Deep-sea mining: a new gold rush is coming?

The battle to acquire seabed minerals may have already begun, and few talks about it. Deep-sea mining could already be a reality, and the need for rare minerals to decarbonize the planet could speed up this process.

International Seabed Authority is the body that should deal with regulating the activity of deep-sea mining.

ISA has granted about a dozen exploration contracts and is adopting a code to regulate this activity.

Seafloor contains many precious minerals, including copper, cobalt, aluminum, nickel, zinc, manganese, and many other rare elements. These elements, linked by a geological process that lasted millions of years, form the so-called polymetallic nodules. 

There is a piece of sea between Hawaii and Mexico, precisely in the Clarion-Clipperton Zone (CCZ), with many minerals. The value of the precious metals present in this piece of the sea could exceed 5 trillion dollars.

Clarion-Clipperton Zone (CCZ)
Image from i.dailymail.co.uk

These metals are indispensable for new green technologies and can enrich many mining companies. The demand for wind turbines, solar panels, and increasingly powerful batteries will skyrocket in the coming years. These seabed minerals are indispensable.

At the bottom of the sea is a treasure worth trillions of dollars, and no one will convince me that massive mining has not already begun in many parts of the world.

While the ISA discusses how to mine, ghost ships are likely already raking the sea, destroying the environment with the blessing of neighboring states.

Officially, the explorations began, but I think the collection of polymetallic nodules is already well underway, and many are still mining in secret. 

If you want to know more about this topic, keep reading. You will find many exciting things and many links to learn more.

Enjoy the reading.

What are Polymetallic Nodules

Let’s start by understanding what we are looking for at the bottom of the sea. Poly-metallic nodules, also called manganese nodules, are small multi-mineral stones. Some of these polymetallic nodules are small; others can be 20 cm wide.

Cobalt, nickel, copper, and manganese agglomerates cover a vast ocean seafloor surface. They detach the nodules from the ground, and they can collect from the ocean floor without mining.

It takes millions of years for the formation of a polymetallic nodule. This makes us understand how rare they can be. They are born through a geological process through the sedimentation of minerals on the seabed. It should be like a shallow water process occurring on the deeper seabed.

Polymetallic Nodules minerals composition
Image from fleetpoint.org

Not all Polymettallic Nodules have the same mineral composition; some will be more valuable based on the percentage of rare minerals in them.

Discovering these sediments is difficult because the deposits are hidden, but new technologies should make this task relatively easy.

These nodules are significant to the fauna that live at the bottom of the oceans, and it will take another million years for them to form once extracted.

Polymetallic nodules are in abundance in a specific area: the Clarion-Clipperton Zone (CCZ). It is an area located between Hawaii and Mexico. 

How does the extraction of Polymetallic nodules take place
Image from ceramics.org

Research suggests that around 6 billion tons of manganese and millions of tons of other rare minerals are in this area. The value of these sediments could exceed $ 5 trillion.  

How does the extraction of Polymetallic nodules take place?

As I said, I am not an expert on the subject; from what I understand, it is not actual mining. When one thinks of a mining business, one imagines having to break stones to extract precious minerals. In this case, the rocks are not attached to the ground, so nothing breaks.

Imagine a giant vacuum cleaner sucking the polymetallic nodules from the bottom of the sea. There are no rocks to break or tunnels to dig. It is much more difficult to extract oil or gas from the bottom of the sea. 

Through drones, it is undoubtedly possible to probe huge ocean surfaces in search of these sediments. Once the sediment has been identified, a platform ship will drop the nodule vacuum and start collecting. 

Polymetallic nodules deep-sea mining example

As soon as they are collected, they will dry land for processing. With the new technologies available, the procedure would seem simple enough. This type of extraction has been studied since the 1960s, but without drones and other new technologies, it was impossible to implement it.

It is a similar activity to stripping land-based mining. The polymetallic nodules are about 5 cm below the ground, so their collection is simple.

Is deep-sea mining a profitable business?

Deep-sea mining seems to be a gold rush without breaking a sweat. If it is true that there are more than 5 trillion dollars of rare metals in a single part of the sea and it is enough to inhale them, the chills come.

It’s not like picking apples; polymetallic nodules have formed these metals over millions of years; they will not reform once harvested. Their value is inestimable. 

However, investing in this business today seems impossible for small savers. There was only one company quoted on the United States stock market: Nautilus Mineral Inc. (NUSMF), which went bankrupt in 2019.

