Deep sea mining faces regulatory push-back

Plans to extract minerals from the ocean floor are expected to be put on hold next week at a meeting of the UN body regulating the sector, according to observers.

Environmental groups expect next week’s meeting of the International Seabed Authority (ISA) in Kingston, Jamaica, to rule out any immediate permission for mining to begin. Countries will also discuss a moratorium later in the month to ensure projects do not go ahead without safeguards.

However, mining companies say the ocean floor is potentially rich in metals like nickel and cobalt used in batteries for electric vehicles, so their extraction will support the global energy transition.

The meeting follows Norway’s recent announcement that it is considering allowing deep-sea mining in its territorial waters.

The areas to be opened are in the Greenland Sea, the Norwegian Sea and the Barents Sea and cover an area of some 280,000 square kilometres (108,000 square miles). Licenses for smaller areas would be offered to exploration companies over time.

The seabed in Norway’s proposed mining area is rich in polymetallic nodules, containing high concentrations of copper, nickel, cobalt and other sought-after metals. Norway argues that these materials, commonly used in batteries and electric vehicles, are critical to a successful energy transition.

The country claims to be taking a leading role in the global race to mine the ocean floor for metals that are in high demand.

“We need minerals to succeed with the green transition,” Oil and Energy Minister Terje Aasland said in a statement.

The move sets Norway at odds with some of its European counterparts: France in January banned deep-sea mining in its waters, while Germany has called for a pause in the development of the industry.

Parliament is set to debate the proposal in the autumn. The centre-left coalition rules in a minority but the proposal could pass with the support of some opposition parties.