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Norway launches process to become first country to allow deep sea mining of minerals

By Leo Ryan, Editor

Norway’s Ministry of Energy has unveiled a proposal for the first licensing round for mining of seabed minerals on the Norwegian continental shelf for public consultation. The deadline for consultation is September 16, 2024. Licenses could be awarded by mid-2025.

The controversial Norwegian government initiative comes as the hunt for critical minerals to advance a green economy accelerates. At the same time, a highly-explosive debate has intensified globally over dramatically broadening exploration efforts by extending them to where such mining activity still does not exist: the world’s deep seas. (See report in Maritime Magazine 2024 spring issue 112)

Announced last week, the proposal sets out the areas where the companies will be able to apply for exploitation licenses, so that exploration and gathering knowledge about whether there is a basis for sustainable mineral exploitation on the Norwegian shelf can begin.

“The world needs minerals for the green transition, and the government wants to explore if it is possible to extract seabed minerals in a sustainable manner from the Norwegian continental shelf,” affirmed Minister of Energy Terje Aasland.

“A large majority of the Norwegian Parliament supports the government’s step-by-step approach to the management of seabed minerals,” he said. ”This announcement is an important next step in the management of our seabed mineral resources. Environmental considerations are taken into account in all stages of the activities.

“Today, we are presenting our proposal for areas to be announced in the first licensing round for seabed minerals for public consultation. We plan to award licenses in the first half of 2025.”

The Oslo government presented a proposal for opening an area and a management strategy for seabed mineral activities for the Norwegian Parliament in June 2023. A large majority in the Norwegian Parliament endorsed the government’s proposal to open an area on the Norwegian continental shelf for seabed mineral activities (per attached image) and the main lines of the management strategy. On the basis of this, the King in Council decided to formally open an area in the Norwegian Sea and the Greenland Sea for mineral activities on 12th of April this year.

Minister Assland further stated: “Access to minerals is crucial to ensure that the world succeeds with the transition to a low-emission society.  Minerals from the Norwegian seabed can become a source to meet parts of this demand. Norway’s long experience with responsible and sustainable management of ocean-based resources, makes us well positioned to take the lead and manage these resources in a responsible and sustainable manner.”

The Norwegian Offshore Directorate has been given the task of preparing a proposal for which parts of the opened area should be made available for applications in the first licensing round.   The area in the proposal constitutes 386 blocks and approximately 38 percent of the area which was opened in April.

UN agency exploring potential regulations

High-level state discussions took place this past March in Kingston, Jamaica between the member countries of the International Seabed Authority (ISA), a UN-affiliated organization. And they are followed by critical sessions this July and August that could potentially produce long-elusive, draft regulations for mineral resources in the international seabed area.

For the moment, most international attention has been focused on a vast untouched era in the central Pacific ocean between Hawaii and Mexico, the Clarion Clipperton Zone (CCZ) where scientists have recently discovered some 5,000 new species living on the seabed floor in depths of up to 6,000 metres.

But there too, one finds small potato-sized deposits called polymetallic modules which contain highly-enriched minerals – including cobalt, manganese and nickel – highly sought after by manufacturers of electric car batteries and other electronic infrastructure.

In this region, Vancouver-based The Metals Company (TMC) has for several years been conducting research expeditions that have notably spurred protest actions from Greenpeace, a powerful environmental activist entity with 3.5 million members, 2,40O staff and 15,000 volunteers. The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) has also mounted considerable opposition.

Advocates affirm deep sea mining is not just necessary, but inevitable. Supporting fast-track licences for deep sea mining are China, Mexico, Nauru, and UK and – somewhat of a recent shock decision  – Norway.

On the other hand, opponents fear irreparable damage to the delicate habitats on the seafloor. Insisting that more scientific studies need to be completed in any case, a growing number of countries are calling for a moratorium on mining in international waters. At latest count, Canada, Brazil, France, Costa Rica, Chile, Finland, Germany, Portugal, Switzerland and Vanuatu are among the 25 naysayers.

(Images of Energy Minister Terje Aasland and Norwegian continental shelf area)

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