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UNFC under consideration by the International Seabed Authority for classification of polymetallic nodules

The United Nations Framework Classification for Fossil Energy and Mineral Reserves and Resources (UNFC) is under consideration by the International Seabed Authority (ISA) as a resource management tool for application to polymetallic nodules.

UNFC was presented at a workshop on Polymetallic Nodules Resource Classification organized by ISA and the Indian Ministry of Earth Sciences in Goa, India, from 13-17 October. Polymetallic nodule resources contain nickel, cobalt, copper, manganese and rare earth elements as the main minerals of economic interest. The development of a polymetallic nodules deposit on the deep seabed is anticipated to be a multi-billion dollar investment, making it important that investors and other stakeholders have clear guidelines with which to compare claims of the resource endowments used to justify investments. The Committee for Mineral Reserves International Reporting Standards (CRIRSCO) Template, which provides the solid minerals specifications for UNFC, was also presented. Together, UNFC and the CRIRSCO Template provide a package that meets the needs for business, government and public reporting.

ISA is an autonomous international organization that regulates exploration for and exploitation of marine mineral resources in the international area (marine areas beyond the limits of national jurisdiction also known as "the Area"). In July 2000, ISA adopted regulations on prospecting and exploration for polymetallic nodules in the Area. These regulations provide an exploration contractor with exclusive rights to explore for polymetallic nodules on the seabed in geographic areas of up to 75,000 km2 for a period of 15 years. During the duration of the contract, contractors are required to submit an annual report on work undertaken, including resource assessment.

ISA has entered into thirteen exploration contracts for polymetallic nodules with entities from Belgium, China, France, Germany, India, Japan, Kiribati, Korea, Nauru, Poland, the Russian Federation, Tonga and the United Kingdom. Twelve of the exploration areas are in the Clarion and Clipperton fracture zones in the Pacific Ocean and one is in the Central Indian Ocean basin. As required by the regulations, these entities are engaged in assessing the resources in their respective exploration areas, developing technologies for mining their deposits and for processing nodules into the metals of commercial interest, and acquiring baseline environmental data for environmental impact assessments prior to obtaining contracts for mining.

The key goals of the Goa workshop included to:

Ascertain the work being undertaken by contractors for polymetallic nodule exploration in the Area with a view to the standardization of the exploration and resource data required to be reported to ISA;

Review current practice in land-based mineral development on national reporting standards for exploration results and resource classification;

Identify special aspects of polymetallic nodule deposits  that  should  be addressed in resource reporting standards;

Identify any issues arising from differences in national reporting standards to which the Authority should respond; assist contractors to identify and implement best practices in polymetallic nodule resource evaluation.

David MacDonald, Vice President, Segment Reserves for BP and Chairman of the UNECE Expert Group on Resource Classification, which is responsible for promotion and development of UNFC, noted “it was generally agreed at the workshop in Goa that a resource management tool covering the total resource base, like UNFC, will offer great value to ISA at this stage in the development of polymetallic nodules. The Expert Group is excited to work with ISA in the development of guidelines needed to meet the specific needs of polymetallic nodules.”

For further information, please visit: http://www.unece.org/energy/se/reserves.html and/or contact Charlotte Griffiths at reserves.energy@unece.org