Polymetallic nodules can be exploited for a wide-range of minerals that can be used in telecoms technologies, as well as in the energy sector

Deep sea mining Bill receives government support

Britain should be at the forefront of exploiting deep sea resources and make the most of seabed mining's "enormous potential".

Sheryll Murray (South East Cornwall) said scientists know materials that can be used in low-carbon technology, telecoms applications and other new technologies are on the surface of the seabed at great depths.

Foreign Office minister Alistair Burt said the government gave its support to Murray’s Bill saying mining companies were already lining up for licences to mine for "potato-sized" polymetallic nodules, which could be exploited for a wide-range of minerals that can be used in telecoms technologies, as well as in the energy sector.

One UK company has already been awarded a licence – one of 13 to be handed out by the International Seabed Authority for exploration in the north Pacific and Indian Ocean, MPs heard.

But Burt said it was important there was proper regulation of the emerging industry as he told the House of Commons that the government would support Murray’s Bill calling for greater regulations.

With the support of ministers, the Bill is likely to become law. It received an unopposed second reading and will now go to a committee for further scrutiny.

Murray, moving her Private Member's Bill which proposes amendments to the Deep Sea Mining (Temporary Provisions) Act 1981, told MPs: "The concept of deep sea mining is not new. But as we make technological advances, this new industry is fast becoming a reality and I am keen that Britain is at the forefront of this industry.

"Everybody will know my interest in the sea and the marine environment and nobody is more aware than me about the potential that the deep sea has in contributing to the great expertise this country is world-renowned for.

"The United Kingdom is well-placed to benefit strategically, economically and in employment terms, and to influence how deep sea mining is actually taken forward."

Murray said there is the potential in the next five years to look at exploitation of the deep sea resources and she believes it is important for the environment that the UK can control licence applications.

The MP said one of the important amendments she is seeking is to widen the scope of minerals for which licences can be granted.

She said: "The 1981 Act is limited to one type; polymetallic nodules. The Bill widens the definition to all mineral resources. In recent years there has been a growing interest in polymetallic sulphies and cobalt-rich crusts.

"There are no agreed international regulations with the exploration of these other mineral types. In the future, other different mineral types may be discovered or may become commercially viable for deep sea mining.

"UK-registered firms should be able to take part in exploration and possible exploitation of these resources as much as companies from any other state.

"Seabed mining has enormous potential. Scientists know that lying on the surface of the seabed at great depths are a valuable new source of nickel, copper, cobalt, manganese... and rare earth elements in the form of polymetallic nodules.

"The metals are vital to new materials technology. Nickel is used in superalloys, cobalt and manganese in energy storage technology and rare earth elements – strategically very important – are used in low-carbon technology, lasers, superconductors and many telecoms applications."

Murray said deep sea mining would not directly affect the UK because it would take place at least 200 nautical miles out to sea.

She added: "Deep sea mining is not fracking and that's important to emphasise. Neither does it involve many of the techniques associated with land-based mining. Specifically, deep sea mining for polymetallic nodules does not involve excavating any rubble, it does not involve the use of explosives.

"The nodules lie on the seabed, or partially embedded in sediments on the seabed. Techniques to mine these nodules are likely to involve scooping or vacuuming the nodules from the seabed.

"Mining for polymetallic nodules could be a lot less environmentally damaging than land-based mining for the same minerals."

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