Alaska Environment: “Don’t Mine The Deep Sea”

The following press release is courtesy of Alaska Environment:

For Immediate Release

Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Dangerous and unnecessary: New report finds we shouldn’t mine the deep sea

Better ways to meet critical mineral needs without extreme damage to deep-sea ecosystems

ANCHORAGE — According to a new report released Tuesday, we do not need destructive deep-sea mining operations to meet our critical mineral needs as Alaska and the world moves toward clean, renewable energy. In fact, the world trashes more copper and cobalt – metals used to build clean energy technologies – in our electronic waste than miners would likely extract each year from the central Pacific through at least 2035,  underscoring the importance of Right to Repair and other initiatives that reduce unnecessary electronics production.

The report, We don’t need deep-sea mining, released by Alaska Environment Research & Policy Center, U.S. PIRG Education Fund and Frontier Group just weeks ahead of a key international summit on the topic, outlines how mining operations could destroy vulnerable ecosystems off our coasts. It also details how taking common sense steps such as reducing the electronic waste we generate can help meet our mineral demands. 

“Deep sea mining would devastate ancient, slow-growing and remote ecosystems that are home to deep-sea coral, anemones, sponges and more,” said Kelsey Lamp, one of the report’s authors and the director of oceans campaigns for Alaska Environment Research & Policy Center. “Seabed mining would strip these habitats of life, introducing noise, light and pollution to places that are not equipped to handle it. We don’t know if these places will ever recover from mining damage – and that loss could have consequences for marine ecosystems beyond the seafloor.” 

The report finds that deep-sea mining could irreparably alter hundreds or thousands of square miles of seafloor, and create plumes of sediment and mining waste that could spread even further. Yet, mining proponents are using the threat of potential shortages of critical minerals – such as lithium, cobalt, nickel, copper and rare earth elements – as justification to carry out mining in one of the world’s last great wildernesses.

The report cites research indicating that deep-sea mining is not needed to meet the critical mineral needs of the energy transition. The authors outline how we can build a circular economy for critical minerals around the “5 Rs” – the traditional 3 Rs of “reduce, reuse and recycle,” coupled with reimagining products for greater efficiency and durability and repairing products to extend their lifetimes. Strategies like these could, according to research cited in the report, fully close global supply gaps for nickel and copper by 2030 and dramatically narrow gaps for cobalt, lithium and the rare earth element neodymium.

“Disposable electronic devices are creating a toxic e-waste mess. Now, some mining companies are trying to convince policymakers that we need to wreak havoc on the ocean to source the materials to make more,” said Dyani Chapman, the state director of Alaska Environment Research & Policy Center. “This report shows that we don’t need to ruin the deep sea and put our fisheries at risk to make the products we need. There is a more sustainable path: Make long-lasting, fixable electronics and recycle them when they no longer work.”  

This report comes as diplomats from around the world prepare to travel to Jamaica in July, where the International Seabed Authority could debate, for the first time, a proposal to put a moratorium on mining – or see a loophole pave the way for the first commercial exploitation of the deep sea for minerals ever undertaken.

To read the full report, and to see our interactive graphic on alternatives to deep-sea mining, visit our report page