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More knowledge is best gained without a moratorium

Black smoker chimneys at the Fåvne hydrothermal vent field, Arctic Mid-Ocean Ridge. Photo: Trond Mohn Centre for Deep-Sea Research/University of Bergen.

– We need as much knowledge as possible about minerals on the seabed. A moratorium will make this work more difficult, says Jon O. Hellevang, R&D Manager in GCE Ocean Technology.

BT writes in an article on 27 December (language Norwegian), that while Norway is opening up for mining, Fiji will rather protect the seabed at least until 2030.

It could be read as there exists a great disagreement about the extraction of marine minerals between different nations, while the reality is rather slightly different shades of green transitioning according to Hellevang who responded to the article as described below:

The fact is that 167 countries are working together in the ISA (International Seabed Authority) to establish a common legislation for the extraction of seabed minerals. The work of acquiring knowledge related to the deep-sea environment, the resource base and legislation has been going on for several decades.

– Here it is great to read that Fiji will collaborate with the University of Bergen (UiB) to accelerate this acquisition of knowledge further in the sea decades, explains Hellevang.

Several leading environments in Norway and internationally are currently starting up the Eco-Safe Ridge Mining project, which is led by UiB to strengthen the knowledge base about the ecosystem in the deep sea and to identify possible negative consequences for future extraction of marine minerals.

I am convinced that a joint effort between the public, private and research groups is the best and fastest way to accelerate the acquisition of knowledge, Jon O. Hellevang.

In international waters, there is a requirement for a state to stand behind companies that have exploration licenses for minerals. The exploration of the deep sea therefore takes place in close collaboration between public and private actors, where industry can contribute with expertise and technology that research environments do not have access to.

A moratorium (protection) advocated by Fiji and WWF will weaken the acquisition of knowledge and give us a poorer basis for decision-making for the ongoing opening process.

The acquisition of knowledge related to the deep sea will not stop in 2023, when the Norwegian government plans to present the impact assessment to the Storting. It will be an important topic towards, during and after a possible recovery starts at the earliest towards the end of this decade.

In my experience; everyone wants to take responsibility and contribute to a sustainable energy transition. Knowledge of technology and industrial solutions is central to assessing possible negative environmental impacts, Jon O. Hellevang

Dust clouds in the water is an example of a possible problem with extraction. Today, we work with closed systems where this challenge is greatly reduced.

Mineral deposits on the seabed can have about five to ten times greater concentration of important metals than today's land mines. This offers potential for far less use of land and energy, as well as less tailings for disposal. Overall, this provides opportunities for a more sustainable extraction of minerals at sea than on land.

WWF has in various contexts pointed to unique wildlife around active underwater volcanoes and that an enzyme isolated from a microbe by these has been used to diagnose covid-19. It is well known that active volcanoes have a unique wildlife. No players want or plan to extract minerals from such active systems. It would not be environmentally sustainable, nor economically attractive.

What about the climate?

Climate change is hitting Fiji and many other countries hard. To reduce climate change, the world is facing an enormous energy transition. This requires large investments in renewable energy production and battery technology for electrification of the transport sector.

The International Energy Agency IEA and several others have pointed out that four times as much minerals will be needed in 2040 as today to achieve the climate goals. The higher the climate ambition - the more minerals are needed. Increased recycling will contribute, but unfortunately only to a limited extent in the short term.

The ocean is important for energy and food supply. We know that the ocean contains large amounts of minerals that are central to energy conversion. – I do not think Fiji, Norway, the WWF and the industry disagree as much as some would like to portray,  writes Hellevang.

– Together, we have a common desire to take responsibility for accelerating the acquisition of knowledge about the deep sea, so that we can make the energy transition in a knowledge-based, efficient and as sustainable way as possible, Hellevang ends.


Contact Information

Jon O. Hellevang

R&D Manager

Jon O. Hellevang

Kjersti Boge Christensen

Communication Manager

Kjersti Boge Christensen

About the author

Jon Oddvar Hellevang works for GCE Ocean Technology and NORCE and has previously worked at TechnipFMC in Kongsberg. He has a Master in Physical Electronics, Photonics from NTNU, and more than 15 years of experience from research, development and innovation in the intersection between industry and applied research.

Jon assists our partners and members with project development. The focus is on establishing partnerships, identifying funding opportunities and preparing applications for relevant funding schemes. Jon develops and holds annual courses for the cluster within project development.

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