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Norway offered large areas of the Arctic region for its inaugural seabed mineral licensing round on Wednesday and aims to award exploration permits during the first half of 2025, the country’s energy ministry said.

Norway may become the first country in the world to start commercial deepsea mining, hoping to extract minerals needed for solar panels, wind turbines and electric car batteries needed to replace fossil fuel energy.

“The world needs minerals for the green transition, and the government wants to explore if it is possible to extract seabed minerals in a sustainable manner from the Norwegian continental shelf,” Energy Minister Terje Aasland said in a statement.

The government has previously said preliminary official resource estimates showed substantial accumulations of metals and minerals, ranging from copper to rare earth elements.

In January, the Norwegian parliament voted in favour of opening about 280 000 km2 of ocean areas between Jan Mayen island and the Svalbard archipelago for seabed mineral exploration.

The 386 blocks proposed on Wednesday cover about 38% of the total area opened by parliament, and the selection was based on industry input, the energy ministry said.

Seabed mining, however, has attracted criticism from environmentalists concerned at the prospect the pursuit of profit will disrupt one of the last parts of the natural environment that is relatively pristine and is little understood. They are challenging Norway’s plans in court.

WWF, which filed the lawsuit in May, condemned the proposal on Wednesady, saying it was a significant blow to the country’s reputation as responsible steward of the oceans.

Greenpeace, also on Wednesday, said the proposed blocks constituted a “shockingly large” area, given previous warnings from scientists regarding the potential impact on fragile ecosystems.

Seabed mineral exploration plans also face opposition from a number of countries, including France, that have called for a global moratorium to take more time to better understand the impact on deepsea organisms.

The Council of the European Union on Tuesday “noted with concern” Norway’s seabed mining plans, emphasising the need for a thorough impact assessment.

The Norwegian government has said the initial exploration stage will have a minimal impact on seabed organisms and that companies will need separate consents before any production can start.