Africa, Business

There’s gold in them… seabeds

By Branko Brkic 5 October 2009

AngloGold Ashanti and De Beers have announced an unusual joint venture to explore the sea beds for gold. De Beers already mines diamonds off the seabed, but mining gold in this way heralds fantastic, almost science-fiction-like opportunities.

The announcement of a joint venture between AngloGold Ashanti and De Beers to explore the seabeds for gold poses the odd question: “Is there gold in them thar seabeds?” The answer is: well, maybe.

De Beers already has an extensive underwater mining capacity, and the idea is to see if this kind of process can be used to mine gold. Has the idea been sparked by an existing discovery? Not really, says AngloGold Ashanti spokesman. Some gold has been discovered during underwater diamond mining operations, but not in quantities that would immediately suggest mineability, he says.

“There is no spot we know of right now where we are immediately going to go out and explore,” he said.

The problem is that diamonds are typically found at river mouths following millions of years of being washed downstream. Underwater gold is loosened by currents crushing gold ore-bearing rocks together.

Consequently, the idea is not to establish underwater mines that would be the same as surface mines – except, of course, underwater. The idea is to embark on the same type of underwater mining currently used by De Beers, which is essentially to pump large quantities of water and sand up to quite small boats, sieve it, and to put back everything other than the diamonds.

There are environmental consequences to mining this way, but in some ways the system is less disruptive than surface based mining, and it certainly does not disturb communities and farming in the same way, Fine says. Like all other mining, this form would have to be government licensed.

They are not shy about their area of interest. The stock exchange news service statement says the joint venture’s activities will be “focussed on marine deposits located in, or adjacent to, the area between the high water mark and the edge of the continental shelf on a worldwide basis.”

“By combining one of the world’s most successful gold exploration teams with the foremost authority in ocean mining and exploration, we’re creating a powerful base to tackle this new frontier,” AngloGold Ashanti CEO Mark Cutifani said in the statement.

The companies intend establishing a joint venture, a technical services company, currently called (a bit unimaginatively) Techco, which will be jointly owned. They intend developing Techco into a fully-functional marine exploration and mining services company, “including all the skills, expertise and further proprietary technology that it may develop or acquire, within the joint venture.”

By Tim Cohen


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