Wednesday, May 24, 2017

The Wild West of Deep-Sea Mining

From Hakai Magazine:
The International Seabed Authority is racing to draft regulations for the nascent deep-sea mining industry.

In the coming years, a new gold rush will begin. Deep beneath the ocean’s waves, from scalding hydrothermal vents to the frigid stretches of the abyssal plain, ocean processes have deposited vast quantities of valuable minerals on the seafloor. Now, the convergence of technological development and political will has placed this ore within reach. But like the gold rushes of old, the deep-sea-mining industry is emerging on the frontiers of society, far from legislatures and law enforcement.

Officially, the nascent deep-sea-mining industry is governed by the International Seabed Authority (ISA), an intergovernmental organization established in 1996 by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS)*. The authority’s critical task is to coordinate its 168 member nations in establishing and enforcing regulations for the developing deep-sea-mining industry.

But the ISA’s teeth are just coming in, says Duncan Currie, a legal advisor to the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition, an advocacy organization. At the moment, the authority still hasn’t created an enforcement agency. In addition, “they won’t and they can’t force countries to comply with ISA regulations when drafting their own laws,” says Currie.**

Back in 1982, when UNCLOS was still under development, US president Ronald Reagan and British prime minister Margaret Thatcher introduced an agreement guiding how the treaty would operate—a provision that also applies to the ISA. According to that agreement, once the ISA receives an application for a mining permit, it has two years to develop regulations. If the ISA does not finalize its rules after two years, it has to give the country provisional approval with whatever rules it has in place.

So far, the ISA has yet to finalize its regulations for deep-sea-mineral extraction. It has, however, already granted 26 permits for deep-sea-mineral exploration in international waters, though none yet for mineral extraction.

Though there appears to be little likelihood of a country bypassing the ISA’s permitting process, “there’s very little to stop them,” Currie says. At the moment, deep-sea mining in international waters is sufficiently far in the future that the regulatory situation has not yet made any country itchy enough to jump the gun, he says....MORE