Kennecott Consortium Environmental Impact Assessment


Kennecott Consortium - Draft Environmental Impact Assessment - May 1984

This is a copy of the original Environmental Impact Assessment submitted to the Department of Commerce by the Kennecott Corporation in May 1984, to support their proposal to commence deep sea mining.

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DESIGNATION: Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS)

TITLE: Deep Seabed Mining Exploration Licenses

ABSTRACT: This DEIS is prepared pursuant to the Deep Seabed Hard Mineral Resources Act (P.L. 96-283, "The Act") and the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA) to assess the impacts of issuing two deep seabed mining exploration licenses to Kennecott Consortium (KCON). Exploration by KCON will be authorized by licenses from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) for ten years for two areas in the Pacific Ocean equatorial high seas , roughly between Central America and Hawaii . KCON proposes to use remote sensing and photography to delinate its exploration areas. A worst case potential for impact does not exist with the type of exploration activities to be conducted. KCON's exploration activities will provide a better understanding of the distribution and mineability of the resource and ultimately reduce dependence on and impacts of land based mining , and will provide a reliable source for nationally strategic metals. No onshore activities or equipment tests are authorized by issuance of the exploration license.

LEAD AGENCY: U.S. DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration National Ocean Service, Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management

CONTACT: James P. Lawless , Chief, Ocean Minerals and Energy Division 2001 Wisconsin Avenue , N.W. , Room 105 Washington , D.C. 20235, (202) 653-7695

COMMENTS: The draft of this environmental impact statement was filed with EPA on May 18, 1984. Comments are due by July 13, 1984. A public hearing on the DEIS will be held in Room B100 , 2001 Wisconsin Avenue , N.W. , Washington , D.C. 20235 , on July 3, 1984 at 9:00 a.m.

Executive Summary:

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has prepared this environmental impact statement (EIS) pursuant to Section 109(d) of the Deep Seabed Hard Mineral Resources Act ("the Act"), NOAA regulations implementing the Act (15 CFR Part 970, Deep Seabed Mining Regulations for Exploration Licenses) and Section 102(2)(c) of the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA). The Act authorizes the Administrator to issue licenses for exploration and permits for commercial recovery of manganese nodules in the deep seabed , subject to appropriate terms, conditions, and restrictions (TCRs).

Under Section 4(5) of the Act , exploration means:

  • (a) any at-sea observation and evaluation activity which has, as its objective , the establishment and documentation of -
  • (i) the nature , shape , concentration , location , and tenor of a hard mineral resource ; and
  • (ii ) the environmental , technical , and other appropriate factors which must be taken into account to achieve commercial recovery; and
  • (b) the taking from the deep seabed of such quantities of any hard mineral resource as are necessary for the design , fabrication , and testing of equipment which is intended to be used in the commercial recovery and processing of such resource ;

NOAA proposes to issue two exploration licenses subject to TCRS (15 CFR 970.500) for a period of ten years to carry out exploration activities as set forth in applications for deep seabed mining licenses submitted to NOAA by Kennecott Consortium (KCON ). This EIS assesses the potential environmental impacts of issuing the exploration licenses to KCON and of alternatives to issuance of the exploration licenses.

The license activities will take place in the area between the Clarion - Clipperton fracture zones in the Northeast Equatorial Pacific Ocean, between Central America and Hawaii . These activities would assist KCON in delineating its exploration areas for manganese nodules , which are fist-sized concretions of manganese and iron minerals that occur on the sea bottom in areas of low sediment deposition around the world. Manganese nodules are rich in four strategic metals -- nickel, cobalt, manganese, and copper. Nickel, currently supplied to the United States chiefly from land-based mines in Canada and New Caledonia, is used for high -temperature alloys used in aircraft . Cobalt, imported mainly from Zaire, is used in the electrical industry for permanent magnets. Manganese, which is supplied to the United States by Brazil , Gabon , South Africa (expected to be our major source in the future ), and Australia , is essential to the production of steel . Copper, in which the United States is nearly self-sufficient , is used mainly in electrical equipment. If commercially feasible, nodule mining can provide an increasingly important domestic source for these strategic metals as foreign producers retain more of their domestic output (and therefore export less ) in the years ahead.

KCON submitted applications for two exploration licenses pursuant to NOAA regulations in early 1982. The areas applied for were in conflict with other deep seabed applications filed with NOAA. By January 1984, KCON and three other applicants filed amendments that resolved these conflicts ; KCON set forth approximately 191,000 km2 included in its amended submission.

This EIS summarizes the findings of NOAA's programmatic environmental impact statement (PEIS) of September 1981, then assesses issues related to issuing the KCON licenses. KCON's proposed activities as set forth in its exploration plan are designed to delineate further the extent and distribution of nodules, the topography of the seafloor, including obstacles, and properties of seafloor sediments in order to establish areas for commercial recovery from the larger exploration areas . Specifically, KCON proposes to use remote sensing and photography to delinate its exploration areas. A worst case potential for impact does not exist with the type of exploration activities to be conducted. Although these activities appear to have no potential for significant environmental impact and would not normally require preparation of an EIS , Section 109(d) of the Act nonetheless requires that NOAA prepare this EIS to assess the impacts of issuing any license.

NOAA's environmentally preferred alternative is to issue, rather than delay or deny issuing , the exploration licenses to provide better understanding of environmental impacts of deep seabed mining and to reduce the reliance on and impacts of land based mining. This conclusion is consistent with the purposes of the Act and reduced dependence on foreign sources of strategic metals.

No endangered species are expected to be affected by KCON's proposed activities. Based on consultation with other Federal agencies and the opportunity for public review and comment , NOAA's proposed TCRs provide for KCON:

  1. to report any endangered species that it observes
  2. to report and protect cultural resources , such as shipwrecks , that it discoveres in the license area
  3. provide a monitoring plan and environmental baseline information in accordance with NOAA Technical Guidance Document (TGD ) at least one year in advance of any proposed equipment test , so that a supplement to this EIS can be prepared on the proposed activities.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is developing a general National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES ) permit for all vessels operating under NOAA exploration licenses.

No onshore processing activities are proposed in KCON's applications

Based on the foregoing analysis and information , NOAA has tentatively determined that the exploration proposed in KCON's applications cannot reasonably be expected to result in a significant adverse effect on the quality of the environment (15 CFR 970.506). This determination is necessary before NOAA may issue a license for deep seabed mining exploration activities.

This EIS also summarizes NOAA's environmental research since 1981 concerning unresolved issues in the PEIS.

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