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Promise and Peril at the Bottom of the Sea

The Daily

The New York Times

News, Daily News

4.597.8K Ratings

🗓️ 16 September 2022

⏱️ 34 minutes

🧾️ Download transcript


The adoption of electric cars has been hailed as an important step in curbing the use of fossil fuels and fighting climate change. There is a snag, however: such vehicles require around six times as many metals as their gasoline-powered counterparts. A giant storehouse of the necessary resources sits at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean. But retrieving them may, in turn, badly damage the environment. Guest: Eric Lipton, an investigative reporter for The New York Times.

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From New York Times, I'm Lecobabaro. This is a daily.


A giant storehouse of metals that could fulfill the environmental promise of electric


cars is buried at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean. But retrieving all those metals may


itself badly damage the environment.


Today, Natalie Ketrowf spoke with our colleague Eric Lipton about how a mining company and


a regulator are balancing billions of dollars in profits against the future of the ocean floor.


It's Friday September 16.


Eric, tell me how you ended up on a boat in the Pacific Ocean last year.


Well, the story of how I ended up on this boat really starts towards the end of the Trump administration of 2019.


I was working on a piece about how various federal agencies were racing to get things done before President Trump left office.


And one of the things that I saw was this surge in new applications for mining operations and spots across the United States.


And the Trump team was trying to steamroll as many of these through as possible.


And I thought, what's going on here? What explains this surge in demand for new mines in a country where actually there had not been a lot of new mines started in recent decades?


And the answer was the electric vehicle revolution. Mining was really at the center of that.


It's not just in the US, but around the world. Governments and automakers have been hailing electric vehicles as key to curbing the use of fossil fuels.


And really to fighting global warming. But these environmentally friendly vehicles, they require something like six times as many metals as gas powered cars, mainly to power their batteries.


We're talking things like nickel and cobalt and lithium and copper. And the existing mines just aren't producing nearly enough of these metals to satisfy the booming demand for these materials worldwide.


So everyone's racing to develop their own metal supply chains to try to meet this growing demand.


But it turns out that one of the richest untapped sources for these raw metals is not on land, but rather two and a half miles beneath the surface of the Pacific Ocean.


So Eric, you're saying there are a bunch of metals that are just sitting on the ocean floor?


Yeah, that's right. At the bottom of the Pacific Ocean for hundreds of thousands of square miles in the area between Hawaii and Mexico.


The sea bed is blanketed with these black potato size rocks. And they have this really high content of manganese and nickel and cobalt.


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