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Deep sea mining debate sparks conflict between Greenpeace, Metals Company

Nov 28, 2023

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In the midst of the Pacific Ocean, environmental activists from Greenpeace are protesting against independent scientists conducting research on behalf of The Metals Company, whose stated goal is to become the world’s leading supplier of metallic resources needed for green energy initiatives. The conflict is centered around deep sea mining research to determine the feasibility of extracting polymetallic nodules — rocks rich with critical metals that are located on the ocean floor.

“We cannot transition to a green future by degrading one of the most intact ecosystems on our planet,” said Sarah Methven, an activist with Greenpeace. “It’s just complete greenwash, there are other solutions out there that we know exist. And that’s what we should be pursuing, not going forward with another exploitation of our planet, which we know from history leads to nature destruction and increased climate change.”

Greenpeace once called for more science but have since turned their back on evidence-based decision making and are of the view that their voice is the only one that matters.

CEO Gerard Barron, The Metals Company

“Greenpeace once called for more science but have since turned their back on evidence-based decision making and are of the view that their voice is the only one that matters,” Gerard Barron, CEO of The Metals Company, said in response. “This is another desperate attempt by Greenpeace to blow this out of proportion.”

The demonstration by Greenpeace involved activists placing kayaks beneath a mining ship operated by a subsidiary of The Metals Company. This maneuver obstructed researchers from deploying equipment into the water for extended periods of up to 10 hours. Following this, activists eventually boarded the mining vessel to continue their protest.

Once on board, Greenpeace representatives positioned themselves beneath the main crane used for moving equipment, with a vow to remain until The Metals Company agrees to cease its operations. The environmentalists argue that deep sea mining in the targeted area could potentially harm over 5,000 species of marine life.

“I think what we would say is what’s really dangerous and unsafe is letting companies like The Metals Company destroy one of the last untouched and least known about ecosystems on our planet for profit,” Methven said. “We’re here to say that we want them to leave this area and stop their deep sea mining exploration. Otherwise, we’re going to stay and continue our disruption. We plan to remain here until they leave the area.”

However, proponents of the mining project argue that abstaining from such activities could lead to a host of other environmental consequences. The Metals Company is interested in polymetallic nodules due to the valuable elements contained within them, such as nickel, cobalt and manganese — essential resources for electric vehicle (EV) batteries.

“There’s no rain forests to destroy in our area. There’s no risk of any child labor or human rights violations. And there’s no impact on sequestered carbon,” Barron said regarding the benefits of utilizing deep sea mining. “I think when we look at all of those aspects, we have to give ocean metals the chance it deserves.”

Industry experts have dubbed these nodules a “battery in a rock” due to their potential to for powering EVs and other emerging low-carbon technologies. Barron estimates that a fraction of the Pacific Ocean’s seafloor could power approximately 280 million EVs, a number nearly equivalent to all cars currently on the road in the United States.

“Greenpeace don’t agree with me, they would rather we not start a new extractive industry in the ocean,” Barron said. “And ocean health is of course one of the very important issues but there are other issues that need to be taken into account. And resource is one of them. This resource is like having three tier-one world class assets combined.”

Studies indicate that extracting resources from these nodules could result in 70% fewer CO2 equivalent emissions and 100% less solid waste compared to traditional land-based mining methods. Despite these potential benefits, Greenpeace contends that the risks outweigh the rewards, emphasizing what experts the activists have spoken with believe is a lack of sufficient scientific data to make an informed decision on the environmental impacts of deep sea mining.

Over 800 scientists have signed an open letter from 44 different countries around the world saying that so little is known about these areas, that we can’t just go in and start extracting and destroying an ecosystem that we know so little about.

Sarah Methven, Greenpeace activist

“Over 800 scientists have signed an open letter from 44 different countries around the world saying that so little is known about these areas, that we can’t just go in and start extracting and destroying an ecosystem that we know so little about,” Methven said. “We’re sitting with those scientists who are saying, we need to know more before we can allow companies like The Metals Companies to apply to mine as early as next year.”

