MAC: Mines and Communities

Secretive ‘gold rush’ for deep-sea mining dominated by handful of firms, report

Published by MAC on 2020-12-18
Source: The Guardian (2020-12-10)

Mining firms see the deep-sea bed as the last frontier for a mineral extraction boom.

An investigation by Greenpeace found a handful of corporations in Europe and North America are increasingly dominating marine exploration contracts, and have at times taken the place of government representatives at meetings of the oversight body, the UN’s International Seabed Authority (ISA). Greenpeace said this undermines effective environmental management and fair distribution of risks and rewards from the ocean floor, which some states and companies want to open up for exploitation next year. The biggest problem was the lack of transparency and oversight. “We need to shine a light on the industry at this gold-rush moment because most people don’t realise this is going on,” said the report’s author, Louisa Casson, from the Protect the Oceans campaign.

See also:

2020-11-12 Deep Sea Rush: Speculators are circling

2020-10-07 Nickel project drops deep-sea waste plan in Morowali, Indonesia

2020-06-25 Deep sea mining poses huge, unknown, species' risk

2020-05-27 Report Highlights Danger of Deep Sea Nodule Mining

2019-08-16 Fiji calls for deep sea mining moratorium

 

Secretive ‘gold rush’ for deep-sea mining dominated by handful of firms

Greenpeace report warns against granting licences to ‘deeply destructive’ industry with opaque oversight, and calls for global ocean treaty.

Jonathan Watts

The Guardian https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/dec/09/secretive-gold-rush-for-deep-sea-mining-dominated-by-handful-of-firms

9 December 2020

Private mining firms and arms companies are exerting a hidden and unhealthy influence on the fate of the deep-sea bed, according to a new report highlighting the threats facing the world’s biggest intact ecosystem.

An investigation by Greenpeace found a handful of corporations in Europe and North America are increasingly dominating exploration contracts, and have at times taken the place of government representatives at meetings of the oversight body, the UN’s International Seabed Authority (ISA).

Greenpeace said this undermines effective environmental management and fair distribution of risks and rewards from the ocean floor, which some states and companies want to open up for exploitation next year.

Given the potential risks of fisheries disturbance, water contamination, sound pollution and habitat destruction for dumbo octopuses, sea pangolins and other species, the campaign group said no new licences should be approved. It has said governments should instead implement an ocean treaty, to ensure adequate protections.

Mining firms see the deep-sea bed as the last frontier for a mineral extraction boom. Technological hurdles have been overcome, and the ISA’s recently re-appointed secretary-general Michael Lodge – from the UK – wants member states to agree on a rulebook next year that would set standards for working practices and allow commercial mining to begin.

The new Greenpeace report, released on Wednesday, suggests this would be premature, because the industry is secretive and inadequately regulated. Among its findings are:

The dangers of this system were apparent in 2019, when the deep-sea mining firm Nautilus went bankrupt, leaving its partner state, Papua New Guinea, with substantial clean-up losses. Papua New Guinea is now among a growing number of nations calling for a moratorium on the industry, along with conservationists including David Attenborough and Chris Packham.

But exploration permits for the international seabed already cover an area equivalent in size to France and Germany combined, and that area is likely to expand rapidly, despite the risks to biodiversity and ocean carbon deposits.

Greenpeace said the biggest problem was the lack of transparency and oversight. “We need to shine a light on the industry at this gold-rush moment because most people don’t realise this is going on,” said the report’s author, Louisa Casson, from the Protect the Oceans campaign.

Rather than open up a whole new field of resource extraction, nations should focus more on reusing and recycling existing supplies of minerals, she said.

“We think the deep sea ocean should be off limits because it not possible to have good enough environmental rules, especially now that scientists are warning of irreversible harm and potential extinctions. The ISA is supposed to be protecting the oceans and it’s not doing its job.”

In a response to Greenpeace, DeepGreen Metals Inc said deep sea mining could supply “critical minerals for the global transition off fossil fuels at a fraction of environmental and social costs associated with metal production from conventional land ores”.

It added: “Without investment in this industry from private sector companies such as ours, Pacific island nations like Nauru, Kiribati and the Kingdom of Tonga would not otherwise have an opportunity to participate in the benefits of this new resource opportunity to diversify and develop their economies. Until recently, deep-sea exploration was carried out only by the rich industrialised countries, further increasing the potential for global wealth disparity.”

Peter Ruddock, director of UK Seabed Resources Ltd and chief executive of Lockheed Martin UK, said in a statement to Greenpeace: “UK Seabed Resources has been, and continues to be, entirely transparent with Greenpeace, the wider NGO and stakeholder community, the International Seabed Authority (ISA), and the public, about its structure and relationships with the UK government and Ocean Minerals Singapore (OMS), and indeed all our partners and stakeholders.

“Seabed minerals have a potentially critical role to play in the decarbonisation of the planet by providing a vital and reliable alternative source of critical minerals for, among other things, clean energy including battery technologies. We intend to continue to work towards the realisation of this potential opportunity with our valued stakeholders and partners.”

In a letter to Greenpeace, Deme said: “20 countries are now actively engaged in deep-sea mining exploration. All have an interest in a clear and settled regulatory regime to govern exploitation, as indeed does humankind as a whole.”

 

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