Deep Seabed Mining
The authors argue in favor of mining the deep seabed, looking at how it fares comparably to land-based mining and how it will meet demand for key metals for electric vehicles and green technology.[ More ]
Sir David Attenborough has urged governments to ban deep sea mining, following a study warning of “potentially disastrous” risks to the ocean’s life-support systems if it goes ahead.[ More ]
The scientists who discovered antibiotic properties in a deep-sea sponge warn that such breakthroughs could be lost in the face of mineral exploitation.[ More ]
The International Seabed Authority is preparing to release an 18-year data set showing the environmental impact of deep seabed mining, allowing researchers to assess the effect of mining operations on the deep seabed ecosystem.[ More ]
Plans are advancing to harvest precious ores from the ocean floor, but scientists say that companies have not tested them enough to avoid devastating damage.[ More ]
Mining interests are racing to extract minerals from the ocean bottom that would be used in batteries for electric vehicles but advocates warn that in addition to its effect on the deep seabed ecosystem, mining could have the counterproductive effect of increasing global warming by releasing carbon stored in deep sea sediments.[ More ]
Once thought too expensive and too difficult, commercial scale mining of the deep sea is poised to become a reality as early as 2019. But scientists warn reaching rare minerals on and under the sea floor could cause irreversible damage to an environment that is still poorly understood.[ More ]
Researchers have discovered previously unknown species of sea life on the deep seabed floor, prompting concerns about how they will be impacted by the rush to mine the seabed for cobalt, manganese and other elements for use in technologies such as smartphones and electric cars.[ More ]
The “new global gold rush” over deep-sea mining holds the same potential pitfalls as previous resource scrambles, with environmental and social impacts ignored and the rights of Indigenous people marginalised, a paper in the Harvard Environmental Law Review has warned.[ More ]
Our growing demand for resources has prompted companies to turn to mining in the depths of the oceans. With help from robots, a team of German scientists is racing to map the potential environmental damage.[ More ]
As it stands in the seabed resource market, there are approximately 12 mining claims involving 14 countries under the International Seabed Authority, an intergovernmental body established by the Law of the Sea Convention to have oversight of mineral-related activities in the international seabed. Lockheed Martin for years has had claims to explore and extract rare earth elements, which produce valuable metals used the world over in flat-screen televisions, electric hybrid batteries, tank armor, night-vision goggles and every mobile communications device.
“When you see an international, huge company like Lockheed who has got these claims, who has for years been trying to get access to them, that now may end up going to Lockheed Martin U.K. to get a site and operate through their U.K. operating unit, you have to ask why are American companies having to go to foreign governments to access deep seabed minerals when we as a country desperately need [this business]?”Pike said.
While Moore’s view is also that Article 82 is a “small quid pro quo”,11 the Article may nonetheless have undesirable consequences. For example, Rainer Lagoni observed in New Delhi in 2002 that in providing for five years where the revenue share is nil per cent before slowly climbing by one per cent a year there is an incentive of the mining industry to extract resource at a far faster rate than they might otherwise do.12 This may lead to an inefficient, even wasteful use of resource, particularly when taking into account the gearing of refinery resources to the raw resource available.
Jennifer Warren, vice president, technology policy and regulation at Lockheed Martin, discussed the com- pany’s history and interest in deep seabed exploration, which dates back more than 40 years. She said it has generated more than 80 patents and invested more than $500 million in exploration largely in the Clarion-Clipperton Zone that extends from Baja California to Hawaii.
“Recent developments in deep seabed resources have really sharpened our interest in seeing Law of the Sea ratified as soon as possible,” Warren said.
Lockheed, she said, has maintained its licenses to to explore and extract rare earth minerals, even as the market for minerals lagged. However, today, the demand has risen sharply for “rare earths,” as they are known, which produce valuable metals for flat-screen televisions, electric hybrid batteries, tank armor, night-vision goggles and cell phones.
Furthermore, Warren said, Lockheed’s claims now are the only current active U.S.-based claims. Last July, the first four licenses for deep seabed exploration were granted by the International Seabed Authority (ISA), the organization created by the Convention to recognize mining claims beyond the continental margin, and two of them are held by China and Russia, she said.
"The importance of these resources is well understood internationally,” Warren said, describing the need to be a party to the Law of the Sea Convention in order to be an active participant and have authorities in, for example, the rule-making process within the ISA. “Other countries are moving forward quickly and aggressively to access them. As the only U.S.-based claimant, our view is pretty straightforward. Business initiatives to exploit deep seabed mineral resources will only be able to secure the necessary financial investments if done pursuant to the existing international framework.”
