Tendering and prospecting
The commercial rights to marine sand and gravel resources in the waters around the UK are held by The Crown Estate who own the seabed out to 12nm and retain the rights to the non-energy mineral resources out to 200nm, as part of the hereditary possessions of the Sovereign. Under The Crown Estate Act 1961, The Crown Estate Commissioners have a duty to maintain and enhance the value of the estate’s assets and to secure revenue from them.
Prospecting rights for new areas of marine aggregate exploration are awarded by The Crown Estate through a commercial tendering process. Limited survey operations can be undertaken prior to tendering on a non-exclusive basis to allow applicants to define more precisely the potential of a given area.
The award of a successful tender provides the operator with exclusive prospecting rights over a defined seabed area up to a maximum of 150km2, and the option to receive a production agreement to extract marine aggregate.
A minimum standard of prospecting survey investigation is defined as part of the tender process, including the need to obtain high quality data using a range of techniques. Those may include bathymetric and side scan sonar surveys, shallow seismic profiling, seabed surface and sub-surface sediment sampling.
Subject to the identification of a commercially viable deposit, the applicant can then apply to The Crown Estate for a marine aggregate production agreement. The production agreement represents a commercial arrangement between the operator and The Crown Estate (as mineral owner), and this will only be issued if the operator first secures a Marine Licence from the regulator.
Seabed exploration is challenging. Surveying involves acoustic, seismic and seabed sampling techniques. Acoustic surveys provide a contoured image of the seabed surface that helps determine the type of material that forms the seabed. Seismic profiling data produces a cross-section of the seabed that enables us to understand how it was formed. Sampling provides essential information about processes occurring on the seabed and also the type and quality of the resources targeted.