Seabed Resource Management
Coordinator: Kimberley PETERS
Coordinator: Philip STEINBERG
WG Leaders: Dr. Kimberley Peters & Dr. Philip Steinberg
Management of mineral extraction involves a balance between control of horizontal surfaces and power over depths, and these raise a series of both conceptual and questions and practical challenges. In a typical land-based mining scenario, a mining entity receives tenure over a quantity of horizontal surface area while, complementarily, receiving the right to intervene in subterranean ecologies through extraction of specified resources, from specified depths using specified procedures. Seabed mining adds new dimensions to this balance because the seabed is a surface at depth. On the one hand, seabed mining is generally conceived of as a surficial activity (even though a degree of surface disturbance occurs and the seabed ‘surface’ is anything but a flat plain). On the other hand, the seabed exists beneath depths of volume, so that even if the extractive process is primarily horizontal the environments of both, operations and impacts, are profoundly voluminous.
Seabed mining thus raises a number of conceptual questions about the extent to which land-centered perspectives — wherein vertical extractive activities occur amidst horizontal ecologies — can be applied to mineral extraction beneath the ocean’s waters where this idealized relationship between the horizontal and the vertical is, in a sense, reversed: less vertical extraction in a horizontal environment than horizontal extraction in a vertical environment. This spatial characteristic of seabed mining also raises practical questions regarding the management of mining activities and the assessment of environmental impacts: Can adjacency be used to identify interested parties when proximity and distance are defined along axes other than horizontal distance? How does one define an ‘interested stakeholder’ or ‘competing user’ in a space whose volumes, on the one hand, prohibit directly competing users but, on the other hand, contribute to a complex web of connections and cascading impacts across the globe? How does one define the scope of an impacted area in a voluminous environment? In a voluminous, marine environment can one ever achieve the minimum level of certainty necessary to enable environmental impact modeling of seabed disturbance and, if so, how should environmental impact and potential social benefitis be measured? Should basic principles for regulating seabed mining be derived from those developed for onshore mining (vertical extraction in a horizontal space), offshore oil drilling (vertical extraction in a vertical space), integrated marine management (which focuses on interactions within volumes), or an entirely different model?
Bringing these questions together, the seabed Working Group seeks to develop a dialogue between researchers investigating core practical problems in seabed governance with scholars researching the conceptual challenges raised by the potential extension of economic activities to the ocean’s depths.