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Growing pressure for the extraction of potential mineral resources of Antarctica in the 1970s led to international negotiations on a comprehensive minerals regime in the 1980s, in the light of possible environmental and political problems caused by any unregulated exploration and mining. The Treaty nations adopted the Convention on the Regulation of Antarctic Mineral Resource Activities in 1988, which would allow mineral prospecting and mining activities under the control of an international managing body.
Support for the convention collapsed, however, after a major campaign was mounted against mineral exploitation by environmental groups. Major oil spillages caused by from the running aground of polar transporter Bahía Paraíso off the Antarctic Peninsula and the oil tanker Exxon Valdez in Alaska also turned public opinion against mineral exploitation, and the convention ultimately failed to come into force.
The collapse of the former agreement led to the discussion of a comprehensive measure for the environmental protection of Antarctica and the subsequent development of a draft environmental protocol. The Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty (the Environmental Protocol) was eventually agreed in 1991 and came in force in 1998. It states that ‘any activity relating to mineral resources, other than scientific research, shall be prohibited’. This indefinite ban on mining, however, may be reviewed in 2048 and could be changed if a binding legal agreement on exploitation is reached.
For further interests, more information is available from The Antarctic of our sustainability hub.