territorial waters.