Norway approved deep sea mining

Isbel Lázaro.

minería en aguas profundas

Norway has become the first country to advance the controversial practice of deep sea mining . This project aims to accelerate the search for precious metals that are highly in demand in green technologies.

Although it has been warned that this could have devastating consequences for marine life, the Norwegian government has expressed caution and indicated that it will only issue licenses after carrying out additional environmental studies. In addition, an agreement on mining in international waters could be reached this year.

Deep in the ocean are rock formations known as nodules and crusts, which contain essential minerals such as lithium, scandium and cobalt, needed for clean technologies, including batteries. The initiative proposed by Norway involves the opening of 280,000 km 2 of its national waters so that companies can request the exploitation of these sources, which is equivalent to an area larger than the size of the United Kingdom.

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Although these minerals are available on land, their concentration in a few countries increases the risk to supply. Walter Sognnes, co-founder of Norwegian mining company Loke Minerals , which plans to apply for a license once the proposal is approved, acknowledges the need for more research to better understand the depths of the ocean before mining begins.

For his part, Martin Webeler, an ocean activist and researcher at the Environmental Justice Foundation, said it would be “catastrophic” for ocean habitat.

Opposition to deep sea mining

It is important to mention that this proposal places the country at odds with the position of the European Union and the United Kingdom, who have requested a temporary ban on this practice due to concerns about possible damage to the environment. The use of techniques to extract minerals from the seabed could generate significant noise and light pollution, as well as cause damage to the habitat of organisms that depend on the nodules, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

Last November, 120 EU lawmakers drafted an open letter urging the Norwegian parliament to reject the project, pointing out the “risk of such activity for marine biodiversity and the acceleration of climate change.” The letter also expressed concerns about the knowledge gaps present in Norway’s impact assessment.

In addition to external criticism, the Norwegian government has faced opposition from its own experts. The Norwegian Institute of Marine Research (IMR) said the government had made assumptions based on a small research area and generalized them to the entire region planned for drilling.

It is estimated that an additional 5 to 10 years of research on the impacts on the species are required. The Norwegian government will not immediately authorize companies to start drilling; These must submit proposals, which will include environmental assessments, to obtain a license that will be approved on a case-by-case basis by parliament. Marianne Sivertsen Næss, chair of the Standing Committee on Energy and Environment, which reviewed the original plan, told the BBC that the Norwegian government was taking a “cautious approach to mining activities.”

Loke Minerals’ Sognnes added that the government’s plan would attract much-needed investment from the private sector for research into deep marine environments.

For their part, advocates argue that greater investment in recycling and reusing already mined minerals should be prioritized rather than seeking new sources. According to a report by the Environmental Justice Foundation, around 16,000 tonnes of cobalt a year, about 10% of annual production, could be recovered through better collection and recycling of mobile phones.

Although the Norwegian proposal focuses on its national waters, talks continue about the possibility of granting licenses for mining in international waters. The International Seabed Authority (ISA), a body linked to the UN, will meet this year to try to finalize the rules, with a final vote expected in 2025. More than 30 countries are advocating for a ban, but nations like China are interested in seeing the ISA move in this direction.

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