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Norway plans seabed mineral auction amid environmental criticism

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Norway is advancing towards potentially becoming the first country to engage in seabed mineral mining, as the government announced plans to auction off 386 blocks early next year. Despite strong criticism from environmental groups, the Ministry of Energy has initiated the first licensing round for seabed mining, inviting public feedback until the end of September with the aim to commence auctions in early 2025.

The proposal outlines 386 blocks within a 280,000 square kilometer area in Norwegian waters, stretching from Svalbard to Iceland and the mainland. This area was recently opened for mineral exploration on the continental shelf earlier this year, covering approximately 38% of the designated zone in the initial auction.

Minister of Energy Terje Aasland emphasized the government’s commitment to exploring sustainable seabed mineral extraction to support the global transition to low-emission economies. He noted broad parliamentary support for opening the area, highlighting Norway’s history of responsible resource management.

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However, the announcement has sparked sharp criticism from environmental advocates, including Norway’s branch of the WWF, who condemn the decision as environmentally irresponsible and potentially damaging to marine ecosystems. They argue that once licenses are awarded, it will be exceedingly difficult to halt future exploration efforts, drawing parallels to challenges faced in the petroleum industry.

Despite objections from both national and international experts, as well as scrutiny from the European Union, Norway remains steadfast in its approach to explore and potentially extract critical minerals from its seabed. The government acknowledges that further impact assessments and parliamentary approvals are necessary before exploration can proceed.

The debate underscores Norway’s dual role as a pioneer in seabed mining initiatives and a target of international concern over environmental stewardship. The outcome of the public consultation period and subsequent decisions will likely influence global perceptions and policies regarding seabed resource management and environmental conservation.

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