An extension of Oman’s continental shelf, for which an application was made by the government to the United Nations two years ago, could potentially open up opportunities for seabed mining in the Sultanate, according to a key expert.
Joshua A Brien (pictured), Special Counsel at prominent international law firm Cooley LLP, said the Sultanate would be able to exercise rights over minerals found in the Extended Continental Shelf, which typically extends well beyond the 200km Exclusive Economic Zone to a distance of 350 nautical miles.
Brien was the keynote speaker on ‘Marine Mining’ on the second day of the Ocean Economy & Technology Conference under way at the Oman Convention and Exhibition Centre.
A panel discussion on the subject featured international experts Laurens de Jonge, Manager – Design and Estimation for Mining, at IHC Mining; Rene Grogan, Principal — Gro Sustainably; and Greg Stemm, Chairman — Odyssey Marine Exploration, and President – International Marine Minerals Society (IMMS). The moderator was Sophie Egden, Senior Mining Technical Specialist on the World Bank’s Deep Sea Minerals Team.
Later in remarks to the Observer, Brien said: “As a result of Oman’s Extended Continental Shelf mission, it opens up the prospect of exercising rights over areas that are highly prospective for seabed minerals — mainly polymetallic sulphides known to occur in the vicinity of Oman’s continental shelf.”
“Oman will be able to exercise rights in respect to those deposits. However, to do that, Oman will need to start thinking about establishing legislation, and also policies in terms of how it will manage its seabed resources.”
In October 2017, the Sultanate submitted a formal application to the UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf, seeking exclusive rights over a large area of the seafloor in the Arabian Sea.
A successful bid would effectively mean that Oman will have the right to, among other things, explore for hydrocarbons, minerals and other non-living marine resources. The potential for seabed mining is one of a wide array of opportunities the Omani government hopes to unlock as part of an ambitious bid to develop an Ocean Economy (also known as Blue Economy) in the Sultanate. Also associated with the Ocean Economy are opportunities linked to Fisheries & Aquaculture, Shipping & Logistics, Tourism, Ocean Energy & Renewables, Offshore and Oil & Gas.
Seabed mining typically targets minerals located at significant depths, according to Brien. “We are talking depths of over 2,500 metres. All seabed minerals of commercial interest tend to occur at depths greater than 2,000 metres. You have shallow mining, such as for sands, aggregates and phosphates, which tend be at shallow depths, but real deep seabed minerals are quite deep at depths of up to 5,000 metres.” Brien stressed the need for further intensive study to establish the concrete feasibility of seabed mining. “In Oman, no one knows (precisely) yet what is available out there. You have to find out what resources are there on the seabed — no one has ever collected that information so far.”
According to the legal expert, the waters in the Gulf, especially near Oman, Saudi Arabia and Yemen, as well as Pakistan, are known to hold seabed minerals. “The area is quite rich in minerals but there is a lot of work to be done to obtain more data and to find out what there is out there,” he noted.
California-headquartered Cooley LLP specializes in various aspects of the Blue Economy, says Brien. “We advise on maritime boundaries, seabed mining, jurisdictional issues, international fisheries, maritime transport — all the things related to the Blue Economy.”