The International Seabed Authority (ISA) has recently issued seven more exploration licences to state-owned and private companies for mineral prospecting on the seafloor. Licences have been approved for the exploration of polymetallic nodules for UK Seabed Resources, Ocean Mineral Singapore, and the Cook Islands Investment Corporation as well as the Government of India, the Germany Federal Institute for Geosciences and Natural Resources, the Russian Ministry of Natural Resources and Brazil’s Companhia de Pesquisa de Recursos Minerias.
Since 2001 ISA has issued 30 exploration permits for the Pacific, Mid-Atlantic and Indian Oceans. But the body stated that there has been increased interest of late with numerous private firms applying not only for mineral, but also for oil and gas extraction permits. The new licences take the total area of licensed seabed to 1.2 million km2 under 26 different permits for minerals prospecting.
The attraction of deep sea mining is the high grade deposits which can be up to seven times the grades typically mined on the surface. Canada’s Nautilus Minerals is currently the most advanced in deep sea mining with seafloor production tools, and it finally has an agreement in place with the PNG government to move forward with its Solwara 1 gold, copper and silver underwater project, located in the Bismarck Sea.
Michael Lodge, ISA’s Legal Counsel stated that “we are at the threshold of a new era of deep seabed mining”. However many environmental groups are passionate about preventing any development in seabed mining; with Greenpeace stating that seabed mining “poses a major threat to our oceans.” Whilst it appears that deep sea mining is on the horizon, how far away commercial extraction is remains a mystery, with the conditions and rules for actual mining still to be negotiated with the ISA.