Tag Archives: experimental seabed mining

Scottish Enterprise urged to rule out ‘damaging’ deep sea mining

Joe Lo | The Ferret  July 15, 2019

Environmental campaigners have called on the Scottish Government’s economic development agency not to spend taxpayers’ money subsidising a controversial new form of underwater mining.

A report commissioned by Scottish Enterprise echoed concerns that deep sea mining could lead to “the potential extinction of unique species” – but the agency has refused to rule out investing in the industry.

Deep sea mining envisages machines sucking up the seabed so that minerals like cobalt and manganese can be extracted for use in products such as mobile phones, wind turbines and batteries.

Although no mining has begun yet, mining sites have been proposed in the Pacific Ocean, the Indian Ocean and near Peru and Japan.

The UK government, in collaboration with US arms company Lockheed Martin, has a license to mine an area larger than England off the west coast of Mexico.

An April 2017 report into deep sea mining commissioned by Scottish Enterprise was made public in July after a freedom of information request by Greenpeace’s Unearthed website.

The report was written by the research arm of Subsea UK which describes itself  “the champion” of the UK under-sea industry. “The environmental impacts of deep sea mining are not fully understood,” cautioned the report.

“The activities involved in subsea mining could have detrimental impacts on localised populations as well as an impact on world oceans through the potential extinction of unique species that form the first rung of the food chain.”

Scottish Enterprise said that it regularly undertook research into markets to understand their potential for Scotland’s businesses. “This report was commissioned to highlight the market potential in a range of sectors such as aquaculture and marine renewables, that Scotland’s subsea capability could be appropriate for in future market activity,” David Rennie, the agency’s head of oil and gas, told Unearthed.

“As yet we have not made any decisions, or progressed any activity, on how we might develop seabed mining. Other sectors such as marine renewables and aquaculture are likely to offer more immediate opportunities and any significant developments in seabed mining are likely to be some years off.”

But Friends of the Earth Scotland called for funding to be blocked now. “Scottish Enterprise should immediately rule out any support for deep sea mining,” said the environmental group’s head of campaigns, Mary Church.

“It is absurd to even be considering putting public money into such a damaging activity at a time when the life in our oceans is already under so much threat from climate change, over fishing, plastic pollution and oil extraction.”

Greenpeace UK urged politicians to be held to account for planning to spend taxpayers’ money on deep sea mining. “Scottish Enterprise is well aware of the potential environmental risks and there needs to be much more of a public conversation about whether citizens, including avid Blue Planet fans, are prepared to permit the potential extinction of species and risking making climate change worse,” said the group’s oceans campaigner, Louisa Casson.

She authored a Greenpeace report in 2019 warning that deep sea mining could make climate change worse by releasing carbon stored in sediments or by disrupting process which help scavenge carbon and deliver it to those sediments. Marine life naturally absorbs carbon, carrying some of it to the seafloor when they die.

That we should be destroying these things is so deeply tragic. David Attenborough, broadcaster

Wildlife broadcaster, David Attenborough, has pointed out that the deep sea is where life began. “That we should be destroying these things is so deeply tragic,” he told the BBC. “I mean, that humanity should just plough on with no regard for the consequences, because they don’t know what they are.”

The UK parliament’s cross-party environmental audit committee has warned that deep sea mining would have “catastrophic impacts on the seafloor site and its inhabitants”. In a report, MPs called on the UK government not to use its deep sea mining licenses and to pressure other countries and the International Seabed Authority (ISA) not to issue any more licenses.

The committee also criticised regulation of the industry.”We are concerned that the ISA, the licensing body for seabed exploration, also stands to benefit from revenues, which is a clear conflict of interest,” they said.

A Scottish Enterprise spokesperson told The Ferret: “Developments in seabed mining are closely controlled and regulated by the International Seabed Authority and the industry is very much in its infancy. Should any project be brought forward in the future it would be subject to rigorous economic and environmental due diligence.”

