SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — Members of the U.N. agency that manages international waters were locked in a heated debate late Friday over a new deadline for rules stuck in draft to allow deep-sea mining.
The Jamaica-based United Nations International Maritime Organization began a two-week conference on the issue on July 10, but the final day of the meeting was closed-door discussions.
“This is a marathon,” the agency’s secretary general, Michael Lodge, said at a press conference on Friday. “There are still loose ends to tie.”
The agency has yet to issue any temporary mining permits and has missed a July 9 deadline to approve rules to regulate such operations.
Companies and countries can apply for mining licenses as demand for precious metals, found in the deep sea and used in electric car batteries and other green technologies, increases.
The United Nations has issued more than 30 exploration permits, but none yet for actual mining. Most of the exploration is focused on an area of about 1.7 million square miles (4.5 million square kilometers) between Hawaii and Mexico, with work at depths of up to 19,000 feet (6,000 meters).
Members of the International Coastal Authority said they expected to continue work on the proposed regulatory framework at the third meeting in November.
Asked what would happen if a country or company applied for a deep-sea mining license with no regulations yet in place, Lodge said the council would deal with things as they come.
“The council has the ability to meet whenever it wants,” he said.
Council President Juan José González Mijares said in a statement that a regulatory framework must be put in place before any exploitation can begin.
An increasing number of countries are calling for an end to the damage caused by the deep mining or to stop the precautionary measures, and they are concerned about the possible damage to the environment. They want more scientific studies done first.
Scientists warn that such activity could create noise and light pollution by triggering sediment storms that are flooded and little explored.
Companies pushing for deep-sea mining, however, argue that offshore mining is cheaper and has less impact on the environment than land mining.