Paper On Technical Aspects Of Ocean Mining Presented At SNAME Los Angeles Meeting

At its regular monthly meeting, the Los Angeles Metropolitan Section of The Society of Naval Architects and Marine Engineers invited Dr. John E. Halkyard, Kennecott Explorations, Inc. to present a paper on the "Technical Aspects of Ocean Mining." Although the subject matter was not entirely new to many of those attending, his treatment of it was both frank and intriguing.

His major contribution, and one of significance, was the emphasis he placed on the realities of the situation as it stands today.

"The role of nodules in the world resource picture," he said, "represents a potential source of nickel, copper, cobalt, molybdenum and manganese. The magnitude of such deposits is sufficient to meet the nickel demands of the United States for over 100 years." It is enticing to consider the prospect of such tremendous wealth just lying there on the ocean floor for the taking. Only those with the foresight, technical capabilities and the economic resources needed will ever be able to do so.

Dr. Halkyard is the engineering head of the Ocean Mining Laboratory of the San Diego-based firm.

That the nodule deposits are actually there, no one any longer doubts. How to identify them as potential sites from the depths of the ocean floor and convert them into satisfactory returns on the tremendous investments necessary are yet another thing.

Many engineering schemes have been devised in proposing it. The hazards of the environment itself, as well as the complicated production methods needed, seem formidable obstacles to overcome.

"Metallurgical processing techniques have already been demonstrated to be economically feasible," he said. "Estimates of mining profitability are primarily dependent on two variables, those being investment and operating cost of mining programs, and the sales revenues expected from the marketing of these products." From what Dr. Halkyard had to say, the challenges are real, as are the risks and the constraints.

The latter introduce serious delays in the decision-making processes.

They deter many from acting.

Yet, Dr. Halkyard assured his listeners the feasibility of such an enterprise to mine the ocean depths is clear. Many firms may have the capabilities already, but few if any are willing to proceed with the task. The limitations impeding the pursuit of such an apparently attractive opportunity are both economic and political. Worse yet, these same two considerations seem incapable of being separated. It becomes a quirk of our times that the aspirations of men for a sharing of the wealth of the oceans pose such stringent limitations on their being able to accomplish it. It is simply no longer practical for any independent organization to attempt to do so alone.

Dr. Halkyard made no startling disclosures. His emphasis, as a scientist, encompassed the technological areas of exploration, processing and mining. His evaluation of the economic potential for a satisfactory return, however, was impressive. It was well presented in the light of current world needs. The shortages he cited in our own supplies of metals were foreboding; the worst of these, nickel. His estimates of the opportunities prevalent in the nodule deposits on the ocean floor as a means for sustaining these needs, enticing. Yet, he inferred, neither the engineer nor the economist alone can successfully meet them.

The ultimate deterrence then is the political aspect. Dr. Halkyard declined to discuss this facet of the problem, and perhaps wisely so. As he explained, it becomes a question tangled in the spheres of political influence and international discussions on the Law of the Sea. For resolution, many firms have had to wait. Others have teamed up in consortia to spread the risks and to emphasize the international scope of such projects. Many governments are involved. Only after they have all finally had their say will the marine engineering firms eventually move out in their ships to mine the untold riches the oceans have deposited there for the good of all men.

Another guest speaker address addressing the membership was Peter Zink, representing the Publicity Committee for STAR of the Northern California Section, SNAME. He attended to announce their sponsorship of the 1977 National Spring Meeting to be held in San Francisco. The theme for the meeting has been chosen as one most likely to be of general interest to all, "Energy Research In The Oceans." This is the first time there will be a combining of the Society's Spring Meeting with the recently inaugurated Ship Technology and Research (STAR) Symposium on May 25-27, 1977.

Other stories from May 1977 issue


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