- Marine minerals and energy
- > Our appetite for energy and mineral resources seems insatiable. As landbased resources become increasingly scarce, those in the oceans are attracting greater interest. The fuels and ores in the deep sea are particularly tempting. But wind and wave power could also meet a proportion of our energy needs.
Pressure on the ocean floor is growingFor centuries the oceans provided a single resource – food. Only during the past few decades have technologies been developed which can extract more from them – for instance drilling technology to extract oil and gas. Until now drilling has been in relatively shallow waters, but companies are now penetrating greater depths. It is a complex and expensive process, but is becoming more feasible as land-based reserves become scarce and prices rise. The same applies to the metal reserves which are embedded in manganese nodules, cobalt deposits, massive sulphides and ore slurry in the sea. As metal prices rise, mining from the depths will become more attractive – although this will only apply to valuable metals such as copper, nickel and gold. As yet, however, no mining technology is gentle on the environment.
With respect to methane hydrate, it is unclear to what extent it is possible to mine the ocean floor without harming people or the environment. Also, virtually no technology exists for the purpose. Many basic principles must first be clarified, such as whether laboratory results can be applied to mining practice. If it were possible to extract methane and at the same time safely store carbon dioxide from the burning of oil and gas, harnessing methane from the ocean bed might even prove to be a climate protection option.
The most sustainable system of marine energy production in terms of climate protection is probably from the ocean currents, waves and wind. In most cases there is considerable need for research into the impact of energy systems on the marine environment. Some technologies are ready for operation, while others are still in the pilot phase. Some nations have reduced the bureaucratic hurdles that planners and developers face. Before facilities can be utilized on a large scale, however, countries must decide whether and how they wish to promote ocean energy, because without initial governmental support none of the current technologies can be stablished in the medium term.