“[Greenpeace’s] actions to stop the science suggest a fear that emerging scientific findings might challenge their misleading narrative about the environmental impacts of nodule collection, as our data has just begun to do,” Barron said in response to the ongoing demonstration by activists.

With the protest now entering its second week, a looming legal battle awaits the two sides. The Metals Company has filed for an injunction against Greenpeace, citing alleged breaches of international laws and emphasizing the jeopardy posed to their crew during the demonstration. In turn, Greenpeace has criticized The Metals Company for resorting to legal action, saying an “industry that claims to be green is now threatening to take environmental activists to court.”

Greenpeace told Straight Arrow News that a hearing on the matter has already taken place in a Dutch court, as both groups are now awaiting a judge’s decision that is expected to be made within the coming days.

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[Jack Alymer]

YOU’RE LOOKING AT A PROTEST PLAYING OUT ON THE HIGH SEAS.

THIS CONFLICT IN THE PACIFIC IS OVER THE FUTURE OF THE OCEAN FLOOR.

HERE’S WHAT’S GOING ON:

A GROUP OF GREENPEACE ACTIVISTS BOARDED THIS DEEP SEA MINING VESSEL LAST WEEK. 

THE SHIP’S GOAL IS CONDUCT RESEARCH ON THE POTENTIAL EXTRACTION OF VITAL RESOURCES USED TO CREATE ELECTRIC VEHICLES.

SO, WHY ARE ENVIRONMENTALISTS PROTESTING IT?

[Greenpeace]

“We cannot transition to a green future by degrading one of the most intact ecosystems on our planet. It’s just complete greenwash, there are other solutions out there that we know exist. And that’s what we should be pursuing, not going forward with another exploitation of our planet, which we know from history leads to nature destruction, increased climate change.”

[Jack Alymer]

GREENPEACE PLACED KAYAKS BENEATH THE VESSEL – EFFECTIVELY BLOCKING RESEARCHERS FROM DEPLOYING EQUIPMENT AND THEN PROCEEDED TO BOARD THE SHIP. 

THEY SAY DEEP SEA MINING EFFORTS IN THIS REGION COULD CAUSE HARM TO OVER 5-THOUSAND DIFFERENT SPECIES OF MARINE LIFE. 

AND THEY SAY THEY WON’T LEAVE – UNTIL THEIR DEMANDS ARE MET.

[Greenpeace]

“We’re here to say that we want them to leave this area and stop their deep sea mining exploration. Otherwise, we’re going to stay and continue our disruption … we plan to remain here until they leave the area.”

[Jack Alymer]

THE METALS COMPANY, WHOSE SUBSIDIARY RUNS THE SHIP, WANTS TO POSITION THEMSELVES AS A THE WORLD’S LARGEST SUPPLIER OF METALLIC RESOURCES NEEDED FOR GREEN ENERGY INITIATIVES.

THEY SAY THEIR VESSEL IS CONDUCTING LEGALLY MANDATED SCIENTIFIC RESEARCH.

RESEARCH THAT AIMS TO LOCATE SMALL ROCKS ON THE SEABED KNOWN AS POLYMETALLIC NODULES.

THEY CONTAIN A VARIETY OF ELEMENTS – MANY VITAL TO THE PRODUCTION OF EMERGING TECHNOLOGIES LIKE ELECTRIC VEHICLES.

IT’S A POTENTIAL GOLD MINE – SOME ESTIMATES PUTTING THE VALUE OF THESE NODULES IN THE TRILLIONS. 

[Gerard Barron]

“This is like a battery in a rock. So we have nickel, we have copper, cobalt, and manganese. And as we know, the world is moving into a more sustainable sort of mood, which means that we want to move away from fossil fuels, and we want to electrify the fleet and use renewable energy. But to do that, we’re going to need a lot of metals. So the question for society is, where are we going to get them from?”

[Jack Alymer]

THE METALS COMPANY’S CEO ESTIMATES THE AMOUNT OF NODULES FOUND IN JUST A FRACTION OF THE PACIFIC OCEAN’S SEAFLOOR COULD POWER ABOUT TWO-HUNDRED-EIGHTY-MILLION EVS.

