SANTA CRUZ — A bill introduced Tuesday by Assemblywoman Luz Rivas (D-San Fernando Valley) could better protect California’s coastline from deep sea mining – one method manufacturers are looking at to source raw materials for burgeoning clean energy industries.
It’s still early, but “green” sector leaders have said to keep pace with projected demand in markets such as electric vehicles and electronics, large deposits of metals and minerals will need to be sourced. Like on Earth, lodged within rock formations on the seafloor are valuable mineral deposits and metal veins: gold, manganese and nickel, to name a few.
Manufacturers say they’ll desperately need such materials to build batteries and chips for electronics and electric vehicles into the future. But scientists and ocean advocates argue deep sea mining is too experimental and the risks too grave for rare and protected species that make a home in the Pacific, already under threat due to climate change.
Assembly Bill 1832, coauthored by Assembly member Mark Stone and Sen. John Laird, could proactively prohibit mining from taking place in California waters that aren’t currently protected – some 2,500 square miles.
“Seabed mining is not just an ecological danger. It is also an economic threat to our communities,” Rivas said Tuesday.
Off of California’s North Coast lie gold and titanium deposits, which could be targeted to manufacture EV batteries and electronic parts. In Southern California, phosphorus could be dredged up from the seafloor, proponents of the bill said. Oregon and Washington have already established laws that prohibit ocean mining.
“Destructive, deep sea mining has yet to reach California’s deep water environments, which gives us a really rare opportunity to actually get ahead of a problem and be proactive and take a precautionary approach,” said Surfrider Foundation CEO Chad Nelson.
Seabed mining, Deep Sea Conservation Coalition co-founder Matthew Gianni argued, could put further stress on California fisheries, an industry that’s struggled with increased regulations and impacts from climate change.
“As an ex-commercial fisherman … I can’t imagine what it would be like to compete with the deep seabed mining industry that would be kicking up hundreds, if not thousands of tons of sediment off the deep sea floor,” Gianni said.
While the technology and industry is still budding, in global waters the search for deep water deposits has already begun – off the coast of Namibia, Papua New Guinea, Japan and South Korea.
Mining for metals and minerals on land also has serious implications. But AB 1832 proponents said that industry leaders are already looking to manufacture batteries in ways that have lesser environmental impacts. Gianni pointed to streamlining electronic waste programs to reuse materials.
Julie Packard, executive director of the Monterey Bay Aquarium, said there’s just not enough data showing that seabed mining explorations could be done without degrading delicate marine ecosystems.
“We obviously need to meet the growing demand for technology in our society – we all depend on it. But we need to do it in ways other than damaging extraction of raw materials,” Packard said. “Seabed mining, like the deep sea itself, is full of unknowns. We can’t risk it.”