Gerard Barron

Gerard Barron is chairman and CEO of the Metals Company, which aims to mine the deep sea for materials used to make electric vehicle batteries.

(Photo: Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

Company's Deep-Sea Mining Plans Called 'Big Kick in the Teeth' for Ocean Protectors

"This is a cowboy company running out of cash and trying to ride roughshod over international decisions," said one Greenpeace campaigner.

Greenpeace on Wednesday again took aim at a Canadian startup after the deep-sea mining company announced its expected application costs, development timeline, and production capacity following an international agency's recent meeting that ended without finalized regulations.

"The Metals Company's (TMC) announcement flies in the face of international opposition to deep-sea mining, and it's a big kick in the teeth for governments that spent three long weeks debating the future of the oceans and concluded this industry should not get a green light," said Greenpeace campaigner Louisa Casson in a statement.

"It's clear that trying to mine the oceans is becoming politically toxic—even more so with zero rules in place. This is bullish talk to try and force governments into rushed decisions, but it will come back to bite them," she continued. "TMC are showing their true colors: This is a cowboy company running out of cash and trying to ride roughshod over international decisions."

Casson added that "instead of acting on scientific findings, which conclusively prove this industry will put the oceans in danger, they're announcing fanciful plans to ramp up production in a desperate attempt to reassure their worried investors and save their plummeting share price."

TMC and the Pacific nation of Nauru worked together in 2021 to pressure the International Seabed Authority (ISA)—which already permits companies to explore the deep sea for research—to finalize global rules for commercial mining by July 2023.

As Common Dreams reported last month, when the ISA Council convened in Jamaica, Greenpeace was among the environmental groups and governments that advocated for a ban on "reckless" deep-sea mining. The meeting wrapped up with negotiators deciding that additional talks on regulations were needed through at least the first half of 2024.

As Greenpeace explained last week, the ISA Council's July decisions "effectively mean that a majority of countries—including Brazil, Costa Rica, Chile, Vanuatu, Germany, and Switzerland—did not yield to pressure from the industry—supported by nations such as Norway, Nauru, and Mexico—to fast-track rules for deep-sea mining."

"Industry frontrunner the Metals Company saw its share price plummet as markets reacted to the news," the group noted. "However, the ISA still failed to close a legal loophole for companies to start mining next year."

As The New York Timesreported last month:

The area of most intense focus is the Clarion-Clipperton Zone, a remote stretch between Mexico and Hawaii where seabed rocks have the highest concentration of metals. The rocks sit 2.5 miles down, so deep that remotely operated machines are needed to lift them to collection ships.

This is the region where the Metals Company wants to begin its mining operations, convinced it can generate $30 billion in post-tax net cash flow over the 25-year life of the initial project. If it is successful, this small company that has never produced a profit would become one of the largest global suppliers of key metals needed for electric vehicle batteries.

TMC announced Tuesday that "subsidiary Nauru Ocean Resources Inc. (NORI) intends to submit an application to the ISA for an exploitation contract for NORI Area D following the July 2024 meeting of the ISA. Assuming a one-year review process, NORI expects to be in production in the fourth quarter of 2025."

TMC chairman and CEO Gerard Barron said that "NORI will monitor closely the progress that the council makes over the next three meetings" and both the parent company and its subsidiary "are prepared to work within the ISA's new roadmap."

"We are pleased to see the ISA's reiteration of their obligation to consider a plan of work when we are ready to lodge it in consultation with our sponsoring state," he added. "Meanwhile, our teams continue work on the scientific evidence to support NORI's application and we will include a campaign to revisit the site of last year's pilot collection trials in the Clarion-Clipperton Zone to further bolster our environmental knowledge. We will continue to share this data openly, with the entire world."

Some scientists have disputed industry claims about the necessity of deep-sea mining—given that metals used in battery-making can be extracted elsewhere—and warned that such activity could cause "irreparable damage" to fragile ecosystems.

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