Deep-sea mining could start in two years off coasts of Nauru

July 1, 2021

The tiny Pacific island nation of Naura has notified the International Seabed Authority (ISA) that it plans to start deep sea mining. This notification sets in motion the “two-year” rule which means ISA now has two years to finalize regulations governing the deep sea mining industry. If it is unable to do so, the Guardian reports that the ISA is required to allow mining contractors to begin work under whatever regulations are in place at the time.

Nauru’s president, Lionel Aingimea, notified the ISA of the intention of Nauru Ocean Resources Inc (NORI), a subsidiary of a Canadian company called DeepGreen, to apply for approval to begin mining in two years in the Clarion-Clipperton Zone (CCZ) in the North Pacific Ocean between Hawaii and Mexico.

Aingimea’s letter, dated 25 June, asked the ISA “to complete the adoption of rules, regulations, and procedures required to facilitate the approval of plans of work for exploitation in the area within two years” from 30 June.

Nauru believed draft deep-sea mining regulations were nearly complete after seven years of talks, Aingimea’s letter said.

Environmental groups, the EU Parliament, several Pacific nations including Fiji and Papua New Guinea, and Sir David Attenborough, have called for a moratorium on deep-sea mining, arguing that too little is known about its impact.

More than 350 scientists from 44 countries signed a petition calling for a moratorium on deep-sea mining “until sufficient and robust scientific information has been obtained”.

Duncan Currie is an international lawyer who has worked in oceans law for 30 years. He represents the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition which is calling for a moratorium on deep sea mining.

Currie said the two-year rule was designed to be used if a country was ready to mine and then found their path to do so blocked by a few countries in the ISA, or if progress toward adopting regulations to govern deep-sea mining had stalled, but that neither situation was the case.
“A very important consultation is happening next week,” said Currie, in reference to a July 3 deadline for responses to draft standards and guidelines. “They can hardly complain that things aren’t happening when they’re happening next week.

DeepGreen is looking to extract polymetallic nodules from the seabed. The nodules, which resemble potatoes and are thought to take millions of years to form, are rich in manganese, nickel, cobalt and rare earth metals, key components of batteries for electric vehicles. DeepGreen argues deep-sea mining is a less environmentally and socially damaging alternative to terrestrial mining, and is crucial for transitioning to a greener economy.

DeepGreen is in the process of merging with blank-cheque company Sustainable Opportunities Acquisition Corp (SOAC) to become The Metals Company. The Metals Company plans to list on the Nasdaq in the third quarter.



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