The Multinational Monitor


G L O B A L   S I G H T I N G S

Seabed Mining Moves a Step Closer

The ocean floor activities of U.S. mining and oil companies will become , public knowledge when the companies comply with regulations recently promulgated by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

These companies-which include Kennecott Copper, U.S. Steel, Sun Oil, Lockheed, and Standard Oil of Indiana-must inform NOAA by February 1, 1981 of their exploration activities up to June 28, 1980, estimate their expenditures up to that time and provide details of their future plans for ocean floor development.

These interim regulations mark the first step in implementing the Deep Seabed Hard Mineral Resources Act, passed by Congress in June. The act prohibits U.S. companies from exploring the ocean floor without a federal license. With a significant exception: it allows companies engaged in exploration before June to continue their operations while waiting for a license.

The interim regulations seek the information necessary for identifying those companies entitled to exemptions. Licensing will not begin until next fall, when NOAA issues permanent regulations.

"The information that we have now is entirely unofficial," says Brian J. Hoyle of NOAA's office of oceanic minerals and energy. "We've only had a semblance of deep-sea mining regulations." NOAA does not expect any surprises when the firms file their reports. "We expect a formal confirmation," Hoyle remarked, "of what we already know."

What they know is that four international consortiums, all with U.S. partners, dominate the nascent ocean mining field. Hoyle estimates that each group has already invested up to $200 million in exploration and small-scale mining and processing. "There will be no commercial recovery until 1988," Hoyle commented. "That will give the UN. treaty a chance."

Since 1973, the United Nations' Law of the Sea (LOS) conference has been negotiating an international treaty to govern ocean floor exploration and mining. If negotiations for the treaty end next year-as is expected-the treaty's implementation will still be delayed for several years while individual countries decide whether to sign. "The treaty probably won't enter into force until 1987 or 1988," says Hoyle. "The purpose of the Deep Seabed Mining Act is to let American companies continue in development of ocean mining."

Testifying before a House Subcommittee on the bill, James Barnes, an attorney with the Center for Law and Social Policy, pointed up what many see as an attempt to supersede the Law of the Sea treaty. "[S] ound deep sea mining legislation must be clearly and unmistakably consistent with a future Law of the Sea treaty," he said. "We do not believe it As appropriate to include language in the legislation that creates a quasi-legal obligation on the part of the U.S. to compensate companies against loss due to treaty provisions that may bee less advantageous than those contained in the legislation...

It also creates a very bad precedent domestically. Actions taken at the LOS forum are in the overall national interest, while a `grandfather clause' attempts to protect the private interests of a few companies." -by David Corn

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