The Scottish Government said it supports “clean, healthy, safe, productive and biologically diverse seas, balancing sustainable development with environmental protection”.

A government spokesperson added: “Any deep sea mining would be subject to regulatory controls and thorough assessment, including conducting an environmental appraisal.‎”

Three companies mentioned in the Scottish Enterprise report as potential recipients of support are Royal IHC, 2H Offshore and Soil Machine Dynamics. They all design machinery which could be used in deep sea mining and are all ultimately foreign-owned.

Royal IHC is majority-owned by the wealthy Dutch de Bruin family. 2H Offshore is ultimately owned by two US billionaires close to Donald Trump, Henry Kravis and George Roberts. Soil Machine Dynamics is ultimately majority-owned by the Chinese government.

When asked if it subsidises foreign owned companies, Scottish Enterprise said it works with “both indigenous and international companies”. On investing in companies owned by the Chinese state, a spokesperson stressed that the agency carried out “rigorous due diligence”.

Government wildlife and environment agencies all declined to comment, including Scottish Natural Heritage, the Scottish Environment Protection Agency and the Joint Nature Conservation Committee’s chief scientist, Christine Maggs.

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Deep-sea mining risks ‘irreversible’ harm, warns Greenpeace

A subsea mining machine under construction © Reuters

Campaign group intervenes over UK exploration licences for Lockheed Martin

Henry Sanderson| Financial Times | 3 July 2019

Deep-sea mining risks “severe and potentially irreversible” environmental harm and the UK should prioritise protecting the ocean rather than extracting minerals from it, Greenpeace, the campaigning group, said.

The government has awarded deep-sea exploration licences to a subsidiary of Lockheed Martin, which could lead to deep-sea mining despite Westminster being aware of the environmental risks, said Greenpeace.

David Cameron promised as prime minister in 2013 that deep-sea mining would generate £40bn for the UK economy over the next 30 years. But Greenpeace said it is unclear what this figure includes.

It pointed out that in 2017 the government’s deep-sea mining working group was shown a report by the National Subsea Research Initiative, a research body, warning of the environmental impact on the seabed.

“The activities involved in subsea mining could have detrimental impacts on localised populations as well as an impact on world oceans through the potential extinction of unique species which form the first rung of the food chain,” said the report, which was commissioned by Scottish Enterprise and seen by Greenpeace through a Freedom of Information request.

The UN-backed International Seabed Authority, which regulates all mineral activities in international waters, has given countries, including the UK, 29 licences to explore the oceans, covering an area of 1.3m sq km, or five times the surface area of Britain. But mining cannot begin until regulations, currently being negotiated, are agreed. The ISA expects to have finished them by July 2020.

The UK government in 2013 granted Seabed Resources, a Lockheed Martin subsidiary, the rights to explore 133,000 sq km of the ocean it had received from the ISA. Seabed Resources said it was waiting for the regulations to be approved before assessing the viability of mining at the sites.

Daniel Jones, a principal researcher at the National Oceanography Center, said scientists still do not know enough about life in the deep sea compared to life on land.

“We are finding out a lot more but we can’t answer how organisms will respond to disturbance from deep-sea mining without doing experimentation on the sea floor,” he said. “We are missing quite important information.”

A spokesman for the UK government said: “The UK continues to press for the highest international environmental standards, including on deep-sea mineral extraction. We have sponsored two exploration licences, which allows scientific marine research to fully understand the effects of deep-sea mining. We will not issue a single exploitation licence without a full assessment of the environmental impact.”

Deep-sea mining has had a chequered history. The first company to try to mine the deep sea, Nautilus Minerals, was delisted from the Toronto Stock Exchange in March after financial difficulties. The company had planned to mine around Papua New Guinea.

But last month Deep Green, a deep-sea mining start-up, said it had raised the bulk of the $150m it needed to press ahead with plans to collect mineral-rich nodules from the floor of the Pacific for metals such nickel and cobalt used in electric-car batteries. The company is backed by miner Glencore as well as shipping giant Maersk.

