Canadian Deep Sea Miner seeks ocean riches, island states lose big in mineral bonanza EV

As a Canadian deep-sea mining company strives to consummate its 15 years of “courtesy” with the United Nations agency charged with overseeing the fair and environmentally safe extraction of resources from the seabed, a new investigation report raises flags about the deal and its impacts.

The story centers on the world’s first industrial-scale mine site in international waters, a section of seabed about 1,500 miles southwest of San Diego that may contain enough cobalt, copper and nickel to power 280 million electric vehicles according to Vancouver-based The Metals. Company, the Vancouver-based mining startup promoting the project.

Under the 1994 Convention on the Law of the Sea, the deep sea mining that could soon begin in the Pacific Ocean is supposed to be undertaken for the benefit of all, and especially the world’s poorest. But a very long paper trail of documents and emails dating back 15 years points to a far less fair result, reports The New York Times.

The Times article says The Metals Company now has exclusive access to nearly 260,000 square kilometers (100,000 square miles) of seabed rich in rare minerals. He is to reap $31 billion from a 25-year-old deep-sea mining project.

The company hopes to have work underway by 2024.

Through interviews and review of “hundreds of pages of emails, letters and other internal documents”, the Times links this exclusive access to The Metals Company’s intense “courtship” of – with the International Seabed Authority (ISA).

Beginning in 2007, The Times claims that the ISA repeatedly came close to violating its mandate. An email trail indicates that ISA legal counsel Michael Lodge was working with The Metals Company, then operating as Nautilus, to release access to classified seabed resource data. Lodge is now entering his seventh year as ISA General Secretary.

The email trail has ISA staff sounding the alarm over ethical lapses, “including a revolving door of consultants and salaried attorneys who have worked for companies with cases ahead of them. the agency”.

At a meeting of the agency’s governing body last year, “a contractor from the Metals Company was among a group of businessmen who moved freely among international delegates as they were debating agenda items, including the company’s request for permission to sign a plan to test mining equipment,” writes the Times.

The ISA should also benefit directly from the success of The Metals Company, the report said. At last report, the miner “will pay an indefinite fee to the Seabed Authority once commercial mining [begins].”

As for the Pacific island nations of Nauru and Tonga, which have also been courted by The Metals Company, a representative of the Tongan community told The Times that the company offers a “mining production fee” of just $2. per ton.

“This payment would represent less than half of one percent of the company’s estimated total value of the mined material,” the Times notes.

The Metals Company “set out to game the system and use a poor, developing nation in the Pacific as a conduit to exploit these resources,” former Tongan parliamentarian Lord Fusitu’a told The Times.

The Metals Company declined to comment on the royalty payment in Tonga or any potential production royalty in Nauru.

The Times traces a Canadian venture capitalist’s exclusive access to such a vast swath of ocean floor to current seabed mining rules, under which “any nation may seek permission to conduct surveys to identify mining sites”. Nations must then immediately cede half of all promising sites to the ISA, which has a mandate to “set them aside as ‘reserved areas’ where less developed countries can launch their own projects”. Some 518,000 square kilometers (200,000 square miles) have been reserved so far.

But the Authority has failed to develop the unit to help developing countries pursue their mining endeavors independently, Ghanaian mining engineer and former ISA secretary general Nii Allotey Odunton told Reuters. UN in a 2011 speech. Thus, “the only realistic option for most developing states was therefore to form partnerships with commercial interests with access to the financial capital and technology necessary to carry out deep sea exploration” .

Thus, nearly half of the total area reserved was allocated to The Metals Company.

“These venture capital-backed companies can smell the desperation in these small island economies,” Maureen Penjueli, coordinator of the Fiji-based Pacific Network on Globalization, told The Times.

The Times says more about the mining technique The Metals Company plans to use and the ISA’s response to calls for further environmental assessment.

Lynn A. Saleh