The International Seabed Authority is once again gathered in Kingston, Jamaica to continue negotiations on a set of rules and regulations to govern seafloor mining in the high seas, beyond any nation’s borders.
At stake is access to vast fields of polymetallic nodules spread across the abyssal plains. These nodules are rich in nickel and cobalt, essential elements in the current batteries needed to electrify the world’s automotive fleets. Deep-sea mining for polymetallic nodules is presented as a means of breaking the world free of fossil fuel production that has the potential to be less harmful to the environment than current terrestrial cobalt and nickel mines.
And that might be right. As I said in the last talk I gave on deep-sea mining:
“I remain undecided. I do believe that there is a version of polymetallic nodule mining that has the potential to produce the metals we need for the electrification of the world’s automotive fleet in a way that represents a responsible compromise between the direct impacts of nodule extraction and the existential threat of failing to get emissions under control before the worst predictions of the International Panel on Climate Change become inevitable. I think it’s very hard to argue that polymetallic nodule mining is worse for the world than strip mining Indonesia’s remaining rainforests for nickel or having the children of Congo dig for cobalt.”Deep-Sea Mining: A whirlwind tour of the state of the industry and current policy regimes
Polymetallic nodule mining is not the only form of deep-sea mining. The ISA is tasked with governing mineral resources on the deep-seabed. This includes nodules, but also cobalt-rich ferromanganese crusts (seamounts containing cobalt ore) and seafloor massive sulphides (deep-sea hydrothermal vents). These three deposits are mined in wildly different ways and come with dramatically different environmental risks. I frequently argue that they comprise three entirely different industries.Read More