Inside the Project: DeepGreen Strategic Planning Workshop

Deep Sea Exploration for Energy Innovation

Earlier this summer we had the privilege of supporting the DeepGreen team in planning and facilitating  a 3-day workshop in San Diego. The meeting provided space for DeepGreen technical staff and contractors, who are located around the world, to come together and take the initial steps for conducting an environmental impact assessment (EIA), as required by international regulations for seabed mining.

Polymetallic nodules. Source: IOM Joint Organization, 2009.

For those of you who aren’t up-to-date on the ins and outs of international deep seabed polymetallic nodule harvesting and permitting (like us before this project), a little context may be helpful. Today’s technology and tomorrow’s energy grid rely on sophisticated batteries, which contain metals such as cobalt, nickel, copper, and manganese. Traditional mining of these metals is problematic – pollution and habitat destruction are just two of the impacts – and readily-accessible reserves on land are running low. It turns out that these metals can also be harvested from the ocean floor, in the form of polymetallic nodules (a fancy way of describing a mineral-dense rock, sometimes also called manganese nodules.)

Deep-sea deposits of polymetallic nodules occur in international waters, the jurisdiction of which can be both ambiguous and complex, slowing the pace of exploration and extraction. Deep seabed mining operations are regulated by the United Nations International Seabed Authority (ISA.) The ISA is mandated to develop the industry while protecting the environment. To meet these permitting requirements, companies like DeepGreen must complete an EIA process which includes extensive initial studies and ongoing monitoring to ensure “no serious harm” to the ecosystem (including physical, chemical, and biological components of the seafloor and water column) during extraction of the nodules. Now, back to our story. 

In an effort to set DeepGreen up for success amidst the rigorous regulatory requirements and complex scientific challenges facing their team, Strategic Earth was brought in to support the design and implementation of a thoughtfully planned, efficiently run, and expertly facilitated meeting. The workshop brought together DeepGreen’s staff and delivery partners – including scientists, technical experts, and a representative from the Republic of Nauru, the Pacific island nation where seabed harvesting is slated to take place – to begin developing DeepGreen’s EIA strategy and associated work plan. This first meeting focused on orienting DeepGreen staff to the best available scientific information and processes for developing an EIA and was the first of a series of planning discussions. We understand that DeepGreen will  broaden engagement to involve stakeholders in the near future to uphold their commitment to transparency and an open information exchange.

Kelly and Sara enjoying the change of scenery.

Working with DeepGreen to support this first workshop was a stimulating change of pace, as we frequently work in the State marine issues realm. We were honored to assist this talented group in their strategic planning and for the opportunity to provide neutral facilitation to support an innovative and dynamic discussion. We look forward to DeepGreen’s efforts to engage in a broad conversation with diverse audiences to inform their pursuit of harvesting deep-sea polymetallic nodules to support clean technology, human rights, and the sustainability of our planet. We are grateful for the opportunity to apply our science-policy-stakeholder interface expertise to the frontier of deep sea resource management and to work with DeepGreen’s inspired staff.

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