Another non-listed company is the Metals Company, which is expected to go public shortly in the US market under the name Deep Green Metals Inc.

However, I do not believe this business will be left in private; governments are likely to control the extractions. Strangely, there are no listed companies in this sector. 

The information available online is insufficient and fragmentary. I don’t understand whether it’s a business that is deliberately hidden or a non-existent trend.

The conditions for a gold rush are all there; the actual moment and the need for these minerals make their discovery urgent. 

The smaller quantities of metals available, the higher their costs. 

At the moment, it seems that the contracts in place are only intended for exploration.

Is deep-sea mining eco-sustainable?

The first question is whether this activity is ecologically sustainable for the marine environment. Greenpeace condemns deep-sea mining because it is harmful to the abyssal plain. According to Greenpeace, the destruction of the seabed would jeopardize biodiversity and destroy deep-sea ecosystems.

I have no expertise to determine whether Greenpeace’s concerns are legitimate. Based on experience, I know that the impact on the environment quickly takes hold when 5 trillion dollars are on the table.

However, I have verified that it is challenging to find existing contracts and deep-sea mining activities. 

According to Greenpeace, the roles of the companies part of the ISA list of contractors are opaque. 

However, I do not think it is an environmentally sustainable activity, as it is not to extract these materials anywhere on our planet. The change in the environment always has short- or long-term consequences.  

Has deep-sea mining already begun?

I don’t want to be a conspiratorialist, but wherever there’s easy money, there’s always someone ready to do anything to get it. 

If there are empty stones worth trillions of dollars at the bottom of the sea, does anyone think they aren’t collecting them yet?

Can we believe that they are waiting for the permissions or regulations of the Jamaican institution?

It is practically impossible to control what happens in the Pacific Ocean and in all international waters; any ship could carry out this activity without being seen.

any ship could deep-sea mining without being seen

Many underdeveloped states may be complacent and close both eyes by making extracts near the coasts. Blue carbon is also present in coastal ecosystems.

An extraction that is very similar has been underway for some years to extract diamonds. 

The technology already exists, we know where the polymetallic nodules are, so I am ready to bet that the harvest has already begun.

It is very worrying to think that their creation has taken millions of years. Will the green revolution solve or increase environmental problems by destroying this resource?

Why is there so little talk about this topic? Why are there no listed companies involved in this business? 

It’s all too little transparent and simultaneously all too attractive. A trillion-dollar treasure on the bottom of the sea. Does anyone believe that the gold rush has not yet begun? 

International Seabed Authority ISA

I cannot get a clearheaded idea about this institution. Its mission is to regulate and control all activities related to the extraction of minerals in the international seabed area. 

The first shock when searching online for this institution is their website. Since the International Society of Automation has already occupied the isa.org domain, they have added a.jm to save time. So the homepage of an international institution that should protect one of the world’s most critical resources is isa.org.jm.

I’d have spent a few minutes choosing an original domain name. The registered office is located in Jamaica. I have nothing against Jamaica, a beautiful country to go on holiday, but why is it the headquarters of an international institution?

Maybe these things are not important; let’s go a little deeper. A lot of governments are ISA members, practically all over the world.

Perhaps these things are not important; let’s go a little deeper. Many governments are ISA members, practically all over the world.

Yearly they meet in Jamaica and hold a general meeting. I cannot understand why this institution is in Jamaica, not in the United States or Europe.

At this link, you can download the strategic plan for 2019-2023. I have read the program, and there is nothing concrete, only a series of purposes. Various norms in the sea law conventions regulate mining activities.

Since now, seem to exist only exploration contracts.

The story of deep-sea mining in Papua new guinea

In January 2020, the first official deep-sea mine project failed miserably. The company involved was Nautilus Minerals Ltd, which is currently bankrupt.

Initially, the government of Papua New Guinea participated in the project, even though the first protests in defense of the marine environment began immediately.

The company carrying out the search had enormous difficulties and the operation was not going through. The Nautilus was unable to complete its task; the initiative failed miserably.

The Alliance of Solwara Warriors is an anti-mining alliance founded in Papua New Guinea. Like Greenpeace, this alliance opposes the extraction of minerals from the ocean to defend it by denouncing the environmental impact.

I believe that it would happen in any other part of the world, so I am convinced that the extraction is started in secret.

It is effortless to discover a mine on dry land, but it is probably possible to hide this extremely profitable activity on the bottom of the sea.

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