Impediments to U.S. Involvement in Deep Ocean Mining Can Be Overcome

EMD-82-31: Published: Feb 3, 1982. Publicly Released: Feb 3, 1982.

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The United States is heavily dependent on imports for certain metals which have been identified as critical and strategic materials. The world's deep seabeds contain enormous quantities of metal-bearing nodules which contain potentially valuable deposits of these minerals. Because of increasing concern about the future availability of minerals essential to the U.S. economy and national defense, Congress passed the Deep Seabed Hard Mineral Resources Act of 1980 to facilitate orderly development of the deep ocean resources by U.S. companies pending the satisfactory conclusion of the United Nations'-sponsored Law of the Sea Treaty. GAO reviewed the implementation of the act and analyzed the major impediments to U.S. involvement in deep seabed mining, particularly as they relate to the the draft Treaty.

Full implementation of the act is inextricably tied to the status of the Treaty negotiations. The first stated objective of the act is to encourage successful conclusion of the Treaty. The act also provides for continued seabed mining operations pending conclusion of the Treaty. Therefore, the status of the Treaty and full implementation of the act are uncertain. GAO believes that the goals of the act are important and worth striving for and that the nation's interests in augmenting reliable mineral supply sources can best be served if it is a party to a comprehensive Law of the Sea Treaty, but only an amended Treaty that properly addresses U.S. interests. Opposition to the draft Treaty has focused principally on access to mine sites, long-term investment protection, interim investment protection, production controls, technology transfer, and dispute settlement. After analyzing each of these areas, GAO found that, in some cases, the industry concerns are valid and that their interests are not being adequately protected. However, in other cases, GAO believes that the concerns either are not as serious as portrayed or are premature in that they have not yet been fully negotiated. With respect to the environmental provisions of the act, GAO found that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has done considerable work on the required environmental assessments. The role of Congress has been critical to seabed mining activities in the United States, and Congress will continue to play a major role in developing policy guidelines for ocean mineral development.

Matters for Congressional Consideration

  1. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: When we determine what steps the Congress has taken, we will provide updated information.

    Matter: Congress should, on the assumption that the United States proceeds with the Law of the Sea Treaty process and to ensure the protection of the quality of the environment, make sure that appropriate support for environmental research is available for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Office of Ocean Minerals and Energy, consonant with environmental assessment activity mandated by the Deep Seabed Hard Mineral Resources Act of 1980 and necessary prior to commercial recovery operations.

  2. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: When we determine what steps the Congress has taken, we will provide updated information.

    Matter: Congress should, on the assumption that the United States proceeds with the Law of the Sea Treaty process, make sure that industry plans for mining and disposing of all four primary nodule minerals are evaluated and monitored for consistency with the conservation goals of the Deep Seabed Hard Mineral Resources Act of 1980. Efforts to continue or to expand federal research and development into new markets for manganese should be considered.

  3. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: When we determine what steps the Congress has taken, we will provide updated information.

    Matter: Congress should concentrate now on getting the above recommendations implemented which will minimize issues potentially subject to dispute settlement procedures. GAO does not believe that acceptability and feasibility of dispute settlement mechanisms can be realistically divorced from the nature and number of issues which might have to be subject to formal dispute settlement procedures.

  4. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: When we determine what steps the Congress has taken, we will provide updated information.

    Matter: Congress should ensure that compensation for transferred technology is adequate to protect the developers' investments and ensure that recipients of proprietary technology safeguard it against unauthorized disclosure.

  5. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: When we determine what steps the Congress has taken, we will provide updated information.

    Matter: Congress should insist on alternative means of protecting developing countries' economies. The objective of protecting these economies, sought with inclusion of production controls in the draft Treaty, warrants congressional support. However, because the current production control provisions would be cumbersome to apply and perhaps counterproductive to investment, and certainly not the only means by which the objectives of protecting developing country incomes might be achieved, Congress should insist on the careful development of alternatives for achieving income protection objectives while minimizing disincentives.

  6. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: When we determine what steps the Congress has taken, we will provide updated information.

    Matter: Congress should reassert the need to protect interim investments. Congress has agreed, through the Deep Seabed Hard Mineral Resources Act of 1980, to the need to ensure that investments made prior to entry into force of a treaty should be protected.

  7. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: When we determine what steps the Congress has taken, we will provide updated information.

    Matter: Congress should insist on long-term investment protection. The overall viability of seabed mining is contingent upon access to mine sites beyond first generation mining, and reasonable assurances for that access must be pursued. Congress should insist that changes to the basic nature of the parallel system in the review conference proceedings not be acceptable. Fundamental changes which could alter terms of access must be ensured against by either (1) restricting the procedures in which the assembly might change the mining system, either requiring a consensus in the assembly or providing that the assembly cannot bring about changes without council concurrence; or (2) seeking limits to review conference authority to changes that do not alter the basic operational structure under which mining is currently taking place.

  8. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: When we determine what steps the Congress has taken, we will provide updated information.

    Matter: Congress should accept reasonably assured access to mine sites. It should accept the fact that guarantees for access to mine sites are unrealistic in the absence of sovereign rights to mineral resources; that the absence of such absolute rights is not in itself a fundamental shortcoming of the draft Treaty; and that reasonable access can be provided under provisions of the draft Treaty subsequent to Preparatory Commission deliberations.

  9. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: When we determine what steps the Congress has taken, we will provide updated information.

    Matter: Congress should, on the assumption that the United States proceeds with the Law of the Sea Treaty and to ensure the protection of the quality of the environment, direct that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration carry out assessments of industry mining activities. Of particular concern should be activities which evaluate the impacts of new engineering and equipment.

 

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