Norway Takes Next Step to Mine Seabed Minerals to Dismay of Environmental Groups

Illustration of what seafloor mining could look like. (Source: Wikimedia under CC BY-SA 4.0)

Norway remains on track to possibly become the first country to engage in the mining of seafloor minerals. The country now announced that 386 blocks will be up for auction early next year. Environmental groups leveled harsh criticism at the government.

Norway’s Ministry of Energy this week announced steps for the first licensing round of seabed mining. The government invites public comments by the end of September and aims to auction off blocks of the seabed in early 2025.

The proposal designates 386 blocks in Norwegian waters between Svalbard, Iceland and the Norwegian mainland. 

The blocks are contained in a 280,000 square kilometer area which was designated open for exploration of minerals on the continental shelf earlier in 2024

The initial auction will cover around 38 percent of the total area. 

“The world needs minerals for the green transition, and the government wants to explore if it is possible to extract seabed minerals in a sustainable manner from the Norwegian continental shelf,” the Ministry of Energy Terje Aasland stated along with the announcement

Broad parliamentary support

Aasland highlighted the fact that the initial decision to open the area was carried by a large majority of parliament and that Norway has a long track record of responsibly exploring for and developing natural resources.

The Norwegian government pointed to the critical need of the types of minerals found on the seafloor to ensure the world’s transition to low-emission economies. 

“Minerals from the Norwegian seabed can become a source to meet parts of this demand,” Aasland said.

The public consultation period remains open for three months until September 26.

Map of the blocks up for auction. (Source: Sokkeldirektoratet)

Not an automatic path to exploration

The announcement cautions that the awarding of license areas does not automatically mean that exploration can begin. More impact assessments will be needed and ultimately parliamentary approval will be required, says the Ministry. 

Norway’s branch of the WWF slammed the decision as “environmentally irresponsible” as it can cause irreversible damage to the entire marine ecological system.

“Norway positioned itself at the forefront of seabed mining initiatives, despite stark warnings from national and international experts and significant criticism from the European Union and global research communities,” the statement said. 

Various factions of the EU parliament indeed criticized Norway’s decision and vowed to carefully monitor the development; certainly mostly symbolic rhetoric as Norway is not a member of the EU.

“This marks a significant blow to Norway’s reputation as a responsible steward of the oceans,” said Karoline Andaur, CEO of WWF-Norway.

She also cautioned that once licenses have been auctioned off it will be nearly impossible to stop the eventual exploration in those areas.

“Experience from the petroleum industry indicates that once significant investments are made, halting projects due to environmental concerns becomes nearly impossible,” she highlighted.

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