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JM | Dec 23, 2020

Jamaican company to get 15-year licence for deep-sea metals exploration

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Blue Minerals Jamaica will be mining for polymetallic nodules. (Photo: International Seabed Authority)

The International Seabed Authority (ISA) has approved a 15-year license for Jamaican company, Blue Minerals Jamaica Limited to carry out deep-sea exploration in the Clarion-Clipperton Zone (CCZ) in the Pacific Ocean.

Blue Minerals Jamaica will be mining for polymetallic nodules, which contains battery metals such as copper and nickel, which can be found in abundance in the Pacific Ocean. The company, which is being sponsored by the Government of Jamaica was notified last week of the ISA’s approval of the 15-year deep mining license it has been awarded.

Jamaica is the second Caribbean country and the sixth small island developing state to sponsor a contractor for exploration in the CCZ. The ISA, which is based in Kingston, Jamaica meets at intervals to approve deep see mining licenses and sets the regulatory framework for such activities.

The CCZ is already being investigated by a number of other mining companies for the possible extraction of base metals integral to the energy transition. Currently, there are no active deep sea mining operations taking place in the CCZ.

However, there has been much discussion about mining in the CCZ, as the metal industry demand for battery metals such as cobalt, nickel and copper continues to gain traction. The area is believed to contain potentially large deposits of polymetallic nodules, which are a source of nickel, cobalt, copper and manganese.

Blue Minerals Jamaica work plan to be submitted

Blue Minerals Jamaica is to submit its work plan for approval by the ISA following which it will be able to sign the 15-year license with ISA to explore a geographical area in the CCZ covering almost 75,000 km-square of ocean space. This location is made of parts of reserved areas contributed by the government of the Republic of Korea, UK Seabed Resources and the Inter-oceanmetal Joint Organization.

S&P Platts, which is the leading independent provider of information, benchmark prices and analytics for the energy and commodities markets, reports that the system of so-called “reserved areas” ensures that developing countries can access deep-sea mineral resources. Reserved areas are contributed when States apply to ISA for exploration rights.

The energy analytics firm reports that these reserved areas are then held in a “site bank” which is reserved for access by developing countries or for the enterprise they sponsor.  There have been calls for a moratorium on deep sea mining.

The targeted exploration area of the Clarion-Clipperton Zone. (Photo: International Seabed Authority)

One group, the Responsible Mining Foundation recently pointed to the need for a moratorium on deep sea mining to be enforced until the process is fully researched and understood. As the world gears up for energy transition, it is no secret that more minerals will be needed to fuel a sustainable future.

As such the idea has been posited to dig up the sea bed and extract raw materials, with one argument that any carbon emissions will be absorbed by the water. However, there is growing concerns about deep sea exploration. 

Growing concerns about deep sea mining

Managing Director and Global Head of ESG Research and Data at S&P Global, Manjit Jus, spoke about the growing concerns with deep sea mining. According to Jus, “as we’ve seen with the growing criticism around exploration and production activities of energy and mining companies in remote parts of the world, there’s certainly growing concern from investors and other stakeholders…”

Jus argues that, “companies venturing into new methods of mining and extraction, especially in delicate ecosystems such as underwater, need to be prepared to show that the benefits outweigh the costs and potential risks… They can justify these practices to an increasingly aware investment community, not to mention the social resistance they are likely to face — impacting their reputation and social license to operate.”


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