Is seabed mining a risk or a necessary economic practice?

Gerard Barron, a deep-sea miner, is adamant that the extraction process used by his company has no environmental impact. His company, The Metals Company, employs trucks-sized remote-controlled devices “to scoop up rocks sitting on the sea floor”. After that, these rocks are crushed and processed to extract cobalt, nickel, copper, and manganese—four important minerals that are highly sought after for the manufacture of batteries. The Canadian company is already carrying out tests in the aim of obtaining permission to begin commercial mining in international seas in the North Pacific as early as the end of 2025.

The International Seabed Authority (ISA), a UN agency that oversees the seafloor in international waters, currently forbids such commercial extraction. A final vote is anticipated in less than 24 months. In the meantime, the ISA and its 169 member governments are scheduled to convene later this year to attempt to finalize regulations that would potentially let it to begin. Because of worries about the ban’s potential effects on the environment, approximately 30 nations—including the UK, Brazil, Canada, France, and Germany—want it to stay in place. China, among other countries, is eager for permission to begin large-scale deep-sea mining in international waters.

This occurs at the same time as Norway made international news last week by becoming the first nation to permit deep-sea mining in its territorial waters going forward. The US is considering whether to follow suit, and President Biden has directed the Pentagon to provide a report on the matter by March 1. This action comes after the US “must explore every avenue to strengthen our rare earth and critical minerals supply chains” in an open letter written by 31 members of Congress in December regarding deep-sea mining. Apart from extracting rocks, also referred to as “polymetallic nodules,” from the ocean floor, further methods of deep-sea mining entail excavating deeper and are more intrusive.

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