First country to mine battery metals on ocean floor .Norway’s government is readying plans to open an area of ocean nearly the size of Germany to deep-sea mining as it seeks to become the first country to extract battery metals from its sea floor.
In the next two week, the energy ministry of the country is rushing to present to the parliament a proposal that would open up the vast area for applications to explore and extract. The plan will be put to a vote by parliament in the autumn.
Oslo is in a fight with environmentalists and fishing companies over these proposals. It also risks provoking a dispute between other nations by pushing to allow mining near Svalbard – the Norwegian archipelago located in the Arctic. Norway claims it has exclusive mining rights in a greater area of water than Russia, UK or EU.
The proposed area contains volcanic springs that are up to 4,000m in depth and rise from faultlines between plates. This is estimated to contain 38mn tonnes copper. This is more than the amount of copper mined worldwide each year.
Amund Vik is the state secretary for the Norwegian Ministry of Petroleum and Energy. He said that deep sea mining will help Europe to meet its “desperate needs” of minerals and rare earth materials. He added that the government would adopt a “precautionary” approach to environmental issues.
Cobalt is also found in the fluids that are emitted from hydrothermal vents, such as those located in Norway. Metal seabed crusts, such as neodymium or dysprosium, can be mined. They are used in the wind turbines, and the electric vehicle engines. However, their supply chain is controlled largely by China. .Of the region earmarked for potential mining, the most contentious part would be the area close to Svalbard. The Svalbard Treaty, which gives Norway sovereignty over the islands, also gives other countries the right to mine on land and in the territorial waters around the archipelago. Russia, the EU and the UK are at odds with Norway over how large an area of water this treaty covers. Fishing operations are meanwhile concerned that pollution from the mining may taint their catch. Jane Sandell, chief executive of UK Fisheries — whose super trawler Kirkella is one of the last UK fishing vessels to operate so far north — said she was “deeply concerned” about the possibility of toxic heavy metal particles being released.
Sverre Johansen said that the Norwegian fishing industry “was not at all impressed” with the proposal. The government claims that the “conflict-potential” is low, due to the limited fishing activity and shipping traffic in the region.
The Norwegian environment agency strongly opposes the plan. In a response to a consultation this year, it said that the proposal was in violation of Norway’s legal framework on seabed exploration because it did not provide enough data about sustainability.
The report warned that mining would have “significant and irreversible effects on the marine environment”. It argued for volcanic smokers or hydrothermal vents to be left untouched, with only a few small areas being opened up to mining.
The energy ministry has a problem with Norway’s international claim that it is the protector of its oceans and a sustainable source of fish.
Kaja Loenne fjaertoft is a marine scientist at the Norwegian branch WWF. She said that the government “speaks in two languages” when it defends marine conservation and “bulldozes ahead” with mining projects.
In March, Norwegian Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Store told a local paper that deep sea mining could be carried out without harming biodiversity.
Other countries, including China, Papua New Guinea and the Cook Islands as well as Japan and New Zealand, have explored ways to extract metals in coastal waters. Negotiations between the UN-backed regulator that oversees bids to mine in international waters, mostly in the Pacific region, are expected to reach an impasse next month.
Egil Tjaland said that deep-water mining was a speciality for Norway due to its offshore oil and natural gas resources. The group held a workshop recently in Berlin to discuss partnership between Norwegian and German industries on deep-sea mines.
Walter Sognnes is the chief executive at Loke Marine Minerals. The company plans to mine Norway’s metallic crusts. It recently won two UK-sponsored exploration contract in the Pacific. We are a large fishing nation and live near the ocean. The ocean is our greatest resource. . . “We would not have to reinvent the wheel.”