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Recently, Norway authorities discovered large reserves of metals and minerals on the seabed in its maritime borders.

The associated resources are said to be a major mining asset as they are in demand for green technologies. However, these new resources pose a series of questions about accessibility and environmental considerations.

While environmental sustainability is at the forefront of global government affairs, the demand for green technologies continues to increase. This means companies and governments need to find a steady supply of relevant resources. Copper, for instance, is a crucial metal for the electric vehicle (EV) industry but requires large mining operations, which can take upwards of 10 years to establish. In order to help keep up with demand over time, groups have been looking at the prospectiveness behind seabed mining.

Seabed mining has been indicated to be an abundant resource that could help resolve supply chain issues. According to a resource assessment that covered remote areas of the Norwegian and Greenland Seas, polymetallic sulphides were reported to host 38 million tonnes of copper. This is almost twice the amount of the current annual global production. The assessment also showed 24 million tonnes of magnesium, 3.1 million tonnes of cobalt, and 45 million tonnes of zinc are hosted within these areas.

Canadian mining giants like Teck Resources, Barrick Gold, and First Quantum Minerals already hold a large footprint in the Canadian mining sector that supports these critical minerals. Additionally, these companies have operations outside of Canada and focus on building their assets around these aforementioned resources. The potential of seabed mining may spark interest among these large-cap companies who could turn to seabed mining practices. However, it seems that the process to acquire resources from seabed mining may be in direct conflict with protecting the environment.

Activist groups press for more regulations

Already, environmental groups have spoken out to the Norwegian government to delay seafloor mineral exploration until more research can be done to understand the organisms living on the seafloor and the impact of mining on them. As a result, the UN-linked International Seabed Authority is expected to announce rules for this new industry in July.

Closer to home, Natural Resources Canada Minister Jonathan Wilkinson released a statement last week saying Canada should not participate in seabed mining activities. Not at least until there is a regulatory structure put in place for this sort of work. This was a joint statement with the Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard, Joyce Murray, who mentioned the Canadian government is still increasing the conservation of its oceans. Since 2015, this conservation work has increased from 1.00 per cent to 14 per cent. The ministers also mentioned Canada will push for international regulations to ensure that seabed mining in international waters does not create further negative impacts.

While these efforts are no doubt important, there’s still the issue of supplying these metals and minerals for clean technologies. Ultimately, these technologies are meant to go towards the conservation of our planet. The Canadian government has already recognized this need with its Critical Minerals Strategy. This strategy’s budget includes upward of $4 billion and has been designed to support Canada becoming a top global supplier of critical minerals and clean digital technologies.

Harmony for the environment and economy

In summary, the seabed mining industry may prove to be an essential piece to a more sustainable economy, but only if it can be done in a responsible manner. The discussions around this new industry have just begun, and environmental activists are voicing thoughts about pausing or even stopping this industry. On the other hand, governments and resource enterprises also need to consider alternatives to help meet demand and support the conversion to green energy.  

Further discussions will be needed between both sides as more research comes to light. For the time being, it is worth keeping an eye on this issue as the seabed mining industry may prove to be a worthwhile investment.

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