Still an open question as to whether or not deep seabed mining will ever be economically viable
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Although the ISA has issued several self-serving statements that the “21st century is likely to see systematic efforts worldwide to develop the resources of the deep seabed,”4 the fact remains that it is questionable whether deep seabed mining will ever become economically viable, at least in the Area. With regard to cobalt-rich crusts, according to ISA fact sheets, prospective miners will first have to develop “detailed maps of crust deposits and a comprehensive, small-scale picture of seamount topography, including seismic profiles.” Yet, very few of the seamounts in the Area that potentially contain the richest deposits of cobalt crusts have been mapped and sampled in detail. More importantly, it has been determined that crusts containing the greatest concentration of minerals are found in shallow waters in areas under coastal state, not ISA, jurisdiction.5 Similarly, according to ISA fact sheets, only five percent of the 60,000 km of oceanic ridge worldwide that could contain deposits of polymetallic sulphides has been surveyed in any detail.6 Moreover, ISA fact sheets acknowledge that most technology for exploring and exploiting the seabed has been developed for use in shallower waters.7 This is particularly true for cobalt-rich crust mining, which is much more difficult than manganese-nodule mining – research and development of mining technology for crusts exploitation is in its infancy.8 Finally, proposed environmental standards being developed by the ISA to minimize the effects of deep seabed mining on the marine environmental will undoubtedly significantly raise the costs of deep seabed mining operations.