EU exclues civil society from MIDAS project on experimental seabed mining

MIDAS (Managing Impacts of Deep-seA reSource exploitation) Project and EU DG Mare (Maritime Affairs and Fisheries) Stakeholder Consultation on Seabed Mining 

Source: EUCC News

The MIDAS project – Managing Impacts of Deep-seA reSource exploitation – is a multidisciplinary research programme that will investigate the environmental impacts of extracting mineral and energy resources from the deep-sea environment. This includes the exploitation of materials such as polymetallic sulphides, manganese nodules, cobalt-rich ferromanganese crusts, methane hydrates and the potential mining of rare earth elements. MIDAS is funded under the European Commission’s Framework 7 programme and started on 1 November 2013 for a period of 3 years

The MIDAS project intends to carry out research into the nature and scales of the potential impacts of mining, including 1) the physical destruction of the seabed by mining, creation of mine tailings and the potential for catastrophic slope failures from methane hydrate exploitation; 2) the potential effects of particle-laden plumes in the water column, and 3) the possible toxic chemicals that might be released by the mining process and their effect on deep-sea ecosystems. Key biological unknowns, such as the connectivity between populations, impacts of the loss of biological diversity on ecosystem functioning, and how quickly the ecosystems will recover will be considered. A major element of MIDAS is the development of methods and technologies for preparing baseline assessments of biodiversity in areas of potential commercial extraction, and monitoring activities remotely in the deep sea during and after exploitation.

The MIDAS project intends to use this information to develop recommendations for best practice in the mining industry. A key component of MIDAS is the involvement of industry within the project and through stakeholder engagements to find feasible solutions. It will also work closely with European and international regulatory organisations to take these recommendations forward into legislation. Despite the broad scope of this project, there is no reference to civil society, or the inclusion of any parties other than industry.

The MIDAS partners are predominantly academic institutions, industry, and consultants, with the  32 partners  listed on the project website here. No environmental non governmental organisations (ENGOs) are partners, though some partners have links with or work with ENGOs. The MIDAS project is referred to by EU DG Mare website in its discussion of seabed mining here, so the project could have an important role in shaping future EU policy.

Upon inquiry to the MIDAS project, it was indicated that there may only be an opportunity for ENGOs and civil society to participate in open conferences near the end of the project. Information will also be published on the project website and newsletter. However, information provision is not  meaningful engagement or participation. Therefore,  there is no meaningful opportunity for civil society organizations and local communities to participate in the MIDAS project, or in the development of best practices for deep sea resource exploitation under this project. In the absence of meaningful civil society and local community participation, DG Mare should not rely solely or significantly on deliverables of the MIDAS project for determining best practices or any regulatory framework.

EU DG Mare will need to establish a separate process for civil society participation in the development of best practices and the overall regulatory framework for deep sea resource exploitation. This separate process would also be required to facilitate the development of broad social acceptance by civil society and local communities for these deep sea and seabed activities This social acceptance has been an EU priority for offshore renewable energy and grid infrastructure development in the North Sea, see article here and been recognized as of great importance by the EU across its many activities.

This observation about meaningful participation by civil society and local communities has relevance for the DG Mare Stakeholder Consultation on Seabed Mining. The European Commission’s Directorate for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries has  initiated a stakeholder consultation exercise on seabed mining. It is posted as an online questionnaire.  DG Mare is seeking responses from public authorities, citizens, companies and organisations concerned with seabed mining. This seabed mining consultation is open until 16 June 2014, and it is very important that that civil society and local communities provide their views.  EUCC will be participating in this consultation, and will post consultation remarks subsequently through this blog and documentation on the EUCC website.