Deep sea mining: a new source of transition minerals


The energy transition has accelerated demand for a range of minerals required for batteries and renewable energy application, and has heightened global concerns over resource security. Accordingly, accessing the rich abundance of minerals that exist within the deep sea is of increasing interest in ensuring secure mineral supply chains.

Growth in deep sea mining remains relatively slow due to technological challenges and critically, legislative gaps, but there have been important recent developments. The International Seabed Authority has published draft Exploitation Regulations which are intended to establish clear standards, notably with regard to protecting the natural environment.

Meanwhile, Norway has been working towards its first licensing round for mineral exploration rights on the Norwegian Continental Shelf, implementing the Seabed Minerals Act, which was introduced in June 2019. Again, there is a clear focus on ensuring that the environment and other interests are safeguarded.

Casting an eye on the horizon, the development of clear national and international legal frameworks for deep sea mining could unlock vital supplies of battery metals; manganese, cobalt, nickel and copper.

In this article, we consider progress so far in deep sea mineral exploration and the development of technologies for seabed mining. We then describe the developing legal framework for mineral exploitation in the international seabed area, before focussing on Norway’s efforts to regulate and attract investment into mineral exploration on the Norwegian Continental Shelf.

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