The Cook Islands government has entered into a second agreement relating to seabed minerals with the United States-based company Ocean Minerals LLC (OML).
In a deal worth $100,000, OML has reserved around 23,000 square kilometres, or 1.2% of the Cook Islands Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) containing high value polymetallic (manganese) nodules for up to 18 months.
This gives the company the exclusive right to apply to undertake prospecting and exploration activities in that area.
The first agreement between the government and the OML was signed a year ago in which they reserved a different seabed area of around 12,000 square kilometres to explore primarily for seafloor sediment enriched in Rare Earth Elements (REEs), as well as four additional areas reserved for OML on a first option basis.
Under this latest agreement, Finance minister Mark Brown confirmed the OML will not undertake any activity in this particular area, adding it was merely to reserve the spot for potential exploration in the future.
“It is basically to give them the first right over this (area) ahead of any other company that may want to come in and apply for an exploration licence in this particular area,” Brown said.
“This is really to allow OML to go out and try and get the necessary financing required for any exploration that may be undertaken.
“ It also allows them to secure any financing for any prospecting of minerals in order to get a more accurate assessment of yields or certain minerals and so forth.”
The agreement has been reviewed by a number of government agencies, said Brown, who is also the minister responsible for Cook Islands Investment Corporation (CIIC) and Seabed Minerals (SBM).
He said the activity touched on a range of government objectives, including ensuring sustainable management of oceans and marine resources.
If an application for an exploration licence is made within the period of the agreement, the applicant will be expected to go through the necessary processes required by the Seabed Minerals Act 2009, the Marae Moana Act 2017, and the Environment Act 2003, among other relevant legislation and standards.
Brown said the agreement signified the seabed minerals industry wass starting to get international attention.
“I am confident that, should an application proceed by OML, that our suite of legislation will enable sustainable benefits from our marine resources that balances economic returns while protecting and preserving the overall health of the Cook Islands’ oceans.”
“This is the first sort of tangible actions that are being undertaken by the outside interest in our water.
“We have always made it very clear that the type of approach we want for our seabed minerals authority is for the Cook Islands to be a full partner in both exploration and moving through to exploitation of our minerals and not just be an issuer of licenses.
“I’m very happy with the agreement that we have signed with OML because it does provide us with that full partnership approach with them.”
In a statement, OML chairman, Doctor John Halkyard, noted that the interest in the Cook Islands was based on published estimates showing that the country’s cobalt resource is potentially close to 15-20 per cent of the world’s presently known resource of cobalt.
“Cobalt is becoming one of the most talked about mineral elements today. Cobalt has high tech uses, as it is an essential ingredient in long life lithium-ion batteries used in electric vehicles,” said Halkyard.
“With today’s deep-sea technology, we believe the higher grades can be extracted in an economic and environmentally sustainable manner.”
OML has confirmed it will have a focus on the sensitivity of environmental and social issues.
“Once we are underway, we plan to have Cook Islanders involved in our project and will be meeting with the Cook Island community and leaders on a regular basis,” Halkyard said.
“At OML, we are very excited about engaging with the Cook Islands government and people on both the 2016 rare earth sediment project, and the new 2017 nodule project, to develop a new national economic opportunity for the Cook Islands people, and at the same time, bringing new world class mineral resources to market for green energy applications.”