"Update Deep-Sea Law To Spur US Mining Projects,” Law360, December 20, 2021
The Biden Administration and legislators recently have voiced their concerns that failure to address China’s grip on the global supply chain for minerals, including rare earth elements, which are critical to U.S. national security and our way of life could be fatal to the U.S. Numerous thought leaders have proposed solutions to the U.S.’s rare earths supply chain problem. The most recent solutions offered, however, do not include a plan to extract the vast abundance of rare earth elements and other natural resources underlying the high seas that lie beyond any nation’s jurisdiction.
The deep seabed is the final vast Earthly frontier of exploration, mining, production and development of rare earth minerals, hydrocarbons, including oil and gas, and other natural resources. Trillions of dollars’ worth of unmined rare earth minerals and other natural resources are on and underneath the deep seabed in the high seas. Mining the seabed for these critical natural resources is crucial to immediate and long-term U.S. economic and energy independence and national security.
China, which to-date has the most deep-sea exploration contracts with the International Seabed Authority (ISA), dominates the rare earth minerals market. The U.S. government, on the other hand, is sitting idle.
Private U.S. investors and exploration and production companies are equally not highly active in the deep-sea mining industry. Current U.S. deep seabed mining law is just too antiquated and inadequate to provide U.S. investors and exploration and production companies assurance and a well-developed legal framework to mine the deep sea. This article highlights and analyzes current international and U.S. deep sea mining law, the inadequacies of current U.S. law and suggests paths forward.