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Equinor sizes up seabed minerals

Norwegian operator developing new seismic technology to target deposits on sea floor

Norway's Equinor may expand into seabed mineral mining after developing a new seismic technology to search for valuable minerals offshore.

The company is in the process of patenting the technology and has established a project group to study business opportunities within seabed mining.

The project is in an early phase with many uncertainties related to environmental impact and value potential, an Equinor spokesman told Upstream.

“We are applying to conduct a test of a new technology to search for seabed minerals," he said.

"However, Equinor has not yet taken a decision to make this into a new business area for the company.”

So far, only the Norwegian Petroleum Directorate (NPD) has been allowed to search for minerals off Norway, with tests from the Norwegian Sea indicating high concentrations of potentially valuable minerals that are expected to be in demand for use in technology needed in the global energy transition.

However, a new Seabed Minerals Act came into force on 1 July that facilitates exploration for and production of mineral deposits on the continental shelf in accordance with social objectives, to be regulated by the Ministry of Petroleum & Energy.

Equinor wants to test its technology in an area where minerals have already been identified and mapped to see if the seismic will show the same results, but it will have to be patient.

The ministry earlier this month turned down its application to test the technology on a part of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge called Mohns Ridge, north-east of the Norwegian Arctic island of Jan Mayen, because the law requires the authorities to conduct impact assessments before it can allow commercial companies to start exploring.

A ministry spokesman told Upstream that mining for seabed minerals has potential to become a new and important marine business area for Norway.

“The government has stated that it will consider opening of parts of the continental shelf for commercial and sustainable extraction of minerals,” he said.

"The impact assessment should shed a light on environmental, business-related, economic and social impacts of a potential opening.”

Equinor’s new seismic technology, developed at its research centre in the Rotvoll district of Trondheim, seeks to study whether 2D seismic lines can be used for mapping mid-ridges.

Equinor wants to conduct its test on an area called Loki's Castle, a field of five active hydrothermal vents located at 73 degrees north on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge between Greenland and Norway at a depth of 2352 meters.

“A grid of 2D lines will be collected, and a small seismic 3D cube around Loki's Castle can be made for comparison with 2D data,” Equinor wrote in its application.

The company aims to use survey vessels that are equipped for surveying the seabed and the upper part of the geology with multi-beam sonar in addition to seismic shoots.

736489146e02eb15076dff07ca9ef6e8 On call: Swire Seabed's Seabed-Constructor vessel Photo: SWIRE SEABED

While commercial players wait for access, the Norwegian Petroleum Directorate (NPD) is continuing its task of mapping seabed minerals on behalf of Norwegian authorities, and last week sent off the vessel Seabed Constructor for a month of exploration in the Norwegian Sea.

“It’s exciting that the NPD has been given the task of exploring the geology and the deposits, as well as performing the mapping,” NPD geologist Jan Stenlokk said on NPD’s web site.

"We are now at the very beginning of work that could have a significant impact on Norwegian resources and industry in the future.”

According to the NPD, the area surrounding the volcanic Mohns Ridge between Jan Mayen and Bear Island is still virtually unexplored.

However, several occurrences of sulphides and manganese crusts have been proven, most recently during an NPD campaign last year.

The sulphides were found along Mohns Ridge, while manganese crusts have been proven in several locations along the Voring Spur and around Jan Mayen.

The Norwegian Sea manganese crusts fall into two groups, according to the NPD — one that contains about double the amount of rare earth minerals (REE) compared with samples from the Pacific Ocean and the rest of the Atlantic Ocean, and another group with lower concentrations.

However, the NPD found that both crust groups contain 20 to 80 times more lithium — an element important for the energy transition as a component in batteries — as well as four to seven times more of the REE scandium than samples from other regions.

7c501b020e8b2c558be84e2ccfa2eb82 Studies: NPD geologist Jan Stenlokk Photo: STIAN GILJE/NPD
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