Settlement: Trump Administration Must Study Environmental Risks Before Approving Deep-sea Mining


WASHINGTON— Before the Trump administration approves any deep-sea mining projects it must conduct an in-depth analysis of the risks to wildlife and underwater ecosystems, according to a legal settlement filed today in response to a Center for Biological Diversity lawsuit.

The Center sued the federal government in 2015 over its approval of exploratory permits for a Lockheed Martin subsidiary to do deep sea mining work in the Clarion-Clipperton Zone halfway between Mexico and Hawaii. Several countries and mining companies are pushing deep-sea mining projects in the South Pacific and ocean scientists fear it could devastate deepwater ecosystems.

“Deep sea mining can be as destructive to the ocean floor as strip mining is to the mountains of Appalachia,” said Emily Jeffers, an attorney with the Center. “The Trump administration will try to do everything it can to exploit wild places for profits. This agreement will be an important step in protecting sea turtles, whales and other wildlife threatened by deep-sea mining.”

The deep ocean is believed to contain billions of dollars worth of nickel, copper, cobalt, manganese, zinc, gold and other rare-earth metals and minerals. Extracting those materials has been considered too expensive, difficult, and risky for investors. But technological advances and skyrocketing prices for these materials, much of which are used in consumer electronics, have triggered a strong push by the mining industry.

More than two dozen exploratory deep-sea mining permits have been issued in the South Pacific, often by small island nations that are currently threatened by sea-level rise and other climate change impacts. Solwara I, permitted by Papua New Guinea in its territorial waters, could be fully operational in 2018. The International Seabed Authority, a consortium of nations around the world interested in deep-sea mining in the South Pacific, is currently developing environmental protocols for mining projects. But the United States, which is not a party to the United Nations Law of the Sea that created the authority, has asserted the right to permit deep-sea mining projects on its own.