DeepGreen said “it is built with a deep appreciation and respect for ocean health and the earth’s environment”.

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Cancel all seabed mining licences

PNG Council of Churches | Voice of Milne Bay | Alliance of Solwara Warriors | Bismarck Ramu Group | Centre for Environmental Law and Community Rights | 28 June 2019 

Dear Hon. Prime Minister,

Congratulations on your recent election as the new leader of Papua New Guinea and for the establishment of your new cabinet! This fills our hearts with hope for a better future. 

We, the PNG Council of Churches, Voice of Milne Bay, Alliance of Solwara Warriors, Bismarck Ramu Group and the Center for Environmental Law and Community Rights, would like to draw your attention to the issue of deep sea mining in our Bismarck and Solomon Seas.

We stand with the communities of the West Coast of New Ireland Province, Duke of York Islands, East New Britain, Madang, Manus and Milne Bay Provinces who oppose sea bed mining under the Alliance of Solwara Warriors. 

Together we call on the Papua New Guinean Government to cancel all Nautilus Minerals’ deep sea exploration licences, mining leases, and environment permits.

Our communities already face many unsustainable developments impacting our lands, oceans, lives, and livelihoods. This includes mining, logging, and oil palm operations. The risks and uncertainties of experimental seabed mining are too great to allow this industry to ever proceed in Papua New Guinea.

We have our own economies and natural resources to sustain and support our daily survival. We ask our government to invest in these.

Our coastal communities have always been connected with our seas. The sea is central to identity, livelihoods and culture practices. It cannot be separated. 

We simply do not want Seabed Mining in PNG’s Waters.

The former government made a bad investment decision by buying into Nautilus Minerals. Our country and ordinary citizens are paying the price. The $US120m equity, a loan from BSP, that the Government invested in the Solwara 1 project could have been used for medical supplies, education, and much-needed infrastructure. 

Nautilus Minerals is currently seeking protection for alleged bankruptcy and is re-arranging its affairs to protect the interests of its officers and two major shareholders. It seems like the company is not considering the impact on its shareholders which includes the PNG government.

We look to your leadership to ban seabed mining in our country and to use our nation’s funds wisely.

Therefore, we call on the new Papua New Guinea Government to:

1. Terminate the Solwara 1 mining lease and environmental permit, and all of Nautilus Minerals’ exploration licences

2. Demonstrate that it has learnt from the very costly mistakes of the former Government of purchasing a 15% stake in Nautilus Minerals and commit to:

a. Never taking up a stake in any deep sea mining venture in the future;

b. Not issuing any more exploration licences or mining leases for deep sea mining; and

c. Providing real and lasting support to communities right across Papua New Guinea by assisting thriving artisanal fisheries, growing the fledgling ocean based eco-tourism sector, and funding communications and transport infrastructure, education and health services. 

We anticipate your favourable response, and we thank you and wish all God’s blessings on your efforts as our new leader.

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DeepGreen closer to ocean mining battery metals after Swiss cash injection

[A highly misleading] computer rendition of a seabed mining operation. (Image by Phil Pauley | Twitter.) In reality the mining will be done in almost complete darkness thousands of metres below the surface!

Cecilia Jamasmie | Mining News | June 10, 2019

Canada’s DeepGreen Metals, a start-up planning to extract cobalt and other battery metals from small rocks covering the seafloor, has secured the bulk of the $150 million it needs to carry out its first feasibility studies.

The financing, provided by Switzerland-based offshore pipeline company Allseas Group, is a welcome sign of progress for the deep sea mining sector, which has been stalled due regulatory uncertainty and environmental concerns.

Unlike other seafloor mining companies, including pioneer Nautilus Minerals, the Vancouver-based explorer doesn’t want to drill, blast or dig the bottom of the ocean. DeepGreen’s main goal is to scoop up small metallic rocks located thousands of metres below the surface in the North Pacific Ocean.

