Is marine mining happening now?
Marine mining is now being carried out in many places around the world. Extensive tin workings have been in place in Southeast Asia for over 30 years while 90% of the world's diamond gemstones are currently mined from the sea off Namibia and South Africa, not far to the south of our marine concession. The United Nations is encouraging developing nations to focus on offshore operations because of low capital costs and limited environmental concerns.
There are also large offshore aggregate operations in the North Sea and in the Baltic Sea. The UK uses offshore sands and gravels to fulfill roughly 25% of its total aggregate needs. The greatest volumes of offshore sands and gravels are mined by Japan, but the amounts are not known.
Is it profitable?
Yes. DeBeers has projected their 1999 sales to exceed $6 billion, the majority of which comes from diamonds mined from the sea. Some analysts predict that the total value of offshore diamonds in southern Africa (extending into very deep waters) may exceed $1 trillion (US). Nautilus Mining has recently started operations in deep waters off Papua New Guinea. Offshore tin dredging is carried out by a number of large and small companies, even some very small businesses, so exact figures are uncertain, but the total dollar value of offshore production is huge and rising rapidly.
Why have companies not already done this?
There are two principal reasons: politics and technological limitations. Basically, until the UN Law of the Sea Conference, there was no agreement on how much of the continental shelf belonged to a country, and at which point it became international waters, and until questions like that are resolved, mining companies were not interested in risking tens of millions of dollars in a venture that could be cancelled overnight. Additionally, the costs of such ventures were extremely high in the 1960's and 1970's, when the basic technology was being developed. With the recent expansion of offshore mining operations, the technology has improved, and economies of scale have reduced costs.
How does this prospect compare with others worldwide?
Our concession area is huge and covers geological structures known to be rich in gold, diamonds, titanium and zirconium. The potential is huge. Compare, for example, waters off Namibia and South Africa where, it is reckoned, a thousand billion US$ of gemstones may have been identified from an area not much different in size than that we are examining.
What is the company planning to do about possible environmental impacts?
The company is planning environmental monitoring during a test operation in order to determine the effects of mining on the environment. It should be noted that our operation requires no chemical alteration of the rocks-the sands are just brought up to the surface, the gold is removed by gravitational separation, and the remaining materials are returned to the seafloor. A review of similar operations around the world reports little or no environmental concerns, even off heavily populated and monitored beaches, such as Florida.
In addition, the company has been investigating existing environmental problems on the coast to see whether mining operations can be tailored to ameliorate them. For instance, many points along the coast have been modified to suit the tourist industry, and one of the results has been coastal erosion, which now endangers a number of villages. An offshore mining project may pump offshore sands to the beach to replenish them, or gravels and boulders to buffer them.
Why is the Ghanaian government encouraging this?
The Ghanaian government is a 10% partner in all mining ventures in the country, and they also have the right to increase their holdings for a fair price. In addition, the government earns tax revenues based on the profits made by companies mining in Ghana. Lastly, mining operations provide jobs and infrastructure developments, which are also welcomed by the government and by coastal villages badly in need of jobs and opportunity.
Where does the gold come from?
It is contained within sands that have been eroded out of bedrock by rivers flowing towards the sea. West Africa has been quite stable since the opening of the Atlantic Ocean, which was accompanied by coastal uplift. Continuous erosion combined with isostatic adjustment has resulted in the erosion of as much as 2 km of gold-bearing bedrock. A great deal of this gold has found its way to the sea.
How did the gold get into the sea?
Sea levels have varied throughout geological history. In the relatively recent geological past, sea levels were often lower than they are at present. In those times, areas which are now under water were exposed as dry land, and the rivers which flow to the coast now also flowed across that land, carrying sands, gravels, gold, and industrial minerals to what was then the coast. When sea level rose, this land became covered by water, but the sands and gravels, and minerals carried by those ancient rivers still remain to be reworked by waves, currents and tides. Since the single, modern beach of Ghana (it wasn't called the Gold Coast for centuries because of tourism) has proved to be a prolific source of gold for thousands of years, the offshore submerged beaches should contain immense quantities of gold never mined by our ancestors.
What about fisheries and wildlife?
It is the company's policy to cause as little disruption to marine life as possible. Fortunately, off Ghana we seem to blessed with ideal conditions for such an undertaking. The fisheries industry, important to the country, is concentrated much further offshore than we would begin to operate. An operation, of any size we could envision, would cause less silting than the beating of normal waves upon the beach while damgage to coral, an important consideration in the tropics, is impossible. That is because Ghana has virtually no coral, likely because of the strong offshore Guinea current which sets at speeds of up to four knots. The fine silt carried by this current has prevented the growth of coral anywhere in the area, leaving the bottom, generally, a smooth, sandy, even grassless, plain.
Are there other minerals?
Yes. There are. More study is required to define minerology and recovery but exciting possibilities exist for titanium, zirconium, rare earths, tin and even diamonds.
How do you know the government won't take it away from you?
While such things can happen in other portions of the world, Ghana is a highly civilized country with a well developed legal system based on British Common Law and sense of international politics. Kofi Annan, a native Ghanaian, is secretary-general of the United Nations and the government of Ghana is committed, with every political party, to free enterprise and foreign development as their solution to rapid modernization of the country.
The policy is working, for Ghana has one of the fastest growing economies in the world and expects to reach mid nation status in its standard of living within the next decade. The rule of law is so entrenched in Ghana it would shock any Ghanaian to even hear this question asked. There is a new Africa emerging, of which Ghana is one of the leaders, that is ready to take its place in a world of democratic and free enterprise states. The Africa we see on television, with war and famine, is but a small part of a huge and well-endowed continent.