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3 – Marine Resources – Opportunities and Risks

WOR 3 overview

Marine Resources – Opportunities and Risks
> The third issue of the World Ocean Review, WOR 3, is devoted to marine resources – metals and energy – and their utilization. It gives the facts about the extraction of known oil and gas deposits below the ocean floor and examines the impacts upon flora and fauna. It explains how gas hydrates form on continental shelves and what potential they hold. The review further explores in detail the opportunities and risks presented and posed by extracting mineral resources from the seabed: manganese nodules, cobalt crusts and massive sulphides.

Oil and gas from the sea

> Offshore gas and oil production began more than a century ago. With many shallow-water fields already exhausted, these natural resources are now being extracted at ever greater depths. Production rates are higher than ever, while oil pollution is decreasing. However, this is largely due to the stringent regulations applicable to shipping: the explosion at the Deepwater Horizon oil rig clearly demonstrated that safety is a long-neglected issue in the oil industry.

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Sea-floor mining

> Diamonds, gravel and sand have been extracted from coastal waters for decades. To meet the growing demand for metals, there are plans to mine the ores found in the form of manganese nodules, cobalt crusts and massive sulphides at depths of up to 4000 metres. If and when such sea-floor mining is to start will depend on metal prices on global markets. Working in deep water is still uneconomic, and no appropriate mining equipment is available yet.

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Energy from burning ice

> In addition to abundant minerals, there are large amounts of methane hydrate beneath the sea floor. Some countries hope to become independent of energy imports by exploiting marine gas hydrate deposits near their own coasts. The technology for production, however, is not yet available. Furthermore, the risks to climate stability and hazards to marine habitats associated with extraction of the methane hydrates must first be clarified.

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Clean production and equitable distribution

> To ensure that ocean mining does not escalate into a competition for the most promising claims, a UN agency administers the marine minerals in the international seabed area, ensuring that the environment is protected and that developing countries can share in the benefits. Commercial activities in coastal states’ waters, however, are regulated by national law. As the offshore oil industry shows, this does not always afford adequate protection for the environment.

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