By Victoria Klesty
OSLO (Reuters) -Norway's minority government and two opposition parties have agreed to allow seabed mineral exploration in the Arctic region, they said on Tuesday, in a key step towards full-scale ocean mining.
The deal comes as Norway hopes to become the first country to make deep-sea mining happen on a commercial scale and secure critical minerals and jobs despite concerns over the environmental impact and international calls for a moratorium.
The amended version of the government's proposal, which parliament will formally debate on Jan. 4 followed by a vote, sets stricter environmental survey requirements during the exploration phase than originally planned.
The compromise also gives parliament the final say at a later date on whether to approve full-scale mining based on data gathered from the deep-sea environment during the initial exploration.
The deal was agreed between the two parties in the minority government - Labour and the Centre Party - and the opposition Conservatives and the Progress Party, securing a comfortable majority.
Baard Ludvig Thorheim, a member of parliament for the Conservatives, told Reuters the environmental bar for seabed mining had been set fairly high in the amended proposal.
"We believe, and hope, it will become the international standard for this activity," he said. "At the same time it is important that it is a framework that is predictable for commercial players, on which we rely on for these activities."
He said the parties had hotly debated how to balance the need for environmental requirements against commercial viability for companies seeking to start marine mining.
"If the demands are too steep and too complicated, there won't be any interest, but at the same time it is also in these companies' interest to partake in an activity that has a good reputation and adheres to demands on sustainability," he said.
Seabed mining start-up Loke Marine Minerals, which is backed by investors such as oil service company Technip FMC and Norwegian maritime group Wilhelmsen, welcomed the decision.
"Great day not only for Norway but for the world," Loke CEO Walter Sognnes Norway told Reuters. "We need to have a fact- based evaluation of deep sea minerals as a provider of critical minerals for the green energy transition."
Environmental group WWF, however, said the decision to move forward damaged Norway's reputation for ocean preservation but added it hoped parliament would eventually block any move to full-scale mining.
(Reporting by Victoria Klesty; additional reporting by Nerijus Adomaitis; editing by Terje Solsvik, Sandra Maler and Jane Merriman)