Mining operations for sand, gravel, stone, and salt exist within both enclosed coastal waters and in some nearshore waters along the California coastline. The federal government is exploring the most appropriate locations to initiate new offshore mining of sand and gravel resources, although no new offshore operations are currently being proposed in California. Mineral extraction in deep ocean waters off California's coast have been considered in the past, but were dismissed due to technical, economic, and environmental considerations. However, deep ocean operations may be proposed again in the future. Existing mineral extraction operations in California's enclosed and nearshore ocean waters have proven to be economically viable, but less is known regarding the resource potential or economic viability of deep ocean mineral extraction.


Nearshore Mineral Resource Extraction

Several mineral resource extraction activities occur near or along the California shoreline. These activities include:

Specialty sand was mined for years in the Monterey Bay Area, but such operations were recently terminated.

Offshore Mineral Resource Extraction

A wide variety of mineral resources exist offshore the California coast, although limitations in feasibility and economics, as well as the potential environmental impacts of extraction operations, have eliminated plans to recover these minerals at this time. Some of these mineral resources include:

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Sand and Gravel Extraction

Sand mining operations were conducted in the Monterey Bay Area for many years. Concerns with these operations included the potential to reduce the supply of sand for beaches located down the coast, which can contribute to coastal erosion. Sand and gravel excavated from river systems can also have substantial environmental impacts by degrading river beds, removing Salmon and Steelhead spawning habitat, increasing siltation, and reducing sand and gravel supply to ocean beaches and shorelines, which can accelerate down coast erosion (National Marine Fisheries Service, 1993).

A report titled,"U.S. Outer Continental Shelf Sand and Gravel Resources - Programs, Issues and Recommendations" (Outer Continental Shelf [OCS] Policy Committee's Subcommittee on OCS Sand and Gravel Resources, April 1993), notes the existence of an abundant supply of sand and gravel resources offshore the United States, but the specific localities of these resources are not known without additional study. The report points out that mining costs would be higher than nearshore or onshore activities, but that the quality of OCS mineral resources is likely to be higher. Offshore sand and gravel operations are established industries in Japan, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, and Denmark. The report makes a number of recommendations regarding the need for more detailed assessment and characterization studies; clear federal and State policy or regulatory framework for OCS mining; additional public education regarding these operations; demonstration projects to understand feasibility, environmental impacts, and mitigation techniques; and the development of a strong, effective, and adequately funded marine minerals program to help evaluate these questions.

Recreational and Commercial Collecting

The distinction between commercial and recreational mineral collecting or extraction can sometimes become confusing and has forced both the federal government and the State of California to consider procedures for addressing this issue. For example, jade has been collected for years by scuba divers within Jade Cove, a small stretch of Big Sur coastline located within State tidelands

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and the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. The majority of jade collecting is for relatively small pieces used in personal collections or for sale after polishing or sculpting. Although mineral extraction within State tidelands requires a permit, the State Lands Commission has limited its enforcement of jade collecting violations to cases where major pieces weighing several thousand pounds are being removed. However, the regulations that accompanied designation of the Sanctuary specifically prohibit mineral extraction, including jade.

An organization of recreational jade collectors brought this issue to the attention of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary (MBNMS) Advisory Council (made up of federal, State, and local government, industry, environmental, and research representatives) because they believe that low level collection will not cause unacceptable environmental impacts and will not eliminate jade resources present in the region. The MBNMS Advisory Council appointed a sub-committee to review the merits of jade collection and the potential impacts of this activity on resources located within the Sanctuary and State tidelands. Upon consideration of this issue, the MBNMS Advisory Council recommended that both the National Oceanic and Atmospheric and Administration (NOAA) and the State Lands Commission consider initiating a process for amending or creating new regulations to allow recreational jade collection solely within Jade Cove. The collectors will be recommending a set of take limitations and monitoring procedures to help ensure that this collection will not have adverse environmental impacts. Both agencies have met and are considering procedures to address this issue.

Deep Ocean Mineral Resource Extraction

Some mineral resources, such as manganese nodules, occur primarily on the deep ocean areas known as abyssal plains. Development of deep ocean mineral resources could require processing facilities on ships using technology and equipment that is not currently available in the United States. Alternatively, these activities may require onshore processing and storage facilities that could be proposed to be located along the California coast.

In December 1983, a draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) was prepared by the Department of the Interior's Minerals Management Service (MMS) regarding the potential offering of 180,000 square kilometers for lease within the Gorda Ridge area, an oceanic spreading center located offshore Northern California and Southern Oregon. During the review of the draft EIS, the federal government, in cooperation with the states of Oregon and California, investigated the possibility of deep ocean mining within the Gorda Ridge. The Gorda Ridge Task Force was established in 1984 by the Secretary of the Interior and the Governors of Oregon and California to assess the economic, engineering, and environmental aspects of ocean mining of polymetallic sulfide deposits from this region. Representatives from the Task Force jointly designed and implemented a scientific program that resulted in the discovery of large sulfide deposits offshore Northern California and Southern Oregon. Although substantial information had been developed through this process, the MMS decided in March 1988 not to complete the final EIS based on feasibility problems, potential environmental impacts, and the apparent lack of industry interest. Thus, activities and efforts of the Gorda Ridge Task Force were effectively concluded, as was MMS's involvement in the area for the foreseeable future.

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The overall impacts of deep ocean mining are not entirely known at this time. Although these operations probably would not have much risk of accidents detrimental to the environment, such as major oil spills, they could possibly degrade air quality, disrupt marine resources, interfere with fishing activities, and require the construction of onshore facilities along the California coast. It is not clear as a matter of law whether this extraction would be covered under the existing Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act and administered by the MMS or require additional legislation to authorize and regulate this activity. However, the Department of the Interior has taken the position that deep ocean mineral extraction would be regulated by the MMS.

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