A leading conservation group on Friday sounded the alarm after military-industrial complex giant Lockheed Martin filed an application with the U.S. government to renew licenses allowing deep seabed mining exploration in the Pacific Ocean.
"Mining the deep sea is as destructive as strip mining the mountains of Appalachia, extinguishing whole ecosystems with a single blow," Miyoko Sakashita, oceans program director at the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD), said in a statement. "The federal government shouldn't renew these licenses."
Although there are no current commercial deep seabed mining operations, the International Seabed Authority has issued exploration licenses to state-owned companies and agencies in China, France, Germany, India, Japan, Russia, and South Korea, and to private corporations including U.K. Seabed Resources, a subsidiary of Lockheed Martin.
Lockheed Martin's licenses cover the Clarion-Clipperton Zone, located halfway between Mexico and Hawaii in the Pacific Ocean. The area is rich in polymetallic nodules potentially containing copper, nickel, cobalt, iron, manganese, and rare earth elements.
According to some experts, deep-sea mining could be worth as much as $1 trillion to the U.S. economy each year.
CBD—which, through a 2015 lawsuit, forced the federal government to study the danger to ecosystems posed by such licenses—says deep seabed mining is fraught with risks.
The group said in a statement:
The areas of the deep sea where mining contracts have been issued support some of the most biodiverse and scientifically important ecosystems on Earth. Scientists fear the practice could devastate deepwater ecosystems, both directly by destroying life in the seabed, and indirectly by generating sediment plumes, light pollution, noise, and toxins that would affect life far beyond the actual mining sites.
"Before the Biden administration acts, it must take a hard look at this growing threat to the world's oceans," said Sakashita, who urged the federal government to "follow the lead of West Coast states and ban deep seabed mining."
Washington and Oregon have already banned the practice, while a bill introduced last month in the California state Legislature seeks to protect 2,500 square miles of seafloor from mining.
"Our oceans support and preserve life on our planet and we cannot afford to leave our deep-sea floors vulnerable to exploitation and destruction," the bill's sponsor, state Assemblywoman Luz Rivas (D-39), said upon introducing the measure. "We can take swift action to prevent the devastation that seabed mining would inflict upon our delicate marine ecosystems and our coastal economies."