Phosphate pebbles.

Johannesburg - Namibia is set to review a temporary ban on marine phosphate mining once a environmental study is completed, paving the way for investments of more than $1 billion in the industry.

The southwest African country imposed an 18-month halt last year on bulk sea-bed mining of the fertiliser material amid debate about environmental risks and commissioned the Norwegian Institute of Marine Research and Sintef to conduct a six-month study.

Leviev Group and Namibian Marine Phosphate are licensed and waiting for permission.

Leviev, based in the US, plans to invest as much $800 million to mine about 2 million metric tons of ore, tapping a resource estimated at 2 billion tons, at a depth of 300 meters, Reuters reported on March 25, citing Erez Mishal, vice president of business development and operations.

Namibia Marine Phosphate, a unit of Union Resources of Australia, will spend $326 million to mine about 3 million tons at a depth of 180 meters to 300 meters, the company says on its website.

“The study will inform us on how mining can co-exist with the marine ecosystem and other industries such as fisheries,” Chamber of Mines of Namibia chief executive Veston Malango said in a telephone interview yesterday.

“The idea is not to completely ban marine phosphate mining, depriving the country of the benefit of its mineral endowment.”

Exploration for the mineral hasn’t been stopped and the country’s mines ministry has “several” applications, Mining Commissioner Erasmus Shivolo said by telephone yesterday.

“There are immense economic benefits in employment and the huge interest in phosphate is because it is an industrial mineral,” Shivolo said.

Leviev and Namibian Marine Phosphate have outlined the commercial viability of their projects, Malango said.

“This is a sector with huge potential and we understand government’s position that the resource has to be extracted with due regard to the environment.” - Bloomberg News