On Wednesday, March 13th, the Oceans Caucus Foundation joined the House and Senate Oceans Caucus to host a panel discussion, "Deep Sea Mining: The Knowns, Unknowns, and What’s Next" highlighting innovations and regulatory needs for the deep sea mining industry.

The panel was moderated by Dr. Caitlin Keatings-Bitonti from the Congressional Research Services, and panelists included Dr. Beth Orcutt, Vice President for Research at Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences, Mr. Greg O’Brien, Senior Oceans Policy Advisor in the Office of Ocean and Polar Affairs at the U.S. Department of State, and Dr. Duncan Wood, Vice President for Strategy and New Initiatives at the Wilson Center. Their expertise provided valuable insight on the current international and domestic environmental policy considerations, impacts of industry regulations on the marine environment, and technological innovations.

Deep sea mining is in the early stages of development and still very controversial in many countries, yet the surge in demand for critical minerals has some looking to tap the seafloor.

Materials that are essential components for low-carbon technologies are already being mined on land, expanding the interest in the potential for the deep sea mining industry. Discussions during the panel centered on the unknown impacts on the deep sea environment, the limited authority the U.S. delegation has in international regulatory discussions, the role of the U.S. Congress, and different advancements in seabed deposits technologies.

Seabed mining creates an opportunity for clean energy transition but poses potential challenges in terms of environmental impact and control of the supply chain.

Dr. Duncan Wood noted the monopoly other countries have over the supply chain, particularly China, which poses challenges in terms of any regulatory authority over environmental or labor standards as well as the security implications of relying on non-ally countries. Mr. Greg O’Brien noted that the U.S. is limited in their influence on any International Seabed Authority (ISA) regulatory outcomes as the U.S. is not a signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and therefore not a voting member of ISA.

Congress has a role to play in terms of resource allocation for essential research and technology and ensuring that deep sea mining is done in a responsible way.

This is particularly important since President Biden’s 2025 Budget Request currently has significant cuts to ocean research and exploration budgets. Dr. Beth Orcutt noted that increased investment in research vessels and scientific exploration are needed to fill knowledge gaps to accurately assess the impacts to marine ecosystems. Additionally, Dr. Wood pointed out that it is not just Congress that needs to be investing in research and development, but the private sector has a critical role as well. Advancements in seabed mining technology will be essential to develop technologies that are both cost effective and minimally invasive or disruptive to the deep sea habitat.

These conversations become more crucial as the demand for seabed minerals continues to rise but the budgets available do not. As Dr. Wood stated during his introduction, "You can sense here in Washington that this is an issue on the move, and it is important to have a policy conversation on it."

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