Posted on September 20, 2022
A deep-sea mining company has been given the go-ahead to take 3600 tonnes of the Pacific Ocean sea floor in a controversial trial of its proposed mining project.
Nauru Ocean Resources Inc, a subsidiary of Canadian firm The Metals Company, says it has received permission from the International Seabed Authority (ISA) to pilot its extraction of 3600 tonnes of metal-rich “nodules” from an area of international seas.
The permission has been granted without the ISA finalising negotiations for deep-sea mining laws and regulations. The ISA is an organisation established by the United Nations.
The Government has resisted calls to take a stance against deep-sea mining, saying mining should occur only once strong environmental safeguards are finalised through ISA negotiations.
A spokesperson for Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta reiterated the Government’s position on Wednesday, declining to answer specific questions.
“New Zealand’s position is that deep sea mining should not take place unless we can ensure the effective protection of the marine environment as is required under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea,” the spokesperson said in a statement.
The mining has been opposed by four Pacific nations: Palau, Samoa, Fiji, and Federated States of Micronesia. At an oceans conference in Lisbon in June, French President Emmanuel Macron also called for deep-sea mining to be banned.
Green Party oceans spokesperson Eugenie Sage said the Government now needed to back a moratorium of deep-sea mining.
“The ISA is just showing that it’s not fit for purpose if it’s granting these large-scale, trial mining applications before it’s finalised its [regulatory] regime and without any robust process,” Sage said.
The Metals Company, in a statement published on its website last week, said the ISA had granted it permission to undertake the pilot, beginning this month and finishing before the end of the year.
“The trials will be monitored by independent scientists from a dozen leading research institutions around the world who will analyse the environmental impacts of both the pilot nodule collector vehicle and the nodule riser system,” the statement read.
The approval was given by the ISA’s Legal and Technical Commission, which means countries including New Zealand were not involved in the decision.
New Zealand crown research institute Niwa has signed up to assist the company in analysing data from the trial, alongside Australia’s national science agency CSIRO.
Nauru, Kiribati and Tonga have all sponsored the Metals Company’s proposed mining of metal-rich nodules found within the Clarion Clipperton Zone, an expanse of international water between Kiribati and Mexico.
The potato-sized nodules at the bottom of the ocean are rich with metals such as cobalt and manganese, needed for clean-energy technologies, including electric car batteries.
Sage said extracting the nodules would cause major issues through disrupting sediment, and would repeat “the same exploitative approach to the seabed that we’ve seen on land”.
“They say they’re doing it for batteries for electric vehicles, but we can’t have desire to protect the climate leading to trashing of the ocean through deep sea mining.
“We need more EVs, but we need to do that by recovery and reprocessing of those metals – cobalt, nickel, and the like – rather than trashing the seabed.”
A Niwa spokesperson said the agency had no involvement in the preparation of the pilot, but it would use the data the trial provided to “inform the ecosystem modelling work”.