Caitlyn Antrim, executive director of the Rule of Law Committee for the Oceans, a nonpartisan educational group whose purpose is to inform public discourse regarding U.S. interests in accession to the Convention, expanded further on the history of the revenue-sharing issue. She said it is based on a package deal proposed in 1970 by then-President Richard M. Nixon in which a moderate royalty payment from sea-floor energy and mineral exploitation beyond the 200-meter “isobath” would be shared between the coastal state and the rest of world in return for recognition of the coastal state’s jurisdiction over minerals to the outer edge of the con- tinental margin and assured access for private develop- ers to minerals on the deep ocean floor.
“Over the course of the conference, negotiators reduced the area subject to revenue-sharing by moving the inner boundary of the region out to 200 nautical miles,” Antrim said. “The concept of sharing royalties from development of seabed resources beyond national boundaries has been endorsed by every president since Nixon, including President Reagan. The Convention is critical because industry will not invest billions of dollars without the international recognition of claims and title to recovered minerals it provides.
“The Convention also guarantees the U.S. a permanent seat on the council of the International Seabed Authority, the organization created to recognize min- ing claims beyond the continental margin, with veto power over rules and regulations, amendments and distribution plans for royalty payments,” she said. “The Authority will receive royalty payments whether or not the U.S. is a party, but the U.S. will only be able to exercise its veto over how those funds are distributed if we join the Convention.”
Reclaiming United States deep seabed mineral sites now virtually abandoned. United States firms pioneered the technology for deep seabed mining and spent approximately $200 million in claiming four first-generation sites in the deep seabed for the mining of manganese nodules. These nodules contain attractive quantities of copper, nickel, cobalt and manganese and would be a major source of supply for the United States in these minerals. Paradoxically, 'protecting' our deep seabed industry has sometimes been a mantra for non-adherence to the Convention. Yet because of uncertainties resulting from U.S. non- adherence these sites have been virtually abandoned and most of our nascent deep seabed mining industry has disappeared. Moreover, it is clear that without U.S. adherence to the Convention our industry has absolutely no chance of being revived. I believe that as soon as the United States adheres to the Convention the Secretary of Commerce should set up a working group to assist the industry in reclaiming these sites. This working group might then recommend legislation that would deal with the industry problems in reducing costs associated with reacquiring and holding these sites until deep seabed mining becomes economically feasible;
First, without the protection now guaranteed by UNCLOS, U.S. companies are not likely to invest in deep seabed mining.109Almost Everyone Agrees: The U.S. Should Ratify the Law of the Sea Treaty — Stewart M. Patrick. — The Atlantic — Jun 10, 2012 [ More ] At a hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Jay Timmons, President and CEO of the National Association of Manufacturers, spoke on manufacturers' behalf and expressed the hesitancy to invest: "[t]he development of deep seabed claims is incredibly expensive. Companies in the U.S. are reluctant to invest heavily in deep seabed mining because of the risk that their activities would not withstand a legal challenge since the U.S. is not a party to the Convention."110Statement of Jay Timmons: The Law of the Sea Convention: Perspectives from Business and Industry (June 28, 2012) ." Testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, June 28, 2012. [ More (5 quotes) ] For instance, the Pacific Ocean contains a large supply of nodules, rock-like substances that contain minerals such as nickel, copper, and cobalt. "111Mining the Seafloor for Rare-Earth Minerals — William J. Broad. — New York Times — Nov 09, 2010 [ More ] There is currently no cost-effective way to remove these nodules from the ocean floor.112Mining the Seafloor for Rare-Earth Minerals — William J. Broad. — New York Times — Nov 09, 2010 [ More ] It is possible that developing a procedure to extract the metal from the nodules will be the most expensive part of the process."113Mining the Seafloor for Rare-Earth Minerals — William J. Broad. — New York Times — Nov 09, 2010 [ More ] Further, methane hydrates114 are another potentially enormous alternative energy source found in the ocean with extraction technology in its infancy.115 Unless the United States accedes to UNCLOS, U.S. companies will be less likely to invest in deep seabed mining of the nodules and exploitation of methane hydrates, leaving untouched great resources that would add much revenue to the U.S. Treasury.
