Inos: Welcome news for Commonwealth
Gov. Eloy S. Inos said yesterday that his administration has been reviewing a U.S. Department of the Interior’s draft patent conveying to the CNMI oil, gas, and mineral deposit rights, paving the way for the Commonwealth to soon have full control of valuable assets found in its 3-mile submerged lands 38 years since the islands became a part of the American family.
The Interior has until this week to convey to the CNMI all rights, titles, and interests of the United States in deposits of oil, gas, and other minerals in the 3-mile submerged lands surrounding nine of its 14 islands.
This is because of the 60-day period from Jan. 15 when President Barack Obama signed a proclamation temporarily withholding the transfer to the CNMI of submerged lands around five islands that are either part of a national marine monument or under lease to the U.S. military.
“This is very good news. There’s good faith effort (on the Interior’s part) to try to get it done,” Inos told Saipan Tribune in an interview.
The governor needs to sign off on the Interior document to signal his acceptance of the rights, on behalf of the CNMI.
He said his legal counsel is now reviewing the Interior draft patent. Inos said the language is generally “okay,” and it is just a matter of making sure “everything is consistent” with statutes.
“But we believe that the patent as drafted basically fulfills the requirement as far as the conveyance of the minerals,” he said.
Once the final patent conveying mineral rights is done, the governor said the CNMI can then seek out or entertain prospective seafloor mining companies. Seafloor mining can bring in millions of dollars into the CNMI coffers.
The governor’s confirmation of a draft patent from the Interior comes a week after House Speaker Joseph Deleon Guerrero (Ind-Saipan) said he was assured by the Interior during a recent trip to Washington, D.C. that no commercial companies have been issued licenses to mine the CNMI seafloor.
The speaker, however, said mineral deposits such as gold and iron-manganese nodules “do, or are likely to occur,” within the CNMI’s exclusive economic zones, based on a U.S. Geological Survey report.
Last night, Deleon Guerrero said he’s glad that the Interior has made good on its promise to start conveying mineral rights to the CNMI, within the 3-mile submerged lands.
“If there are resources in those submerged lands, then the CNMI would have the authority over seabed mining that will occur. But it’s not over yet,” the speaker said in a phone interview.
He was referring to the need to amend the Outer Continental Shelf Act or OSCA, under which the Interior is the agency authorized to grant licenses for seabed mining in coastal states, but not to U.S. territories such as the CNMI.
“Kilili (Delegate Gregorio Kilili C. Sablan) and other members of Congress, I believe, are initiating an amendment to the OCSA so that the coastal states and territories would also benefit from revenues generated from seafloor mining in economic zones,” the speaker said.
The CNMI has control only over its 3-mile submerged lands, but not beyond that.
Sablan (Ind-MP), who prompted the Interior to take action on the transfer of oil, gas and other mineral rights as early as January, said as he understands it, “Secretary Sally Jewell has signed — or is on the verge of signing — the patent conveying oil, gas, and mineral rights in the submerged lands to the Northern Marianas pursuant to the submerged lands act and Public Law 113-34.”
“I also understand that the document will also require the governor to sign off, accepting ownership of those rights on behalf of the Commonwealth,” he told Saipan Tribune.
Sablan was successful at establishing CNMI ownership of submerged lands in the Commonwealth with President Barack Obama’s signing of U.S. Public Law 113-34 in September 2013.
Inos said yesterday he does not know of any specific seafloor mining companies who could be interested in investing in the CNMI.
But he said if previous online reports were true about Canada-based Nautilus Minerals and Australia-based Neptune Minerals are interested in or applying for mining exploration licenses with any federal agency at the time, then the CNMI could see economic opportunities if they are still interested.
The speaker earlier got hold of online reports citing international seafloor mining companies’ interests in mining multimillion worth of high-grade hydrothermal deposits rich in copper, zinc, and lead with a high gold and silver content, as well as large oil and natural gas reserves within CNMI area.
A USGS report on marine mineral resources of the Pacific islands said mineral deposits that do, or are likely to occur within CNMI exclusive economic zones include “cobalt-rich iron-manganese crusts, iron-manganese nodules, phosphorite deposits, epithermal gold deposits, hydrothermal manganese, and iron oxide deposits.”
The others include “hydrothermal manganese and iron oxide deposits, hydrothermal polymetallic sulfides, insular and lagoonal phosphorite deposits, shallow-water sand, and gravel deposits, and shallow- and deep-water precious coral.”