Solwara 1 Project

Nautilus Minerals is following the lead of the offshore oil and gas industry to tap vast offshore resources and is planning to extract high-grade Seafloor Massive Sulphide (SMS) deposits of copper, gold, zinc and silver.

Nautilus Minerals is focused on the Solwara 1 Project; which is located at 1,600 metres water depth in the Bismarck Sea, Papua New Guinea. Solwara 1 is located approximately 30 kilometres from the nearest coast (New Ireland Province) and 50 kilometres north of the international Port of Rabaul (East New Britain Province). There are many advantages to seafloor SMS mining versus land based mining, one being that the operations are on a small scale. For example, the proposed production area at Solwara 1 is very small, at approximately 0.1 km2 in area.

Proposed Production Method

The proposed seafloor production system for extracting mineralised material from the seafloor is as follows:

  • Disaggregate and gather mineralised material on the seafloor.
  • The material (ore plus seawater) is transported to the Production Support Vessel via the Rise and Lift System, including the Subsea Slurry Lift Pump.
  • The mineralised material is separated from the seawater. The seawater is filtered and returned to the deep sea (approximately at 1,500 metres).
  • The mined material is transferred to shuttle barges and transported to China for sale (and ultimately processing).

The production system will operate over the site with no permanent infrastructure on or around the area. Barges will be brought alongside the Production Support Vessel to transfer supplies and personnel to and from shore and to transfer the mined material to China for processing.

To find out more about Nautilus’ Solwara 1 Project, please click here.

Advantages of Solwara 1

  • No tailings at the mine site
  • Reusable equipment
  • No land clearance at the mine site
  • High grades, very little waste overburden
  • No people need to be relocated
  • Increased worker safety (all operations are conducted remotely)
  • Small extraction area: Solwara 1 is approximately 0.1km2 which equates to 0.00003% of the Bismarck Sea which is over 325,000km2

Approval Process for Operations in PNG

Companies seeking environmental approvals in PNG are required to follow a rigorous process in order to be awarded the required permits and leases from the Government in order to commence operations.

The approval process for such projects in PNG can be divided into three components:

  • Technical
  • Social
  • Environmental

To read about the above steps in detail, please click here.

The process Nautilus Minerals followed to obtain the Environment Permit for the Solwara 1 Project is summarised below:

Environmental Inception Report

The then PNG Department of Environment and Conservation (DEC) approved the Solwara 1 Project’s Environmental Inception Report (EIR) in 2007. The EIR incorporated the input of PNG based and international NGOs, scientists, consultants, environmentalists and other world renowned experts in the field of marine and social science.

Environmental Impact Assessment

Nautilus Minerals completed all Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) work for the Solwara 1 Project in compliance with the PNG Environment Act 2000. Between 2006 and 2008, Nautilus Minerals conducted eight offshore environmental campaigns in the Bismarck Sea. This work included oceanography, biology, chemistry, water quality and sedimentation rate studies (please click here to view studies). During these campaigns over 110,000 seafloor observations were logged. The aggregate result of these campaigns and scientific studies form the baseline data for the EIS.

One key finding of the EIA process was that there was no significant difference between samples taken from Solwara 1 and South Su (used as a reference site) with respect to the numerically dominant animals.

Environmental Impact Statement

The Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) report compiles all the information gathered during the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) process. Nautilus Minerals submitted the Solwara 1 EIS to the PNG Government in September 2008, along with all the detailed EIA studies.

The EIS also outlines mitigation strategies, or measures implemented to minimise impacts to the environment. The main potential impacts to the environment during the production phase of the Solwara 1 Project have been identified as:

  • Material and habitat removal (seafloor);
  • Plume generation / water quality disturbance from cutter head (dead sea);
  • Plume generation / water quality disturbance from return water (seafloor, > 1,300 metres); and
  • Noise / vibrations (on the seafloor and at the surface).

These impacts have been addressed in our mitigation strategies. To read more about our mitigation strategies, please click here.

The Environmental Permit for the Solwara 1 Project was received on December 29, 2009 and is valid for a term of 25 years, expiring in 2035.

The EIS is a public document and can be downloaded by clicking here.

Environmental Management and Monitoring Plans

The Environmental Management and Monitoring Plans (EMMPs) for the Solwara 1 Project will be submitted to the Government of PNG for approval prior to Project commissioning. The preparation and approval of the EMMP and associated sub-plans is a condition of the Environmental Permit for Solwara 1.

The EMMP will demonstrate how Nautilus Minerals will implement its environmental policy, the requirements of the Environment Permit, the mitigation strategies identified in the EIS and any subsequent environmental improvements made to the Project design due to technological or mine planning advancements. The EMMP and sub-plans for the Solwara 1 Project will address the management, monitoring and reporting requirements for commissioning, operations and decommissioning. The EMMP will also set out management strategies for the minimisation of impacts arising from unforeseen events (such as emergencies or spills), as required by the Environment Permit and the relevant PNG legislation.

Nautilus has held a number of expert workshops and meetings across the world in order to obtain feedback from government representatives, independent marine scientists, NGOs and other groups in relation to both EIS commitments and management strategies for inclusion in the EMMP. These workshops were held in 2010, 2012, 2014 and 2015, and Nautilus will continue this long established process of inclusive consultation throughout the Project’s life, with a focus on independent review of monitoring results, and expert observation of rehabilitation and recovery of the mine site following decommissioning.