Many are skeptical of deep-sea mining's supposed benefits, and its environmental implications are relatively unknown. Nautilus has hired the environmental consulting firm Earth Economics to try to assess how a seabed mine might compare with a terrestrial mine. The analysis, released last month, compares likely impacts of the Solwara mine with three terrestrial mines of similar proportions -- Bingham Canyon in Utah, Prominent Hill in Australia, and the proposed Intag mine in Ecuador.
The analysis found that, unlike with terrestrial mines, there aren't issues like community displacement, use of freshwater supplies, erosion, or loss of land for other uses like food production, recreation, or cultural and historic conservation. Deep-sea mining would cause a loss of habitat and genetic resources, affect air and water quality, and use energy and raw materials, according to the analysis. But the overall environmental impact of deep-sea mining would not be as severe as that of an onshore mine, the analysis said.
The report also predicted that demand for copper, for wiring and other needs, is likely to continue, and neither land-based mines nor recycling are likely to supply enough.
Maya Kocian, a senior economist at Earth Economics, said the firm was cautious in taking on the analysis. Earth Economics normally studies the value of parks and recreation areas, she said. "Nautilus had to come to Seattle to convince our board to do it," said Kocian. "There was hesitation to move forward."
In the end, Kocian said, the firm found that there would be environmental impacts, but the comparison yielded interesting findings.
Lockheed Martin, a U.S. based company, has been a large proponent of recognizing the need for the ISA.120 In June 2012, the chairman of Lockheed Martin sent a letter to the U.S. Senate stating, “[Lockheed Martin] wanted to join the race for undersea riches, but could not assume investment risks until it was clear that it would have a clear legal title to its findings.”121 Lockheed Martin stated it is unwilling to do so absent U.S. ratification of UNCLOS.122
Lockheed Martin also participated in a 2012 movement known as The American Sovereignty Campaign, which was comprised of members from the government and private sector.123 The campaign’s goal was to send Congress a message: that U.S. accession to UNCLOS would “invite economic opportunity, create U.S. jobs, and protect business and commercial interests at home and abroad.”124 Lockheed Martin is the only U.S. based holder of exploration licenses granted by the ISA.125 Jennifer Warren, Vice President of Lockheed Martin stated, “business initiatives to exploit deep seabed mineral resources will only be able to secure the necessary financial investments if done pursuant to the existing international framework,” referring to the legal structure created by the ISA and UNCLOS.126
Advocates against U.S. accession believe it would disadvantage U.S. interests and place the U.S. under the thumb of the ISA.168 The assertion that U.S. interests will be lost in the sea of interests of the other 167 Member States is misplaced.169 U.S. interests have not been represented, in part, due to its 33-year absence.170 The deep seabed mining framework continued to develop and gain popularity despite the U.S.’s absence.171 Only by acceding to UNCLOS, will the U.S. regain its proper place as a world leader in shaping the law of the sea while representing its own interests in the proper international arena—before the ISA.172
When the treaty was still gaining its sea legs, the U.S.’s influential impact was evident through its ability to band seven industrialized nations173 into forming the Provisional Understanding, an agreement that operated outside the ISA’s purview.174 After the ISA declared the Provisional Understanding “wholly illegal” under UNCLOS, all seven members of the treaty essentially abandoned the U.S. and ratified the treaty in the 1990’s.175 The realization that the ISA’s deep seabed mining was becoming increasingly appealing became a significant factor in the U.S. diminishing influence over matters relating to the law of the sea.176
By ratifying the treaty, the U.S. will not instantaneously regain its former influence, but it will be a huge step in the right direction compared to its static approach for the past three decades.187 Upon ratification, the U.S. will first regain its seat on the ISA’s Council.188 In addition, the U.S. will gain “important veto rights over distribution of any future revenues from deep seabed exploitation to national liberation groups.”189
Not only will the U.S. regain a seat on the ISA’s Council, but also it will have the ability to participate in the elections of judges for the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea,190 members of the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (CLCS),191 and other arms of the ISA.192 This is a critical opportunity for the U.S. to place its own representatives in key areas of the ISA to help restore U.S. presence in vital matters concerning the Area.193 Furthermore, by reasserting itself as an authoritative component in the ISA, the U.S. will be better able to sway other nations in the issuing of decisions by the ISA.194 By taking this route versus obtaining a “veto” power over all ISA decisions, the U.S. will be more respected by Member States rather than being seen as a haughty and stubborn Western power as characterized by Molitor.195