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UN agency that governs international waters engaged in a grueling debate over deep-sea mining

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — Members of a UN agency that administers international waters engaged in a fierce debate late Friday over whether to allow deep-sea mining and set a new deadline for proposed regulations that are still stuck in draft mode.

The UN’s International Seabed Authority, based in Jamaica, began its two-week conference on the issue on July 10, but closed-door discussions dragged on into the final day of the meeting.

“It’s quite a marathon,” Michael Lodge, the agency’s secretary general, said at a news conference Friday. “There are still loose ends to tie up.”

The agency has not yet issued any provisional mining permits, and it missed a July 9 deadline to approve a set of rules to regulate such activities.

Companies and countries can now apply for a mining license as demand for precious metals found in the deep sea and used in batteries for electric cars and other green technology rises.

The UN agency has issued more than 30 exploration permits, but none for actual mining so far. Most of the exploration is concentrated in an area between Hawaii and Mexico spanning some 4.5 million square miles, with activity occurring at depths of up to 19,000 feet (6,000 meters).

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Members of the International Seabed Authority said they expect to resume work on the proposed regulatory framework at the body’s November meeting, the third this year.

When asked what would happen if a country or company applied for a deep-sea mining license with no regulations left, Lodge said the council would handle things as they came.

“The council can meet whenever it wants,” he said.

Council President Juan José González Mijares said at the briefing that there should be a regulatory framework in place before exploitation activities begin.

A growing number of countries are calling for a moratorium or precautionary pause on deep sea mining as they are concerned about the potential impact on the environment. They want more scientific studies first.

Scientists have warned that such activities could create silt storms and create noise and light pollution in a watery underworld that has barely been explored.

However, companies pushing for deep sea mining argue that subsea mining would be cheaper and have less environmental impact than land mining.

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