Norway set to make history as first nation to mine seafloor minerals amidst environmental debate

By Elías Thorsson - July 4, 2024
Kart over utlysningsareal på norsk kontinentalsokkel
The part of the continental shelf that is within Norwegian waters, companies can apply for an exploitation license for the areas marked in yellow. Credit: Sokkeldirektoratet.

The Norwegian Ministry of Energy unveiled last week a proposal for a licensing round for seabed mineral exploration on the Norwegian continental shelf. This keeps Norway on course to become the first country in the world to allow the mining of seafloor minerals. The proposal aims to identify areas suitable for sustainable mineral extraction, contributing to the global push for green technologies.

The proposal delineates specific regions where companies can apply for exploitation licenses, initiating exploration and gathering data. This step follows a strong parliamentary backing and the formal opening of areas in the Norwegian Sea and the Greenland Sea earlier this year.

“The world needs minerals for the green transition, and Norway is poised to lead in their sustainable extraction. We aim to balance resource management with environmental stewardship, starting with today’s public consultation,” Minister of Energy Terje Aasland said in a press release.

The consultation, open until September 26, 2024, encompasses 386 blocks, about 38% of the newly available area. The Ministry plans to award licenses by mid-2025, adhering to rigorous environmental standards throughout the process.

As a part of the licensing procedure, applicants must submit detailed work programs, which the ministry will review in order to emphasize sustainable and responsible exploitation.

According to the ministry, the first steps towards seabed mineral extraction in Norway are being carefully monitored to ensure minimal environmental impact and alignment with the country’s long-standing commitment to sustainable ocean management.

Despite the government’s stated commitment to environmental concerns, groups such as Norway’s branch of the WWF have claimed seabed mining could cause irreversible damage.

“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 WWF said in a statement.