Its exploration focus is the Clarion-Clipperton Zone (CCZ), a mineral-rich, 4,000-kilometre swath of the Pacific that stretches from Hawaii to Mexico, where billions of potato-sized metals-rich rocks lie in a shallow layer of mud on the seafloor.

The deep sea, more than half the world’s surface, contains more cobalt, nickel, copper, manganese and rare earth metals than all land reserves combined, according to the US Geological Survey.

Companies exploring or already developing projects to mine the seafloor argue the extraction of those deep-buried riches could help diversify the sources currently supplying metals needed for electronics and evolving green technologies, such as electric vehicles (EVs) and solar panels.

Academics and scientist, however, are concerned by the lack of research on the possible impacts of high seas mining. They fear the activity could devastate fragile ecosystems that are slow to recover in the highly pressurized darkness of the deep sea, as well as having knock-on effects on the wider ocean environment.

Not enough studies

Last year, the European Parliament called for a ban on seabed mining until the environmental impacts and risks of disturbing unique deep-sea ecosystems are understood. In the resolution, it also urged the European Commission to persuade member states to stop sponsoring and subsidizing licenses to explore and exploit the seabed in international waters as well as within their own territories.

Shortly after, an international team of researchers published a set of criteria to help the International Seabed Authority (ISA), a UN body made up of 168 countries, protect biodiversity from deep-sea mining activities.

So far, it has granted 29 licences to governments and companies, authorizing them to explore in international waters.

Nautilus, however, is the only company that has gone beyond the exploration stage and has gotten close to open the first polymetallic seabed mine off the coast of Papua New Guinea. Its Solwara 1 project, however, has been slowed by funding issues and local opposition.

Anglo American (LON:AAL) sold its 4% stake in Nautilus a year ago, as part of efforts to retain only its most profitable assets. And, in March, it had to delist from the Toronto Stock Exchange.

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Cook Islands PM: ‘Conservation is in our blood’

Prime Minister Henry Puna arriving at 11th Conference of the Pacific Community in Noumea, New Caledonia. 19062018

Losirene Lacanivalu | Cook Island News | June 21, 2019

Cook Islands’ declaration of two million square kilometres of ocean as “sacred” captured the imagination of delegates at a major oceans conference in New Caledonia this week.

Prime Minister Henry Puna explained to the 11th Conference of the Pacific Community that the Cook Islands had declared their entire exclusive economic zone as Marae Moana.

At the local scale as a veteran pearl farmer, and at the national scale as prime minister, he relied on scientific and technical data to make evidence-based decisions for the good of the community and the oceans far into the future, Puna said.

This protected area was just one example of how the Cook Islands were putting the Blue Pacific narrative into action.

Puna’s words coincided with another regional resolution, across the ocean at Pohnpei in Micronesia, seeking to preserve the Pacific’s tuna fisheries and affirming that climate change was the single greatest threat to regional security.

Puna said the Sustainable Development Goals aimed to conserve at least 10 per cent of coastal and marine areas by 2020. “With Marae Moana, we have exceeded the expectations of the goals.”

Puna said the Marae Moana law provided a framework to make resourcing decisions on integrated management through adopting a precautionary approach to the marine environment, in sustaining fishery stocks, and environmental impact assessments for seabed mining.

Forty years of ocean survey work suggested that as many as 10 billion tonnes of mineral rich manganese nodules were spread over the Cook Islands Continental Shelf.

These seabed mineral resources offered a significant opportunity for the long-term sustainable economic and social development of the Cook Islands, he said.

But he said any decisions on whether the recovery of seabed minerals will take place must start by gathering technical data, and using scientific analysis.

The Pacific Community’s work with the Cook Islands had proven invaluable in availing, over many years, scientific and technical data to all members, to ensure evidence-based decisions.

The Cook Islands should not be viewed as a small island, but as a large ocean state. “The Blue Pacific may be a new phrase for the region, but we have been practicing this approach as stewards of the Pacific Ocean Continent for generations.

