Sunday, 7 August 2011

Russia leads gold rush on the ocean floor

Russia has been granted exploration rights for some of the world’s most potentially lucrative gold and copper fields on the Atlantic Ocean floor.

The UN’s International Seabed Authority (ISA) gave the thumbs-up to a proposal tabled by Russia in Dec. 2010, opening up one of the largest untapped fields of rare metals on the planet.

And it’s the first time any country has been invited to carry out research in international waters, beyond its agreed territorial zones.

Russia’s sector contains six promising fields, and oceanologist Sergei Andreyev said that there could be the equivalent of up to 70 million tons of dry ore down there.

And the metal content of this ore is much higher than on land. Typically copper ore contains 1 per cent metal, but deep-sea resources range between 2.5 per cent and 10 per cent, occasionally even reaching 30 per cent.

Russia has 15 years to explore its slice of the ocean floor, which is in the northern equatorial zone of the Mid-Atlantic ridge, and confirm the extent of the ore. The metals are expected to be found 2-4 km below the sea bed.

The initial contract comes with an optional five-year extension, and Russia will have preferential rights to develop the field if projected yields match expectations.

Previously, sea bed exploration tended to be carried out by major maritime nations without reference to the ISA.

But a formal request from China to explore parts of the Indian Ocean, made in May 2010, changed the rules of the game, a Russian Foreign Ministry Source informed.

“At that time we decided to accelerate our application,” he said.

And the work is also connected with Russia’s efforts to secure access to potential hydrocarbon reserves in the Arctic: Andreyev’s VNIIO oceanology group is also defining the limits of Russia’s continental shelf and territorial rights under the ice cap.

Deputy PM Igor Sechin is believed to be taking a personal interest in the quest for new resources.

“For us, ocean exploration is a major geopolitical project to protect Russia’s interests as a powerful provider of resources,” the ministry source concluded.

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