Deep-Sea Mining: Mouthwatering Prospects, Yet Disturbing Questions Remain Unanswered

There is a universal call to shift away from our reliance on fossil fuels, and the push to switch to cleaner renewable energy has created a huge demand for several minerals, such as copper, manganese and cobalt. At the moment, this demand is being met by terrestrial mines, but the allure of the vast mineral deposits on the planet’s sea beds has brought the possibility of deep-sea mining closer than ever before.

International Rules Almost Complete

Mining companies have for long had their eye on the treasures beneath the world’s oceans, but the absence of enabling rules for deep-sea mining in international waters has kept activities to the exploration phase.

This is now set to change as the International Seabed Authority (“ISA”), an entity chartered by the United Nations, is about to complete the rules aimed at regulating commercial mining on the seabed. These rules have been long in coming as there was immense pressure from commercial interests and groups interested in environmental conservation. Within a year, the drafted rules will be ratified by the member states constituting the UN.

Treasure in the Deep

Of great interest to mining companies are the polymetallic nodules found at the bottom of the sea, several kilometers beneath the seabed. These nodules are about the size of a potato, and they contain various types of minerals deposited around some organic matter, such as the discarded teeth of sharks.

These nodules are concentrated in different stretches beneath the seabed, and exploratory work indicates that compared to what has been extracted from land-based mines, the deep-sea deposits dwarf what has ever been mined before.

Environmentalists are Jittery

With the environmental damage left in the wake of terrestrial mining operations, conservationists are concerned that deep-sea ecological systems could be irreversibly damaged once commercial extraction of minerals beneath the sea begins.

Their concerns aren’t altogether unfounded, given how little is currently known about the ecological systems beneath the sea. For instance, as recently as 2016, seafloor researchers identified seven new animal species that had never been documented in the marine eco-system. The concern is, how much more hasn’t been discovered and will be lost once mining commences?

Furthermore, researchers have tried to simulate what it would be like if collection vehicles moved on the seabed. They were shocked that the test tracks made in 1989 were still intact on the seabed several decades later. More disturbing was the observation that aquatic creatures shied away from populating the disturbed areas, and this could be a pointer to what may happen once full-scale mining operations begin.

There have been calls for a decade-long moratorium on deep-sea mining to be declared as these concerns are addressed while some groups say such a drastic step isn’t warranted, especially now that ISA is about to publish its proposed regulations.

To what extent will those regulations be enforceable and not just suggestions? How comprehensive are they in addressing all the concerns of interested parties on matters connected to deep-sea mining? Those and other questions may be on the minds of mining sector players like Bullfrog Gold Corp. (CSE: BFG) (OTCQB: BFGC) (FSE: 11B), as well as on the minds of those championing the conservation of the marine eco-system.

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