Enviros Challenge Deep-Sea Mining Licenses
by Jamie Ross, Court House News May 14, 2015
(CN) - Government-issued licenses to Lockheed Martin for deep-sea mining failed to take heed of environmental side effects, environmentalists claim in a federal action.
The Center for Biological Diversity brought the May 13 lawsuit in Washington, D.C., over five-year extensions that regulators granted Lockheed Martin for two exploration licenses it holds for a metal-rich zone of the Pacific Ocean.
Known as the Clarion Clipperton Zone, the region between Baja California and Hawaii has polymetallic nodules that contain metals like nickel, cobalt, copper and manganese.
Environmentalists contend that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) failed to perform an environmental analysis in granting the license extensions.
Their complaint notes that the National Environmental Policy Act requires a finding "in writing that the proposed exploration 'cannot reasonably be expected to result in a significant adverse effect on the quality of the environment.'"
Noting that the center and other organizations have filed on extending Lockheed Martin's exploration licenses, the environmentalists say that the failure to address their notes violates the Administrative Procedure Act and the Deep Seabed Act.
The comments at issue allegedly explained "the harmful effects of exploration activities on the species and habitats in the Clarion Clipperton Zone."
Bird behavior and the ocean food chain are sure to feel the ramifications of the license extensions, the environmentalists say.
"Toxic heavy metals stirred up from the ocean floor can impact entire food chains; as an example, accumulation of heavy metals in the ocean from other sources has resulted in contamination that lowers reproductive success in aquatic species," the lawsuit states. "Light and noise from ships and vessels can disrupt seabird behavior and result in exhaustion or death, and vessel collisions risk harming whales and other marine mammals."
Since mining vehicles kick up sediment plumes, smothering seafloor organisms, the center also predicts a strain on photosynthesis and productivity.
The traffic of these mining vehicles "increases the risks of marine mammal collisions with vessels, which can have a significant effect on marine mammal populations," the complaint claims. These risks include coming in contact with marine animals, or potential oil spills.
Emily Jeffers, an attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity, says the mining will "leave behind a barren landscape devoid of life."
"Deep-sea mining should be stopped, and this lawsuit aims to compel the government to look at the environmental risks before it leaps into this new frontier," Jeffers said in a statement. "We need to protect the ocean wildlife and habitat, and the United States should provide leadership for other nations to follow before more projects get underway."
According to the lawsuit, no commercial deep-sea mining has occurred, but mining companies have taken out exploration licenses on over 1.5 million square kilometers of Pacific Ocean floor.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration declined to comment on the allegations.
The Center for Biological Diversity seeks to have the licenses set aside until the agency complies with the Deep Seabed Act and the National Environmental Policy Act.