Seafloor Massive Sulphides: Assessment of Sustainable Mining Potential through an Iterative Decision-making Framework
Avery, Christopher Scott
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Extraction of metals from the seafloor has been considered for decades, beginning with manganese nodules in the 1970s. Today, the targets are massive sulphide deposits rich in copper, zinc, gold, and silver that are associated with hydrothermal vents or black smoker chimneys that occur at divergent and convergent plate margins such as mid-ocean ridges and volcanic island arcs respectively. A recent objective of the mining industry is to develop industry practices that coincide with concepts of sustainability or sustainable development. This objective, known by some as sustainable mining, has indeed become an essential part of the commissioning of any new project, regardless of geographical location. While there has been much work on sustainable mining practice for terrestrial mining, these frameworks are not directly applicable to seafloor projects. There are two problems facing the development of a seabed mining industry. First, there is a regulatory vacuum when considering the mining of seabed deposits, leading to important policy issues. Second, the economic, environmental, and social impacts of a seabed mining project are theoretical, and the real impacts are unknown. Thus, the identification, characterization, and analysis of the sustainability issues facing a seabed mining project are essential steps. To assist with performing these three steps, this thesis provides a process model based on the IDEF0 (Integration DEFinition) standard to assess seafloor massive sulphide mining projects from sustainable mining perspectives. This adaptation of IDEF0 provides a clear, visual representation of a hierarchical framework that can be used to identify “go no-go” sustainability criteria to assist decision makers interested in the potential development of an ore body.