RELEASE: New report finds we shouldn’t mine the deep sea

Media Contacts
Ian Giancarlo

Protect Our Oceans Campaign, Advocate, Environment Oregon Research & Policy Center

PORTLAND – According to a new report released Tuesday, we do not need destructive deep-sea mining operations to meet our critical mineral needs as Oregon and the world move toward clean, renewable energy. In fact, the world trashes more copper and cobalt – metals used to build clean energy technologies – in our electronic waste than miners would likely extract each year from the central Pacific through at least 2035, underscoring the significance of Oregon’s passage of the most forward thinking and comprehensive Right to Repair law earlier this year. 

The report, We don’t need deep-sea mining, released by Environment Oregon Research & Policy Center, U.S. PIRG Education Fund and Frontier Group just weeks ahead of a key international summit on the topic, outlines how mining operations could destroy vulnerable ecosystems off our coasts. It also details how taking common sense steps such as reducing the electronic waste we generate can help meet our mineral demands.

“Mining the deep sea will destroy one of the most mysterious and remote wildernesses on the planet, just to extract the very same metals we throw in the trash every day,” said Ian Giancarlo, Oceans Advocate with Environment Oregon Research & Policy Center. “While we work to protect Oregon’s coastal waters and nearshore areas, we should join in calls to protect the deep ocean before it’s too late.” 

The report finds that deep-sea mining could irreparably alter hundreds or thousands of square miles of seafloor, and create plumes of sediment and mining waste that could spread even further. Yet, mining proponents are using the threat of potential shortages of critical minerals – such as lithium, cobalt, nickel, copper and rare earth elements – as justification to carry out mining in one of the world’s last great wildernesses.

The report cites research indicating that deep-sea mining is not needed to meet the critical mineral needs of the energy transition. The authors outline how we can build a circular economy for critical minerals around the “5 Rs” – the traditional 3 Rs of “reduce, reuse and recycle,” coupled with reimagining products for greater efficiency and durability and repairing products to extend their lifetimes. Strategies like these could, according to research cited in the report, fully close global supply gaps for nickel and copper by 2030 and dramatically narrow gaps for cobalt, lithium and the rare earth element neodymium.

“Disposable electronic devices are creating a toxic e-waste mess. Now, some mining companies are trying to convince policymakers that we need to wreak havoc on the ocean to source the materials to make more,” said Charlie Fisher, State Director of the OSPIRG Foundation, the statewide arm of the U.S. PIRG Education Fund. “This report shows that we don’t need to ruin the deep sea to make the products we need. There is a more sustainable path: Make long-lasting, fixable electronics and recycle them when they no longer work.”  

This report comes as diplomats from around the world prepare to travel to Jamaica in July, where the International Seabed Authority will debate, for the first time, a proposal to put a moratorium on mining – or pave the way for the first commercial exploitation of the deep sea for minerals ever undertaken.

To read the full report, and to see our interactive graphic on alternatives to deep-sea mining, visit our report page.