Exploitation of seabed minerals may create future jobs in Norway and contribute significantly to Norwegian wealth creation, according to Norwegian Oil and Energy Minister Terje Søviknes of the Progress Party.

Can exploitation of seabed minerals become the big, new industry of tomorrow? The Norwegian Oil and Energy Minister believes so. He sees vast opportunities for future generations.

"We envision continual technological development. Minerals are in high demand globally, and this may thus constitute a vast potential," the Minister told High North News.

"Establishing a robust regulation regime is vital for reaching our goals in this area," Søviknes said when the Ministry of Oil and Energy last spring published its white paper on mineral operations on the Norwegian continental shelf.

No coherent legislation or regulations exist for this kind of exploitation activity as per today.

Wants to facilitate business

The deadline for the hearing expired last month. Some actors have been granted a prolongued deadline; however, it appears a proposal will be put forward to Stortinget (the Norwegian Parliament) this fall.

"The goal is to have the best possible framework for business and a good management system," Søviknes says.

The Norwegian ocean areas have not been much surveyed with regards to mineral deposits, and the exploitation of such resources on the seabed has been rather limited. If things go the way the minister hopes for, future exploitation may provide vast opportunities that come in addition to today's established sea-based industries. Norway holds a sea area six times as large as its land areas. 

A long way to go

When the white paper was published last May, the department expressed the view that the years to come will see increased interest for surveys mapping and later exploitation of mineral deposits, both globally and no the Norwegian shelf.

The long-term goal is to develop a license system in which companies want to exploit minerals from the seabed may apply.

When might such regulations be in place? How long will it be until Norway could, for example, exploit copper south of Bear Island (Near Spitsbergen, north of mainland Norway, ed.)?

"It is hard to provide an estimate, because this is a long-term process, and it is a part of the government's ocean strategy," Søviknes says. "What is crucial at this stage is to establish formal regulations and that, in and of itself, will attract interested actors."

Skeptical of seabed mining

So far, more than 40 responses have been recorded in the hearing process. Among them is a response from Nature and Youth, the Norwegian youth organization from Friend of the Earth.

"Commercial companies applied seven years ago for permission to exploit minerals on the Norwegian continental shelf. Regulations are not at all at the forefront of the development here, and Nature and Youth agrees that it is about time for an update of laws and regulations. However, we argue that the current white paper is not sufficient to prevent serious environmental destruction as a consequence of opening up for seabed mining activities," the organization argues in its response to the ministry.

Translated from Norwegian by Elisabeth Bergquist.