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by Henry Hill
Tuesday, 4
July 2023
Reaction
18:00

Ignore the naysayers on deep-sea mining

The latest bout of virtue signalling came from William Hague
by Henry Hill
William Hague enters deep waters. Credit: Getty

One of the more pernicious features of the United Kingdom’s debate on Net Zero is the tendency for politicians to strike bold poses which are entirely at odds with the economic and technological reality of the 21st century.

The most obvious example of this is on energy, where the political class seems committed to squeezing the life out of our North Sea oil and gas sector. We will need fossil fuels for decades during the transition but no matter: as long as other countries are doing the drilling, our conscience is green.


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Now we have another example: peer and former Tory leader William Hague is calling for Britain to support a global moratorium on deep-sea mining. This would be a huge backward step, considering that, at present, the UK holds the perfectly sensible position of being open to mining the seafloor if adequate environmental safeguards can be built into the process. 

Even more than fossil fuels, human civilisation is going to need these metals indefinitely, for everything from computers and smartphones to the battery technologies required to power the clean energy revolution.

That means they’re going to need to be mined somewhere. Ruling out deep-sea operations would merely shift all that demand to the surface — and increase our dependency on nations such as China, which is rich in rare earth minerals and has invested heavily in the sector.

In contrast, the mining conditions in the Clarion-Clipperton Zone (the bit of the ocean where licences are being granted) are ideal. At four to six kilometres down, any operations would take place on the abyssal plain, a dark desert where around 70% of life is bacterial.

Better still, these explorations are looking at so-called polymetallic nodules: basically potato-sized rocks — rich in cobalt, copper, manganese, and nickel — which are just sitting on the ocean floor. No drilling or explosive blasting is required, just a robot retriever attached to a ship, and they can be processed and refined on land.

Of course, such operations would not (yet) be entirely carbon-neutral. Nor would they have no impact whatsoever on the environment. But no human activity does, and compared to the environmental impact of surface mining, which nearly always takes place in areas vastly richer in natural life, the difference is significant.

Given the UK’s tiny share of global carbon emissions, one way this country could make an outsize contribution to the fight against climate change is by taking a leading role in developing and exporting the technologies the world will need to green up its act — creating jobs and wealth in the process. Yet that would involve taking ownership of the hard reality of our resource needs, and adopting a serious, strategic approach to our R&D and industrial strategies.

It also requires the courage to accept responsibility for the consequences of such policies — including environmental impact — rather than allowing much more serious consequences to play out for which the politicians cannot be blamed so directly.

So much easier for politicians to strike a pious tone, sign a moratorium, and let other countries — often with very different values — corner the market on the metals we need. We can import Chinese minerals while issuing a stern statement denouncing Chinese mining practices, after all.

There is a genuine treasure trove at the bottom of the Pacific. It would be a damning indictment of our age if instead of seeking the best way to claim it, we found pious excuses to leave it lying on the abyssal plain.

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Steve Farrell
Steve Farrell
2 months ago

I honestly wonder where the hell stuff is supposed to come from. Apparently North Sea O+G has to end. Lancashire can’t be fracked. Windmills can’t be built. And now the seabed can’t be mined. These activities aren’t pursued because of a pathological hatred of sacred Gaia; resource extraction is vital for the modern world to remain modern.

As hard as it is to believe, apparently there’s a vocal (if not large) segment of society that genuinely thinks useful stuff just falls out of the sky.

Betsy Arehart
Betsy Arehart
2 months ago
Reply to  Steve Farrell

They don’t want the world to remain “modern.”

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
2 months ago

When the 16 year Hague spoke at the 1977 Tory Party Conference I marked him down as a precocious pillock.

Nothing he has done since has in anyway changed my opinion of him.

Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
2 months ago

he should be an unfunny comedian

Adrian Smith
Adrian Smith
2 months ago

Surely you can no longer consider him precocious.

Jim Veenbaas
Jim Veenbaas
2 months ago

Yet these people have no issue putting massive wind farms on the surface of the ocean. In the US, there’s growing evidence these wind farms are killing whales. Hmm. Their heads must be spinning trying to resolve their internal contradictions. Tells you a lot about the real agenda.

Betsy Arehart
Betsy Arehart
2 months ago
Reply to  Jim Veenbaas

Same with covering the desert with solar installations and the plains with wind “farms.”

Steve Murray
Steve Murray
2 months ago
Reply to  Jim Veenbaas

If only they could plug their spinning heads into the national grid, we wouldn’t have an energy problem

Simon Denis
Simon Denis
2 months ago

William Hague? How typical. A fully signed up member of the shoot themselves in the foot wing of Tory Wettery.
Ideological challenge? First duck; second, bluster; third, give in.
Note: only give in at the very moment when everyone is starting to realise how stupid your modish opponents were in the first place. That way you can be really unpopular with the left and the authentic right will hate you. Better still, you get credit with absolutely nobody.
Finally, retire from politics huffing and puffing about anyone awkward or principled enough to put a fight.
Then, sell your memoirs.

Steve Murray
Steve Murray
2 months ago
Reply to  Simon Denis

He’s like a poor imitation of Tony Blair, still trying to remain relevant decades after they had any impact. The real question is: why the hell does anyone take any notice whatsoever?

Peter Johnson
Peter Johnson
2 months ago

For once I am on the side of the greens. We have better knowledge about the surface of Mars than the bottom of the oceans. Far from being a desert – scientists discover new species every time they descend. Not bacteria or little jellyfish – but new octopuses. They discovered a new species of 25 foot whale last year. The only reason we are even contemplating this madness is because of global warming – the all purpose excuse for everything globalist billionaires want to do. We need all those rare earth minerals to build electric cars – which are frankly no better for the environment than gasoline cars. The Bill Gates of the world also know that if no one sees it no one will complain. We will eradicate entire species before we even knew they existed.

Last edited 2 months ago by Gunner Myrtle
R Wright
R Wright
2 months ago

I’d be grateful if someone could find out who is funding Hague to spout this nonsense. I have long since stopped believing that these people believe any of the platitudes they say, and would rather just know which lobbyists are whispering into his ear.

David Harris
David Harris
2 months ago
Reply to  R Wright

We are. He gets £300+ a day clocking in to the HoL.

Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
2 months ago

Rejection of ALL lgbt/ global warming/ racism pandering policies, and a clear opposition to them would give any political party a landslide …

David Harris
David Harris
2 months ago

Indeed. Vote Reform Party whenever you can. Starting at the GE24.

Dougie Undersub
Dougie Undersub
2 months ago

Russia and Saudi Arabia have just announced they will be cutting oil and gas production because this will lead to an increase in price. Keir Starmer has just announced that a Labour Government will cut N Sea oil and gas production as a route to cheaper energy. I wonder which has the tighter grip on basic economics.

Brendan O'Leary
Brendan O'Leary
2 months ago

OPEC do this as and when they want to: open the taps to decrease prices and drive competitors out of business (as they tried and failed to do with US tight-shale – aka “fracking” – development), or throttle back the taps to drive prices up to fund their domestic spending.