Impediments to U.S. Involvement in Deep Ocean Mining Can Be Overcome

Gao ID: EMD-82-31 February 3, 1982

The United States is heavily dependent on imports for certain metals which have been identified as critical and strategic materials. The world's deep seabeds contain enormous quantities of metal-bearing nodules which contain potentially valuable deposits of these minerals. Because of increasing concern about the future availability of minerals essential to the U.S. economy and national defense, Congress passed the Deep Seabed Hard Mineral Resources Act of 1980 to facilitate orderly development of the deep ocean resources by U.S. companies pending the satisfactory conclusion of the United Nations'-sponsored Law of the Sea Treaty. GAO reviewed the implementation of the act and analyzed the major impediments to U.S. involvement in deep seabed mining, particularly as they relate to the the draft Treaty.

Full implementation of the act is inextricably tied to the status of the Treaty negotiations. The first stated objective of the act is to encourage successful conclusion of the Treaty. The act also provides for continued seabed mining operations pending conclusion of the Treaty. Therefore, the status of the Treaty and full implementation of the act are uncertain. GAO believes that the goals of the act are important and worth striving for and that the nation's interests in augmenting reliable mineral supply sources can best be served if it is a party to a comprehensive Law of the Sea Treaty, but only an amended Treaty that properly addresses U.S. interests. Opposition to the draft Treaty has focused principally on access to mine sites, long-term investment protection, interim investment protection, production controls, technology transfer, and dispute settlement. After analyzing each of these areas, GAO found that, in some cases, the industry concerns are valid and that their interests are not being adequately protected. However, in other cases, GAO believes that the concerns either are not as serious as portrayed or are premature in that they have not yet been fully negotiated. With respect to the environmental provisions of the act, GAO found that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has done considerable work on the required environmental assessments. The role of Congress has been critical to seabed mining activities in the United States, and Congress will continue to play a major role in developing policy guidelines for ocean mineral development.


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