Policy and governance
Who regulates deep-sea mining and exploration activity?
Exploration related to mining of the seabed, ocean floor and subsoil in areas of the ocean that lie beyond the limits of national jurisdiction (known as "The Area") is regulated by the International Seabed Authority (ISA). The ISA was established in 1994 under the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), and operates a strict system of rules, regulations and procedures “to ensure effective protection of the marine environment from harmful effects.” These rules have been developed to prevent and control pollution and other hazards to the marine environment, including interference with the ecological balance, and to protect and conserve the natural resources and prevent damage to its flora and fauna. UNCLOS requires the ISA to give priority to the development of these rules in the context of its development of mining standards and practices.
Within the boundaries of national jurisdiction, seabed mining activities fall under State rules and regulations. However, UNCLOS states that these regulations should be "no less effective" than those developed for The Area (UNCLOS Article 208). It is likely that any legislation developed for the exploitation of minerals within European waters, e.g. for seafloor massive sulphides on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, will be harmonised with the developing international (ISA) regulations. To find out more about the legal framework governing deep-sea mining activities, take a look at our pages on the international legal framework for deep-sea mining.
Environmental regulations relating to seabed mining in Europe and for European companies will draw on advice and regulations promulgated by ISA, be informed by the relevant aspects of Good Environmental Status under the Marine Strategy Framework Directive, and take into account more general legislation such as EU Directives applicable to oil and gas exploration / exploitation and aggregate dredging. The latter include Directives for Strategic Environmental Assessment and site specific Environmental Impact Assessment, as well as environmental liability and waste reception legislation.
Based on scientific and technological achievements within the project, MIDAS will provide parameters to support the further development of EU and international regulations for economically viable, environmentally sound and socially acceptable resource exploration and extraction. Science-policy interaction processes will be developed, informed by existing legal and policy frameworks, improved tools for integrating deep-sea impacts and values, the best available science, as well as an understanding of technological capabilities and economic feasibility. MIDAS will ensure the integration of civil society perspectives by facilitating wider stakeholder consultations, and will take forward the recommendations derived within the project for consideration by European and UN policy-making and regulatory fora, as well as advising industry-focused organisations, such as the International Marine Minerals Society (IMMS) and Underwater Mining Institute (UMI).
> More on deep-sea mining regulation issues: The international legal framework for deep-sea mining: a primer