Deep-Sea Mining for Rare-Earth Metals Looms, as Do Environmental Questions – by Adam Allington and Stephen Lee (Bloomberg News – September 28, 2018)

Once thought too expensive and too difficult, commercial scale mining of the deep sea is poised to become a reality as early as 2019. But scientists warn reaching rare minerals on and under the sea floor could cause irreversible damage to an environment that is still poorly understood.

As new technologies come online, mining companies are probing depths from 5,000 to 16,000 feet to expose new deposits of manganese, copper, cobalt, and other rare-earth minerals necessary to build everything from smartphones to solar panels to electric cars.

“People are making new discoveries almost every week; we’re nowhere near plateauing in our understanding of these deep-sea ecosystems,” said Lisa Levin, a biological oceanographer at the University of California-San Diego.

Given how little is known about deep-sea life, Levin told Bloomberg Environment that she feels mining should be delayed until regulators have a better grasp of biological consequences outside the mining footprint. “I just think we need to understand more about how these habitats interact, and how long they take to recover before we risk doing irreversible damage through mining.”

‘Plumes of Mud’

But compared to terrestrial mining, seafloor operations should have a smaller environmental footprint, potential ocean mining companies say.

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