Sheryll Murray MP: If we want clean energy we need the raw materials
South East Cornwall MP Sheryll Murray writes about her Westminster Hall debate today on the UK deep sea mining industry.
If deep sea mining gets the help it needs it will create jobs, contribute billions in tax and give us the cobalt we need for electric vehicle batteries.
Deep Sea Mining has been a dream of engineers and scientists since the early Seventies. While Brian May was forming Queen, Lockheed Martin, the British defence contractor, was painstakingly charting a patch of the Pacific ocean. They were drawing a treasure map.
The “treasure” was fields of little lumps, the shape and size of a potato. These lumps, or nodules, have lain on the seabed, 3 miles deep beneath the clear waters of the Pacific, for millions of years, steadily growing at the rate of one inch every thousand years.
They contain gold, silver, and other precious metals - but, tantalisingly, in such tiny quantities that the cost of collecting them would vastly exceed their value.
So those neat, careful charts of the Pacific nodule fields lay forgotten in the archive.
Now, this neglected and crazy idea is suddenly not just feasible but important and urgent.
Almost 50 years after the nodule fields were first surveyed, the true value hidden in the nodules turns out to be not gold, but cobalt, nickel, manganese and rare earth elements: minerals vital for mobile phones, wind turbines, solar panels and rechargeable batteries.
Clean, reliable electric cars are now here, but their development can progress no faster than the development of reliable rechargeable batteries. For that, we need cobalt.
The UK is totally dependent on imports, especially from China, for our supply of cobalt.
The area covered by the UK licences contains almost one billion tonnes of minerals. After just one deep-sea mining operation, we would go from being a 100% net importer to a net exporter of cobalt, nickel, manganese and rare earth elements.
We could lead the world in environmentally-responsible exploitation of vital seabed minerals. We have the engineers, the marine scientists, the ecologists, the finance industry. We have the offshore oil and gas expertise. We have high, respected environmental standards.
All this means huge value to unlock for the taxpayer, estimated at £6 billion in tax and royalties over 25 years.
Five years ago, I took the Deep Sea Mining Bill through Parliament. It made some technical changes to our old law to bring it into line with the newer UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). It allowed the UK to sponsor mining licence applications. It marked the beginning of a new British mining industry.
Five years later, our ability to collect these minerals and our need for them have both vastly increased.
So now, I am saying it’s time for our Conservative Government to throw its wholehearted support behind this fledgling industry. A little push now means vast rewards in a few years’ time.
Let’s lead the world in maritime exploration once again. Let’s create university centres of excellence. Let’s secure our minerals supply for the future of our clean industries and the electric car industry. Let’s lock in those future tax revenues for ourselves and for our children. Let’s lead the world in establishing proper environmental standards.
This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity. Let’s seize the day.
Sheryll Murray is the Conservative MP for South East Cornwall