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Charting new waters: Norway’s dive into deep-sea mining

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In the depths of the Norwegian seabed, a towering robotic tripod kicks up sand as it drills, poised to collect samples from one of Earth’s last untouched realms. This striking apparatus belongs to Loke Marine Minerals, a pioneer in the nascent field of deep-sea mining. Recently, Norway’s parliament made a groundbreaking decision, granting permission for mining companies to explore a vast area of Norwegian waters equivalent to the size of Italy. This move is expected to pave the way for the extraction of minerals crucial for manufacturing electric cars, mobile phones, and solar panels.

Walter Sognnes, CEO of Loke, views the parliamentary decision as not only a green light for exploration but also an opportunity to advance towards actual mineral extraction. He emphasizes the importance of demonstrating acceptable environmental impact mitigation technologies alongside resource discovery to proceed with mining operations. Loke aims to extract manganese crusts from the seabed, which reportedly contain valuable cobalt and rare earth minerals.

However, venturing into this uncharted territory raises significant concerns among researchers and activists alike. The Institute of Marine Research in Norway has recommended further research for another five to ten years to better understand the deep-sea ecosystem before engaging in mining activities. There are apprehensions about the potential impact of mining on underwater ecosystems, particularly coral reefs and sponge habitats. Activists have vehemently protested against deep-sea mining, highlighting the grave threat it poses to marine life.

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The three companies poised to apply for exploration licenses in Norway are relatively new startups, backed by established maritime corporations. However, larger companies like Danish shipping giant Maersk and US defense company Lockheed Martin have divested from deep-sea mining ventures amid mounting controversies and environmental concerns. The global call for a pause on deep-sea mining until its environmental impacts are thoroughly understood has further complicated investment prospects for this industry.

Despite the uncertainties, Norwegian startups like Loke and Green Minerals remain optimistic about the potential of deep-sea mining. They propose to extract minerals like copper from seafloor massive sulfide (SMS) deposits, leveraging existing technologies from the oil and gas sector. However, they acknowledge the need for extensive data gathering and environmental assessments before commencing mining operations.

The future of deep-sea mining hinges on striking a delicate balance between resource extraction and environmental preservation. As Norway ventures into this new era of mining, stakeholders must carefully evaluate the risks and benefits to ensure sustainable practices and minimize ecological harm. The ongoing debate underscores the importance of informed decision-making and responsible stewardship of our planet’s oceans.

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