The UN agency that governs international waters is mired in a grueling debate over deep-sea mining

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — Members of a United Nations agency that governs international waters were locked in a fierce debate Friday night over whether to allow deep-sea mining and set a new deadline for proposed regulations still stuck in draft mode.

The Jamaica-based United Nations International Seabed Authority began its two-week conference on the issue on July 10, but closed-door discussions continued on the final day of the meeting.

“It’s quite a marathon,” said Michael Lodge, the agency’s secretary general, during a press briefing on Friday. “There are still details to work out.”

The agency has yet to issue any interim mining licenses, and it missed a July 9 deadline to approve a set of rules governing such activity.

Companies and countries can now apply for a mining license as demand for precious metals found in the deep sea and used in electric car batteries and other green technologies increases.

The UN agency has issued more than 30 exploration licenses, but none for actual mining so far. Most exploration is concentrated in an area between Hawaii and Mexico that spans approximately 1.7 million square miles (4.5 million square kilometers), with activity taking place at depths down to 19,000 feet (6,000 meters).

Members of the International Seabed Authority said they planned to resume work on the proposed regulatory framework at the body’s November meeting, the third of the year.

Asked what would happen if a country or company applied for a deep sea mining license with no regulations in place yet, Lodge said the council would deal with things as they arise.

“The board has the ability to meet whenever they want,” he said.

Council President Juan José González Mijares told the briefing that a regulatory framework must be in place before any mining activity begins.

A growing number of countries are calling for a moratorium or precautionary pause on deep sea mining, saying they are concerned about the potential impact on the environment. They want more scientific studies done first.

Scientists have warned that such activity could trigger silt storms and create noise and light pollution in a barely explored aquatic underworld.

However, companies pushing for deep-sea mining argue that underwater mining would be cheaper and have less impact on the environment than land-based mining.

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