Congress Greenlights Funding for Deep-Sea Mining, Eyeing Critical Minerals

U.S.Congress has approved funding for a deep-sea mining project aimed at exploring the feasibility of extracting critical minerals from the ocean floor.

GSR nodule collector

U.S.Congress has approved funding for a deep-sea mining project aimed at exploring the feasibility of extracting critical minerals from the ocean floor. The move comes amid growing concerns over China’s dominance in the rare earth metals supply chain and the need to secure domestic sources for these materials, which are essential for defense and technology applications. 

The funding, part of the latest federal spending bill, will support research and development efforts by The Metals Company (TMC), a deep-sea mining firm based in Vancouver. TMC has been working with the Republic of Nauru to explore potential mining sites in the Clarion-Clipperton Zone of the Pacific Ocean, an area rich in polymetallic nodules containing nickel, cobalt, copper, and manganese. 

The congressional backing represents a significant boost for TMC, which has faced financial challenges and opposition from environmental groups concerned about the potential ecological impacts of deep-sea mining. However, the company has positioned itself as a solution to the United States’ reliance on foreign sources for critical minerals, aligning with the government’s efforts to achieve mineral independence and bolster national security. 

Gerard Barron, CEO of TMC, stated that the company has long emphasized the importance of securing a reliable supply of these minerals for defense purposes. “With defense, it is showing broadly what the U.S. has woken up to, that if you want mineral independence, it’s a case of how do you do that,” he said. 

The funding decision reflects the growing bipartisan support for deep-sea mining as a means to reduce dependence on adversaries like China for critical materials. Members of Congress have been meeting with companies like TMC and Transocean to explore options for processing minerals extracted from the ocean floor on U.S. soil. 

While the specifics of the funded project are yet to be disclosed, the move signals a shift in the U.S. government’s approach to deep-sea mining, recognizing its potential strategic importance in the face of intensifying global competition for resources. 

Major Mineral Discovery in Northern Michigan

A massive mineral deposit worth billions could bring an economic windfall to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, but also environmental concerns.

State geologists announced the discovery of an estimated 4 billion pounds of nickel, copper and other valuable minerals near the Yellow Dog Plains in Marquette County. The minerals are crucial for manufacturing electric vehicle batteries and renewable energy technologies.

“This is a game-changer for our state’s future,” said Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. “Responsibly developing this deposit can make Michigan the nation’s hub for mining critical minerals to support clean energy.”

The potential mining operations, however, have environmentalists worried about damage to sensitive wilderness areas that are economic drivers for tourism and outdoor recreation.

“We can’t risk turning our beautiful U.P. into an industrial wasteland,” said Alex Weir of the Upper Peninsula Environmental Coalition. “Mining has a toxic legacy of polluting waters and destroying wildlife habitats.”

Some local residents and Native American tribes also expressed skepticism after past mining projects failed to live up to environmental promises.

Industry officials insist modern techniques and regulations can extract the minerals safely. They argue domestic mining lessens dependence on foreign sources for materials key to the green economy.

The Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy will review mining proposals, seeking to balance economic benefits with environmental protections. Public hearings on potential mining plans are expected later this year.

Global Energy Transition Faces Challenges from Corporate Control Over Critical Minerals

As the global push towards sustainable energy gains momentum, a few powerful corporations maintain a firm hold on the essential minerals needed for green technologies such as solar panels, wind turbines, and electric vehicle batteries. This stranglehold raises significant concerns for the future of renewable energy.

China’s Dominance in Critical Minerals

China’s mining giants have established a near-monopoly over the global supply of many critical minerals. For instance, China is responsible for over 60 percent of the world’s graphite production. Additionally, the country exerts significant influence over the cobalt industry through its extensive mining operations in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

US and Canada Forge a New Path

In an effort to decrease dependency on Chinese minerals, the United States and Canada have recently announced their inaugural partnership focused on critical minerals. The Pentagon is set to invest $15 million in two nascent Canadian mines dedicated to cobalt and graphite extraction. This investment, mirrored by the Canadian government, aims to provide the necessary funding for these early-stage projects, which had previously struggled to attract private investment due to their unproven potential.

Strategic Goals and Global Impact

The joint venture seeks to enhance North American production of these crucial minerals, bolstering renewable energy capabilities and national security. While this initiative represents a significant strategic move to challenge China’s dominance in the sector, it is but a modest step considering the extensive scale of China’s control over these vital resources.

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