Parliament approves seabed mining

Norway emerges as leader in controversial new industry 

Photo: Javad Parsa / NTB
Protesters and activists from Norway and elsewhere gathered outside the Storting ahead of the Jan. 9 vote.

On Jan. 9, the Norwegian Parliament (Storting) voted to open for exploration and extraction of sought-after minerals on the deep seabed, after the Labor Party and Center Party in December reached an agreement with the Conservative Party and the Progressive Party.

The majority of the Storting believes that mining will facilitate profitable, sustainable, and sound offshore mineral operations.

The four parties agreed on seabed mining in early December, and on Jan. 9 it was adopted in the Storting.

The government has said there is increased interest in these resources because the demand for important metals is increasing worldwide. They also argue that it is important to increase self-sufficiency in a time of increased international tension.

Great resistance

Opponents, on the other hand, believe that seabed mining could have catastrophic and irreversible consequences for ocean wildlife and nature.

Both Norwegian and foreign environmental activists gathered outside the Storting on Jan. 9 in protest of the decision.

“Gambling so recklessly and arrogantly with nature by overriding all industry knowledge and rushing the opening process without closing the major knowledge gaps can have catastrophic consequences, both for life in the sea and Norway’s reputation,” said Secretary General Karoline Andaur of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).

“Norway has buried its own credibility as a responsible ocean conservator,” adds Gytis Blaževičius, president of the organization Natur og Ungdom (Nature and Youth).

Predictability

“When we start a new industry on the Norwegian continental shelf, it is important that there is broad majority support and that you have put in place the framework that can ensure predictability,” said Marianne Sivertsen Næs (Labor Party) when it became known that the government parties had reached an agreement with the Conservative Party and Progressive Party in December.

The Conservative Party has also pointed to the importance of known and predictable frameworks for industry players in deep-sea mining operations. However, the party emphasized at the time that requirements for the environment and environmental mapping in the exploration phase and the authorities’ responsibilities will be specified in the agreement.

“Extraction should only be allowed if future knowledge shows that it can be done sustainably and soundly, and after the government has presented an up-to-date knowledge base of the deep-sea environment,” said Conservative Party speaker Bård Ludvig Thorheim.

“Must be realistic”

Norwegian Trade Organization President Svein Tore Holsether believes it is right and timely for Norway to open to searching for minerals on the seabed.

“We must be realistic when it comes to what raw materials the world actually needs, and consider how vulnerable the value chains are,” he pointed out to NTB.

Holsether points in particular to Russia’s war against Ukraine, which has created a new situation when it comes to access to critical raw materials, including minerals used in the production of goods such as electric cars, wind turbines, and mobile phones.

“We could delegate to everyone else to figure this out, but starting to explore what the opportunities are in Norway, I think that is the right thing to do,” he said.

“Dark day for nature”

The Socialist Left Party, the Socialist Party, the Green Party, and the Christian Democratic Party voted against the government’s decision and write in their opinion paper that Norway lacks knowledge of the environment in 99% of the marine areas that are considered for mining.

“The Conservative Party, Labor Party, Center Party, and Progressive Party have pushed through a completely irresponsible decision without investigating the consequences. They have no idea what kind of effect this can have for life in the sea and the fish stocks in the Norwegian Sea and the Arctic,” said Une Bastholm, parliamentary representative for the Green Party.

“This is a dark day for nature,” said environmental political spokesperson Sofie Marhaug in the Socialist Party.

500,000 signatures

The area being investigated for seabed mining is located in the Arctic, between Svalbard, Greenland, Iceland, and Jan Mayen. According to environmental organizations, this area is almost as large as Italy.

In six weeks, the civil society movement Avaaz collected over 500,000 signatures in a call that requires Norway to stop all plans for seabed mining. The signatures were handed over to Næs outside the Storting ahead of the Jan. 9 vote.

Greenpeace activist Amanda Louise Helle said the organizations will continue to do what they can to stop the mining.

“We will do all we can to stop this devastating industry before it starts,” she said.

This article originally appeared in the February 2024 issue of The Norwegian American.

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NTB

NTB (Norsk Telegrambyrå), the Norwegian News Agency, is a press agency and wire service that serves most of the largest Norwegian media outlets. The agency is located in Oslo and has bureaus in Brussels, Belgium, and Tromsø in northern Norway