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Subsea engineering opportunity: International Market Insights Report series - seabed mining, mineral extraction and methane hydrates


This report is part of a series of reports considering the opportunities for the Scottish oil and gas (O&G) subsea supply chain in other subsea and related markets. It covers seabed mining (SBM) – which is the extraction of minerals from deposits on the seafloor – and focuses in particular on Deep Sea Mining (DSM), which occurs at water depths in excess of 500 m. It also covers the extraction of methane hydrates. The report looks at the international activity in each of the sectors, including where there is current activity and where there is the potential for activity based on published targets and available resource and opportunity. It considers synergies with the subsea O&G supply chain, highlighting where there is a direct cross over and also where there are opportunities for collaboration to provide innovative solutions.


The research is based on a desk review of existing evidence.


The report finds that interest in DSM is rapidly increasing for a number of reasons, including modern advances in subsea technology, reducing resources of minerals on land as well as increased demand for these resources. However, DSM is yet to occur at a commercial scale. There is a pilot project in planning by the Canadian company Nautilus Minerals, off the coast of Papua New Guinea; however, it has faced a number of environmental obstacles and resistance from local communities. There is a lack of evidence on the potential impacts of DSM techniques, such as the impact of plumes generated by disturbing the seabed. This presents opportunities in terms of research to develop exploitation regulations on an international scale, and the development of innovative technology to maximise economic benefit, whilst minimising environmental impact. Other challenges to be addressed include the limited ‘real-world’ testing of seafloor production tools (SPTs), the challenges of working at increased water depths and associated increases in pressure, and the development of subsea processing. Synergies with oil and gas are therefore in: the design and manufacture of ROVs and AUVs and the associated tooling; station keeping production support vessels; risers with associated buoyancy and inspection tools; and launch and recovery systems (LARS). Deep-sea mining is expected to be worth £40bn to the UK by 2043 and estimates are that within Europe the mineral resources between 500 – 1,000 m are worth €100 billion. DSM in international waters is regulated by the International Seabed Authority (ISA) which has granted licences to various countries around the world including: China; Singapore; Belgium; Germany; India; France; Japan; Korea; Russia; Poland and Brazil. Countries with current interest in methane hydrates include Japan, China, the USA, Germany and Norway.


The report does not make any specific recommendations.

Author Scottish Enterprise
Published Year 2018
Report Type Research
  • Business infrastructure
    Supporting key sectors
  • Sectors
  • Internationalisation
    Internationalisation of Scottish businesses