Mining of the Pacific Ocean floor has been delayed as the IAEA finalizes the rules

The start of industrial-scale seabed mining to extract car battery minerals from the Pacific Ocean floor has been delayed after the international agency charged with overseeing the work concluded late last week that it needed more time to finalize mining rules.

work before International Seabed AuthorityInc., which had set a goal in July to finalize rules for seabed mining, came after pressure from environmentalists and countries opposed to the effort.

The decision will directly affect metal company, A Canadian-based mining startup has teamed up with the small island nation of Nauru to pursue its first license to begin mining on an industrial scale, perhaps as soon as next year — a timeline that will now be delayed.

Just how long the delay might be is unknown. The maneuvers are being played by both opponents of seabed mining, who want to stop mining altogether, as well as by proponents, who want to know how to start mining by 2025.

Efforts to delay the start are being led by countries including Costa Rica, Chile and France. The three countries urged the other members of the Seabed Authority’s governing board to agree not to grant any permit allowing mining in international waters until the regulations are finalized. The authority agreed that this likely won’t happen until 2025 at the earliest.

“We are on the ocean side,” said Gina Guillen Grillo, a Costa Rican representative to the Seabed Authority who helped lead opposition to seabed mining. We know that there is not enough science. Starting now would be a disaster.”

Gerard Baron, CEO of Metals Company, said he remains optimistic that his company and partner Nauru will receive the necessary approval to begin the effort within the next several years.

Mr. Barron said that while the Seabed Authority continues its work to determine environmental standards, as well as the royalty rate that mining contractors will pay, among other things, the Metals Company will continue to pressure other states. The company aims to convince them that mining on the ocean floor is better for the environment than surface mining in places like Indonesia or Congo, where battery minerals like nickel, cobalt and copper are now being produced.

“Hopefully we can keep the schedule on track,” said Mr. Barron.

The Metals Company and Nauru, along with a delegation from China, which has also been aggressively pursuing seabed mining, pushed unsuccessfully at last week’s meeting of the Seabed Authority to set a goal of finalizing regulations by 2024.

Mr. Barron said that the metals company’s investors – among them Allseas GroupInc., a Swiss-based company that specializes in offshore oil pipeline operations, which is looking for a way to move into a business that can support the electric vehicle industry – has remained committed to the project.

The Seabed Authority, which is based in Jamaica, as it is now Issuing 31 contracts for exploratory work in the Pacific, Indian and Atlantic oceans. These agreements allow sponsoring countries and their contractors to collect small amounts of cobalt-rich seafloor rock or crust while collecting data on the environmental impact of the process, such as the risks that sediment plumes may pose to other aquatic life when the rock is lifted.

The most intense focus area is Clarion Clipperton Zone, a remote stretch between Mexico and Hawaii where seafloor rocks contain the highest concentration of minerals. The rocks lie at a depth of 2.5 miles, so deep that remotely operated machinery was needed to lift them onto collection ships.

This is the area where Metals wants to start its mining operations, convinced of this It could generate $30 billion in net cash flow after tax Over 25 years of initial project life. If successful, this small company that never turned a profit would become one of the world’s largest suppliers of key metals needed for electric vehicle batteries.

One of the biggest questions now is when Nauru will apply to begin mining on an industrial scale. It may do so before the regulations are finalized, knowing that the application will likely take at least one year to be reviewed and then acted upon by the seabed authority.

If Nauru and the minerals company have to wait until the regulations are finalized, seabed mining will not begin before 2026 amid continued opposition.

Environmentalists who have teamed up with countries like Costa Rica and France to challenge seabed mining said the delay would give them more time to recruit additional countries willing to see a long-term pause or even a cessation to the practice. nearly twenty countries It now supports some form of comment, down from just a handful a year ago.