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Deep sea mining: Norwegian Parliament votes in favor of manganese mining

Deep sea mining: Norwegian Parliament votes in favor of manganese mining

As of: January 10, 2024 at 1:55 p.m

In Norway, Parliament spoke in favor of extracting rare minerals off its coast. This does not mean the beginning of digging. Environmental activists and researchers have already warned of the consequences.

A manganese nodule is a small black piece about the size of a potato. But they contain something special: in addition to manganese, they also contain rare earths, which play a key role in green technologies such as building wind turbines or electric cars. The catch: The tuber grows at depths of up to 6,000 meters – on the seabed of the Norwegian continental shelf. It is an area that has so far been spared from commercial mining.

But this could change soon. The government in Oslo is moving ahead with a plan to gradually open more than 280,000 square kilometers of seabed for deep-sea mining. Now the Norwegian Parliament in Oslo has voted in favor of this plan.

“Yes, we listen to the research.”

Pedro Ribeiro is head of the Center for Deep Marine Research in Bergen. Like many other scientists, he warns of irreversible environmental damage. “You can't extract minerals from the seabed without having consequences,” he says. “But we don't yet know the extent of these consequences.”

In November last year, around 120 EU parliamentarians also appealed to members of the Norwegian Parliament to vote against deep-sea mining. However, the plan has so far received support from all four major Norwegian parties, including the opposition.

Norwegian Energy Minister Terje Aasland also defended the project. “We think it can be done in a sustainable way,” he recently told a reporter. When she replied: “Aren't you listening to the research?”

The argument: rare earths for energy transmission

The Scandinavian Kingdom could now be one of the first countries to explore the seabed in search of mineral resources. Lawyers suspect that Norway will have to prepare for several international legal proceedings if mining actually begins. The country has signed several international treaties in which its fundamental fears due to the consequences of deep-sea mining could be thwarted.

However, in this context, the center-left government repeatedly points to the enormous need for rare earth minerals and materials: they are urgently needed for the transition to green energy.

Kaja Lone Viartoft, an expert on marine issues from WWF Norway, considers this argument questionable. “This contradicts the opinion of leading European researchers, who unanimously say that it is greenwashing to claim that these minerals are essential for the green transition,” she says.

Businesses must apply

Norway is the largest oil and gas producer in Europe. As the end of fossil energy production approaches, pressure is increasing to find new marketing sources.

The decision taken by Parliament this week does not mean that drilling will begin immediately. Companies interested in mining must now apply to Parliament for licences.

Anne Britt Backenpohl, RD Stockholm, Tagesschau, January 10, 2024, 12:04 pm