Many are skeptical of deep-sea mining's supposed benefits, and its environmental implications are relatively unknown. Nautilus has hired the environmental consulting firm Earth Economics to try to assess how a seabed mine might compare with a terrestrial mine. The analysis, released last month, compares likely impacts of the Solwara mine with three terrestrial mines of similar proportions -- Bingham Canyon in Utah, Prominent Hill in Australia, and the proposed Intag mine in Ecuador.
The analysis found that, unlike with terrestrial mines, there aren't issues like community displacement, use of freshwater supplies, erosion, or loss of land for other uses like food production, recreation, or cultural and historic conservation. Deep-sea mining would cause a loss of habitat and genetic resources, affect air and water quality, and use energy and raw materials, according to the analysis. But the overall environmental impact of deep-sea mining would not be as severe as that of an onshore mine, the analysis said.
The report also predicted that demand for copper, for wiring and other needs, is likely to continue, and neither land-based mines nor recycling are likely to supply enough.
Maya Kocian, a senior economist at Earth Economics, said the firm was cautious in taking on the analysis. Earth Economics normally studies the value of parks and recreation areas, she said. "Nautilus had to come to Seattle to convince our board to do it," said Kocian. "There was hesitation to move forward."
In the end, Kocian said, the firm found that there would be environmental impacts, but the comparison yielded interesting findings.