Norway is set to become the first country to open its seas to commercial deep-sea mining, despite concerns about the industry’s potential to destroy marine life.
The proposal, which is up for a parliamentary vote, is expected to pass without opposition on Tuesday as it has received cross-party support, the BBC reported Monday.
It could open 108,000 square miles of Norway’s national waters to commercial deep-sea mining, per the BBC.
Some deep-sea testing has been permitted on a smaller scale , but no country yet allows commercial mining of their deep sea floor.
The mining industry will be looking to mine rare minerals such as lithium, cobalt, scandium and other metals from the crust and nodules found at ocean bottoms.
” We need minerals in order to be successful with the green transformation. The resources in the world are currently controlled by only a handful of countries. This makes us very vulnerable,” Terje Aasland, Minister for Petroleum and Energy, said in a statement indicating the June move.
The Norwegian government said that it will only start issuing permits for exploitation once the environmental risks have been assessed, per the BBC.
Industry experts don’t expect exploitation to start before at least the early 2030s, according to Walter Sognnes, head of Norwegian start-up Loke which plans to apply for a license, Politico reported.
This is in sharp contrast to the position taken by countries such as the UK or the European Union who have called for a temporary ban on the practice, according to The Guardian .
Environmentalists have warned that not enough is known about deep-sea environments to safely exploit them for commercial use.
Concerns include damage to local sea life, knock-on effects to fish stocks, and potential climate impacts, according to global nonprofit the World Resources Institute.
“The seabeds have taken thousands of years to form, and the damage will be irreparable on similar timescales,” said microbial ecologist and professor Lise Ovreas of the University of Bergen in Norway.
““The story that deep sea mining is necessary to meet our climate goals and is therefore a green technology, is misleading”, said Michael Norton EASAC’s Environment Director.
Sea fishing communities have expressed similar concerns.
“We do not have enough knowledge about how this affects the fish stocks, and therefore also the possibility of sustainable fishing,” said Odd Kristian Dahle, head of communication at the Association of Norwegian Fishermen, per Politico.
Proponents argue that the supply of rare minerals will quickly fall short given modern-day demand on supply. Experts predict demand for these minerals could rise 400%-600% in the coming decade.
There are very few places in the world where these rare minerals can be found on the surface. This increases the risk that countries could be cut off from their supply in case of political instability.
For example, the Democratic Republic of Congo is a country that has been in conflict for a very long time. It holds some of the largest cobalt reserves on the planet.
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