CRITICAL MINERALSNorway the First in the World to Approve Seabed Mining. Is It a Good Idea?

By Sølvi Normannsen

Published 17 January 2024

The transition to a greener, renewable economy will require large amounts of minerals, and society has to get them from somewhere. Norwegian politicians have reached an agreement approving deep sea mining, in a proposal that has reaped both cheers and frustration from scientists and activists alike. Here’s what our scientists think.

In early June 2023, the Norwegian government presented plans (in Norwegian) that could make Norway one of the first countries in the world to allow commercial deep sea mining of minerals.

On December 5, four major political parties  — the Norwegian Labour party (Ap), the Centre party (Sp), the Conservative party (Høyre) and the Progress party (FrP) said that they had secured a majority to support an amended proposal to open the Norwegian continental shelf to mining. The proposal will come up for a formal vote in the Storting in early January, 2024.

The agreement was reached given the requirement that the Storting approve the first development projects, as is done for certain projects in the petroleum sector.

The area proposed for development lies south of Svalbard, in the High North, and to the south and east of Jan Mayen, a Norwegian island about halfway between the mainland and Greenland. All told, the potential development area encompasses 281,000 km2  in the Barents and Greenland Seas.

You can read more about the decision in a press release from the Norwegian government here (in English).

Fiji and Norway Have the Most Minerals
After Fiji, Norway is the country in the world with the most mineral-rich areas within its own economic zone.

Many believe that the transition to green energy will be difficult for Norway, without the country itself having the ability to provide cobalt, copper, zinc and other raw materials that go into batteries, electric car engines, wind turbines, solar cells and power lines.

There’s also another reason why politicians and industry representatives are so excited about the prospect.

Ever since 1969, when oil was discovered on the Norwegian continental shelf, Norway has built the know-how and expertise to work in the harsh environment of the North Sea.

From that perspective, deep sea mining can look like a logical next step in the country’s industrial development.

Jubilation and Despair
The politicians’ decision led Offshore Norway and the Norwegian Confederation of Business to cheer. Friends of the Earth Norway (Naturvernforbundet) calls the government’s plans crazy.

The government’s own Geological Survey has registered unusually sharp objections. Political opponents believe that Norway is at the forefront of razing the seabed, while the Wilderness Fund calls it the biggest disgrace in the history of Norwegian marine management.