A number of blog posts and comments i’ve come across recently as I’ve surfed through the alt.space environment made claims about the implicit value of lunar mines – essentially, attempting to make the case that it isn’t actually necessary to be able to mine the Moon, just to have the land and the metals, minerals, and such in your ownership and that alone is worth some money.
The people making this sort of argument make it based on the fact that companies here on Earth today DO in fact use the implied value of unextracted resources in oil fields and ore mines on their balance sheets, and can obtain financing against said resources. What is true on Earth it appears *must* be true in space.
A couple of minor points:
- Resources on Earth (in a mine, well, etc) must still be “proven” before someone will give you money against the implicit value of what’s still left in that hole in the ground. This is done through such things as seismic work and geologic analysis (e.g., what’s the concentration of uranium in that land you were digging and sifting through?). If that weren’t the case, I could call up my local bank and say there’s a sea of oil under my swimming pool and they’d start handing me cash. Granted, that seemed to work for valuing houses over the past few years, but look where that’s led to…
- The ability to access and extract a “proven” resource is still required. It does no good to talk about oil in the Marianas Trench if there are no oil platforms that can operate a 7 mile pipe. Same goes for digging ore out of lunar regolith. It’s not enough that the regolith is there – show me a PROVEN example of someone taking that regolith and extracting/refining out the desired materials (on a non-cost prohibitive basis, by the way). Until then, it might as well not exist.
- There must be a way to take said refined materials and get them to market. There is currently no market ON the Moon. So if the market is back here on Earth, how is it going to get transported there? Delivered to the customer? De-orbited without taking out a small city? A few years ago, when I lived in Australia, there was a well-known entreprenuer (the Donald Trump of the mining industry, you might say) who had a grand plan – he had a gigantic piece of land that had proven iron ore reserves, but there was NO mine (multibillion dollar investment) and NO rail line to get that ore to market (60 km trip I believe). So he signed up a multi-billion dollar pay on delivery customer (Chinese of course), and used that to get financing for the rail line and the mine (oh, and he took the company public prior to that as a penny stock, so he could raise public market funds). That company is now trading for 100x what it was before, and Mr. Fortescue is a billionaire.
That being said, if those of you who believe that the mere existence of a material, without the proven means to extract it and deliver it to market (much less economically), is enough to get someone to give you lots of $$$, perhaps I suggest you focus on a bigger target. The outer planets are giant hydrocarbon balls of gas – and given the price of energy these days I’d say a small scoop taken from Uranus is worth more than the GDP of the US today. The Moon is chump change in comparison.