Norway’s parliament backs deep-sea mining plans

Norway has secured a parliamentary majority for its plans to open up for deep-sea mining despite opposition from environmentalists and the fishing industry, who warn the move risks further damage to fragile oceans.

The country’s minority centre-left government on Tuesday said it had won the support of the two main opposition centre-right parties for deep-sea mining exploration but that there would be tough environmental criteria to proceed with any extraction.

Oslo’s plans could also generate geopolitical tensions. The area it proposes to open up to exploration, in the Barents Sea and Greenland Sea, is close to Svalbard, the Norwegian archipelago in the Arctic. Norway believes it has exclusive mining rights off the Arctic islands, a position disputed by Russia, the EU and UK.

Sea beds in Norway and elsewhere are thought to contain vast deposits of minerals needed for electric batteries, wind turbines and other green industries, including copper, cobalt and rare earth metals such as neodymium and dysprosium.

Environmentalists say that the consequences of extraction on the seabed are unknown but are likely to damage fragile marine ecosystems.

Norway plans to open up about 280,000 sq km — an area just smaller than Italy — for exploration. Any extraction would take place only with parliamentary approval, similar to the country’s regime for oil and gas.

Norway’s own environment agency has opposed the plans because of “significant and irreversible consequences for the marine environment”, while the UK and Norwegian fishing industries have criticised the idea.

But the proposal was welcomed by Norway’s offshore oil and gas industry, which said that deep-sea mining could provide alternative jobs as petroleum activities wind down.