Video footage from a deep-sea mining test, showing sediment discharging into the ocean, has raised fresh questions about the largely untested nature of the industry, and the possible harms it could do to ecosystems as companies push to begin full-scale exploration of the ocean floor as early as this year. The Metals Company (TMC), a Canadian mining firm that is one of the leading industry players, spent September to November of 2022 testing its underwater extraction vehicle in the Clarion Clipperton Fracture Zone, a section of the Pacific Ocean between Mexico and Hawaii.
But a group of scientists hired by the company to monitor its operations, concerned by what they saw, posted a video of what they said was a flawed process that accidentally released sediment into the ocean. The scientists also said the company fell short in its environmental monitoring strategy, according to documents viewed by the Guardian newspaper.
As the push for deep-sea mining intensifies, experts are increasingly concerned that companies will kick up clouds of sediment, which could be laden with toxic heavy metals that may harm marine life. At least 700 scientists – along with France, Germany and Chile – are calling for a moratorium on deep-sea mining.
In a post to its website, TMC acknowledged the incident, but framed the discharge from its cyclone separator as a “minor event” in which “a small amount” of sediment and nodule fragments spilled into the ocean. The company said it fixed the issue in its equipment to prevent further overflows and concluded that the incident “did not have the potential to cause serious harm”.
Experts and critics caution that the incident highlights the relative uncertainties surrounding deep-sea mining. Companies are scrambling to scavenge the ocean floor for valuable metals, used in electric vehicle batteries and a host of other technologies such as green energy production, amid a global fight for stable supply.
Excerpts from Leaked video footage of ocean pollution shines light on deep-sea mining, Guardian, Feb. 6, 2022