Opening of Areas for Seabed Mineral Exploration on the Norwegian Continental Shelf


Hands holding sand. Blurry background.

Norway is gearing up for a new era in mining, aiming to manage extraction of its seabed minerals in a knowledge-based and sustainable manner. Deep-sea mining has the potential to evolve into a multibillion-dollar industry, playing a vital role in securing access to essential metals and supporting a crucial aspect of the global energy transition. Many of these minerals are critical for various technologies, including wind turbines and batteries.

The opening process, initiated by the government in 2021 has received broad parliamentary support. On April 12, 2024, the King in Council formally decided to open an area in the Norwegian Sea and the Greenland Sea for exploration and extraction of seabed minerals. The area measures approximately 280,000 square kilometres, about the size of the United Kingdom. The decision is based on the completed impact assessment, consultation inputs, and the resource assessment from the Norwegian Offshore Directorate, which evaluated the commercial and environmental impacts, as well as potential pollution risks and economic and social effects of seabed mineral activities.

The step-by-step process outlined in the Seabed Minerals Act, which entered into force on July 1, 2019, establishes a framework for the exploration and extraction activities. This legislation is heavily influenced by the comprehensive framework established by the Petroleum Act, recognized for its standards in fair and well-structured natural resource management.

  • Once an area is opened, a license to conduct mineral activities may be granted for the designated areas subject to a written application.
  • The primary components of the licensing regime for seabed minerals consist of a non-exclusive survey license and an exclusive extraction license with associated work obligations.
  • A survey license may be granted for up to five years, while an extraction license is issued for a duration of up to ten years.
  • Prior to award, the area available for licencing will be publicly announced, specifying the criteria that form the basis for licence awards, as well as the applicable terms and time limits.

The Ministry of Energy is currently working on the first licensing round, scheduled for 2024. The Norwegian Offshore Directorate is tasked with proposing which parts of the now opened area that should be made available for license applications in the first round. The aim is to award the first licences during the first half of 2025.

Initially, applicants will be granted survey licences for exploration and mapping of mineral deposits, including geological, geophysical, geochemical and geotechnical activities and operations and use of facilities to the extent they are used for the survey activity.

As the industry gears up to explore this new frontier, sound legal advice will be key. We are following the development in the seabed mineral space closely. Building on our unrivalled experience from the onshore mining industry and our market leading petroleum law practice we look forward to this next adventure on the Norwegian Continental Shelf.

Utfelling av kobbermineral 4
Malakitt utfelling

Images from Sokkeldirektoratet 16 April 2024. See more images from Sokkeldirektoratet here.

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