Hardly had Russia’s rejoicing at the UN’s permission to explore the ocean’s treasures subsided than scientists dismissed the country’s hopes of an easy windfall.
The United Nations approved Russia’s request to explore one of the world’s largest untapped copper and gold deposits on the Atlantic Ocean bed on August 5. The ocean’s reserves, it is believed, are five to ten times higher than those of onshore fields.
Russian scientists, however, point out that the country lacks the proper equipment and qualified specialists to carry out any exploration. They also claim there is a constant lack of funding.
“There are two ways to provide the technical base needed for the project,” professor Victor Starostin from Moscow State University told RT. “The cheapest is to re-equip old warships replaced during the current modernisation drive. They could conduct research in the ocean.”
“The second way is to build a brand new research fleet, but this is too expensive and I doubt the government would do it. It’s also important that the state shares the costs with businesses. No private company will be able to wait 15 years for profits,” Starostin added.
Other scientists say that Russia is ready for exploration despite the lack of equipment.
“We’ve signed a contract for exploration, not exploitation,” Georgy Cherkashev, from the Gramberg Institute of Oceanology, told RT. “As for exploration, we have at least one research vessel, some instruments and people, so of course we need more advanced technology but as of the moment, we are ready to do it.”
Prospecting in the area will be done by the VNIIOkeangeologia, a St Petersburg-based ocean research institute, and the Polar Marine Geosurvey Expedition, a state-owned company specializing in exploration of the seabed. Russia plans to invest $20 to $43 million into the survey over five years, reports Kommersant business daily.
Interest in the area is well-grounded. The poly-metallic sulphides, reserves of which the exploration aims to locate, are rich in metals, surpassing the ores mined in Russia. There is an average one per cent of copper in the ore extracted on the land, while ores which are believed to abound on the seabed are estimated to contain 2.5 to 10 per cent with some even reaching 30 per cent. The same is true of gold content.
Russia’s contract term is 15 years with the option to extend for five more. The mineral reserves are expected to be found two to four kilometers under the seabed, which makes their extraction challenging.
Russia is also very interested in natural resources, mostly oil and gas, on the Arctic seabed. For quite some time, Russia has been working to prove that the underwater Lomonosov Ridge in the Arctic is actually the continuation of Russia’s continental shelf. If Russia succeeds in convincing international seabed regulation organizations that this is the case, it will mean an oil and gas bonanza for the country.
Of course, Russia will have to compete with other countries, such as Canada, the US, Denmark, Norway and even China, who also have their eyes on the Arctic pie.