Test drilling for rare seabed minerals on the Norwegian continental shelf has yielded promising results. Can minerals and gas hydrates become the next Norwegian oil adventure?
Renewable energy sources and battery technology call for access to substantial quantities of minerals with rare-earth elements (REEs). Oil veterans will now be heavily invested in the new oil adventure.
Marine minerals will be important for securing the supply and provide supply independence. Norwegian insiders believe that seabed mining will be competitive in cost and come with a smaller environmental impact. Norway has introduced groundbreaking technologies and environmentally sustainable systems within subsea production of oil and gas and been a leader within this field for decades.
Related: Sustainable Shipping in Norway
Crossover of technology
A crossover of technology from subsea production systems is very attractive. Norway has also a proud history and competitive edge within floating production systems, with fifty years of experience from building and operating floating oil and gas installations.
The ship “Island Valiant” has test drilled at depths of over 3000 meters for minerals. Many of the minerals are located on the seabed. With the drilling, the Ministry of Petroleum and Energgy (MPE) in Norway wants to map how large the deposits of minerals are.
On 1 April 2017, the Ministry was given administrative responsibility related to prospecting for and recovering mineral deposits on the NCS. Administrative authority for seabed minerals was delegated to the NPD. That included mapping resources, compiling resource accounts and following up the industry’s activities, as well as providing technical and economic advice to the MPE. Little exploration for mineral deposits had so far taken place in Norwegian sea areas.
Larger than offshore wind
Energy production with a low carbon footprint could mean rising demand for gas and minerals with REEs. Renewable energy output and the associated need for battery storage is expected to grow. It has long been known that big deposits of minerals with REEs could exist in the deep oceans.
According to people in the industry, seabed mining has the potential to be larger than offshore wind. Initial estimated studies conducted by NTNU in Trondheim suggest that there are marine minerals with a value of 1000 billion NOK in Norwegian waters.
Towards the end of 2019, three veterans, Hans Olav Hinde, Walter Sognes and Tore Halvorsen established a new company, Loke Marine Minerals, to take part in this new adventure on the Norwegian continental shelf.
“Norwegian companies have paved the way internationally within offshore exploration and appraisal technology, such as seismic surveys, EM, advanced drilling and autonomous underwater vehicles (AUV). These proven and familiar technology is part of our approach towards mapping and quantifying the resources. Norway has a unique opportunity to become a leader within Marine Minerals, building on experience and competences from the oil & gas sector, focusing on a prudent environmental approach,” says Walter Sognes.
“We believe that seabed minerals can be extracted in a safe and environmentally friendly way here in Norway. It can be a big industry. Concentrations of minerals on the seabed can be 10 to 15 times higher than in a mine on land,” says Hans Olav Hinde.
Seabed minerals are known to exist in the deep parts of the Norwegian Sea. The University of Bergen (UiB) made the first discoveries of “black smokers” there more than a decade ago. Drawing in part on the NPD’s large multibeam bathymetric data set from these waters, the UiB identified a number of sulfide deposits (both smokers and mounds) along the volcanic Mohn Ridge between Jan Mayen and Bjørnøya and further north. Samples have since been taken from a number of sulfide deposits and crusts while mapping the Norwegian Sea in a multi-year research partnership between the UiB and the NPD.
Walter Sognes has been key in establishing and heading several companies including Revus Energy and Spike Exploration. Tore Halvorsen has pioneered subsea solutions since 1980 and been global leader in FMC Technologies. Hans Olav Hinde is a serial entrepreneur within the oil and gas sector and has also been working for Esso.
The Next Norwegian Oil Adventure? Written by Tor Kjolberg