TO PUT IT IN PERSPECTIVE – THAT’S NEARLY THE NUMBER OF *ALL CARS CURRENTLY ON THE ROAD IN THE U-S. 

STUDIES HAVE FOUND EXTRACTING RESOURCES FROM THESE NODULES WOULD BE LESS HARMFUL TO THE PLANET THAN IT WOULD BE TO MINE THEM ON LAND. 

[Gerard Barron]

“There’s no rain forests to destroy in our area. There’s no risk of any child labor or human rights violations. And there’s no impact on sequestered carbon … I think when we look at all of those aspects, we have to give ocean metals the chance it deserves.”

[Jack Alymer]

BUT GREENPEACE MAINTAINS THE RISK IS STILL TOO GREAT.

[GREENPEACE]

“Over 800 scientists have signed an open letter from 44 different countries around the world saying that so little is known about these areas, that we can’t just go in and start extracting and destroying an ecosystem that we know so little about.”

[Jack Alymer]

SCIENTIFIC EXPERTS CONSULTED BY GREENPEACE SAY THERE’S STILL NOT ENOUGH INFORMATION TO JUSTIFY THE SPEED IN WHICH THE METALS COMPANY IS MOVING AHEAD. 

GREENPEACE TELLING STRAIGHT ARROW NEWS, “DEEP SEA MINERS HAVE NO CREDIBILITY AND ARE SHOWING THEIR TRUE COLORS, USING THE EXACT SAME TRICKS AS THE OIL INDUSTRY TO WREAK DAMAGE ON OUR PLANET WHEN IT HAS ALREADY HAD FAR TOO MUCH.”

IT’S AN ASSERTION THE METALS COMPANY HAS CHALLENGED, SAYING “GREENPEACE’S ACTIONS TO STOP THE SCIENCE SUGGEST A FEAR THAT EMERGING SCIENTIFIC FINDINGS MIGHT CHALLENGE THEIR MISLEADING NARRATIVE ABOUT THE ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACTS OF NODULE COLLECTION, AS OUR DATA HAS JUST BEGUN TO DO.”

[Gerard Barron]

“Greenpeace don’t agree with me, they would rather we not start a new extractive industry in the ocean …  And ocean health is of course one of the very important issues but there are other issues that need to be taken into account. And resource is one of them. This resource is like having three tier one world class assets combined.”

[Jack Alymer]

THE COMPANY ALSO CRITICIZED GREENPEACE FOR HOW THE GROUP CHOSE TO PROTEST, ACCUSING THE ACTIVISTS OF PUTTING ALL THOSE ON BOARD THE MINING VESSEL AT RISK. 

WITH THE PROTEST NOW STRETCHING INTO ITS SECOND WEEK, A LEGAL BATTLE NOW LOOMS ON THE HORIZON. 

THE METALS COMPANY HAS FILED FOR AN INJUNCTION TO STOP GREENPEACE, POINTING TO INTERNATIONAL LAWS THEY SAY THE ACTIVISTS BROKE. REITERATING CLAIMS THEIR CREW WAS JEOPARDIZED BY THIS DEMONSTRATION.  

[Gerard Barron]

“Our activists are extensively trained for this protest, and we absolutely wouldn’t do it. If it wasn’t safe to do so … I think what we would say is what’s really dangerous and unsafe is letting companies like the metals company destroy one of the last untouched and least known about ecosystems on our planet for profit.”

[Jack Alymer]

GREENPEACE HAS RESPONDED FURTHER BY TELLING US “THIS INDUSTRY THAT CLAIMS TO BE GREEN IS NOW THREATENING TO TAKE ENVIRONMENTAL ACTIVISTS TO COURT.

A HEARING ON THE MATTER HAS ALREADY BEEN HEARD BY A DUTCH COURT, AS BOTH SIDES ARE NOW EXPECTING A DECISION WITHIN THE COMING DAYS. 

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