From left, Terje Halleland, Aleksander Oren Heen, Marianne Sivertsen Naess and Bard Ludvig Thorheim give a joint news conference Tuesday in Oslo, Norway, on a new seabed mineral exploration deal. Terje Pedersen, NTB Scanpix via AP

Arctic - Arctic Ocean deep-sea mining gets OK from Norway lawmakers

Norway could become the first country in the world to mine the deep sea, but many scientists and environmentalists fear that this might blow open the door for a new frontier of extraction, with companies and governments from the Arctic to the Pacific in a race to reap the riches of the ocean…

COPENHAGEN, Denmark — Norway’s minority center-left government and two large opposition parties made a deal this week to open the Arctic Ocean to seabed mineral exploration despite warnings by environmental groups that it would threaten the biodiversity of the vulnerable ecosystems in the area.

Norway said in June it wanted to open parts of the Norwegian continental shelf for commercial deep sea mining in line with the country’s strategy to seek new economic opportunities and reduce its reliance on oil and gas.

The head of Greenpeace Norway, Frode Pleym, said the decision was “a disaster for the sea” and the mining would take place in “our last wilderness.”

“We do not know what consequences this will have for the ecosystems in the sea, for endangered species such as whales and seabirds, or for the fish stocks on which we base our livelihood,” he said.

Martin Sveinssønn Melvær of the Norwegian Bellona environmental group said the move was “completely contrary to scientific recommendations" and believed it was "a dangerous derailment in the fight against climate change to open up seabed minerals.”

The government — made up of the Labor and the Center Party — made the deal with the conservatives from Hoeyre and the Progress Party, Norwegian news agency NTB said.

It said they had agreed on a step-by-step opening process where the Norwegian parliament, or Stortinget, will approve the first development projects, in the same way as it has done for certain extraction projects in the petroleum sector.

Terje Aasland, Norway’s minister for petroleum and energy, told Norwegian public broadcaster NRK that “we will do this carefully, we will do it step by step. We will collect knowledge, then we will assess whether it is possible to start with this extraction.”

The Scandinavian country, which is one of the world’s wealthiest countries due to its vast oil and gas reserves, says there are significant mineral resources on the seabed of the Norwegian continental shelf.

According to the Norwegian Petroleum Directorate, there are sulphides and manganese crusts containing metals and minerals that are crucial for making batteries, wind turbines, PCs and mobile phones.

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