Late last year, Ruihai Mining Ltd in China announced its discovery of an ore deposit bearing an estimated 470-1,500 tons of gold. It sounds like average news for the world’s largest producer of gold, especially since the deposit is located near the city of Laizhou, where the relative abundance of gold ore accounts for roughly 15% of China’s gold production. The interesting part is that the site is in the ocean near Sanshan Island, 2km below sea level – making it China’s first potential underwater gold mine.
The road to the discovery was nothing short of difficult. After three years prospecting the area, Ruihai utilized 67 drilling platforms and more than 1,000 geological personnel to explore a 120 kilometer area and eventually pinpoint the motherlode. If Papua New Guinea’s partnership with Nautilus Minerals is able to prove the viability of subsea mining robots, Ruihai may be able to adopt the technology to make recovery of the ore easier than finding it.
Prospecting the oceans may soon become a standard in the mining industry as rich mineral deposits are found below the seafloor. The International Seabed Authority, which operates under a United Nations convention to regulate the use of the sea floor in international waters, has granted 26 permits to date to explore an area set aside for seabed mining beneath the central Pacific ocean. About 18 of those permits were issued in the last 3-4 years, indicating a growing trend. China tends to move quickly in this field, and the technology of Nautilus Minerals looks promising, so we may have a greater understanding of undersea mining in the very near future.