“The people of the Cook Islands, like Pacific people throughout our region, are born conservationists. Conservation is in our blood. By protecting our ecosystems, we conserve our cultural heritage and ensure that we can pass that heritage to future generations,” Puna added.

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Cooks govt uses final hours of Parliament to pass seabed bill

Cook Islands Democratic Party leader, Tina Browne Photo: Cook Islands Democratic Party

Radio New Zealand | 18 June 2019

A bid by the opposition in the Cook Islands to have a controversial seabed mining bill face further scrutiny has been quashed.

The Cook Islands News reports that, instead, the government forced it through parliament before adjourning indefinitely.

Opposition leader Tina Browne said her party did not oppose the bill, but she was not satisfied with the consultation process.

She wanted the bill put before a select committee.

Ms Browne said a major concern was how the bill gives the minister responsible for seabed minerals full authority to grant an exploration licence.

She raised concerns about fairness, given the government would also be one of the applicants – as well as the fear of officials being “tempted to do wrong things” with such power.

The government said the bill underwent an extensive consultation process.

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Deep sea mining start-up secures bulk of $150m funding round

Cut cobalt cathodes. More than 60% of the world’s cobalt comes from the Democratic Republic of Congo © Bloomberg

DeepGreen’s financing follows years of regulatory uncertainty and environmental concerns

Henry Sanderson | Financial Times | 9 June 2019

DeepGreen, a start-up that wants to suck cobalt and other battery metals from the bottom of the ocean, has secured the backing of offshore pipeline company Allseas as part of a $150m funding round.

The financing is a rare sign of progress for deep sea mining after years of regulatory uncertainty and environmental concerns.

Switzerland-based Allseas will provide the bulk of the $150m and contribute engineering expertise, DeepGreen said. The money will enable the company to carry out feasibility studies on how it can suck small metallic rocks containing cobalt, nickel and manganese from the seabed, thousands of metres below the surface.

“Our partnership with Allseas will ultimately help us open up a new, disruptive source of battery metals for the green revolution and transform the mining industry as we know it,” Gerard Barron, the chief executive of DeepGreen, said.

Supporters of deep sea mining say it offers an alternative to land-based mining and can help the world meet an expected surge in demand for metals from batteries over the next decade. More than 60 per cent of the world’s cobalt comes from the Democratic Republic of Congo, while nickel is mined in Indonesia, Russia and New Caledonia.

DeepGreen says the carbon dioxide produced from lifting nodules from the sea floor is lower than land-based mining since the process requires no blasting, drilling or digging.

But critics say mining the deep sea risks destroying sensitive and unexplored habitats at the bottom of the ocean. Environmental group Greenpeace has called for an international agreement to protect the oceans from mining.

“Scientists warn that deep sea mining risks inflicting severe and potentially irreversible harm to ocean ecosystems that we know so little about,” Greenpeace said. “Profit is being placed before protection and we urgently need a strong ‘Global Oceans Treaty’ that safeguards the deep ocean from reckless exploitation by companies such as DeepGreen.”

The first company to attempt to mine the deep sea, Nautilus Minerals, was delisted from the Toronto Stock Exchange in March after financial difficulties. The company had planned to mine the deep sea in waters surrounding Papua New Guinea.

The International Seabed Authority, a UN body that grants licences to mine in international waters, is expected to complete its first set of regulations to enable deep sea mining to go ahead by 2020, according to UK Seabed Resources, a subsidiary of Lockheed Martin.

“Uncertainty in the future regulatory regime for mineral exploitation remains the principal barrier to development of an environmentally responsible and commercially viable deep seabed mining industry,” Christopher Williams, head of UK Seabed Resources, said.

DeepGreen is looking to extract metals in a 75,000 sq km zone in the Clarion-Clipperton Zone in the Pacific, granted to the island state of Nauru.

Allseas is a private company known for having built the world’s largest construction vessel, the Pioneering Spirit, which can install and remove offshore oil rigs in a single lift.

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