Norway’s minority centre-left government and two large opposition parties have made a deal to open the Arctic Ocean up to seabed mineral exploration – despite warnings by environmental groups that it would threaten the biodiversity of the vulnerable ecosystems in the area.

Officials said in June that the government wants to open parts of the Norwegian continental shelf for commercial deep sea mining in line with the country’s strategy to seek new economic opportunities and reduce its reliance on oil and gas.

Frode Pleym, head of the local chapter of Greenpeace, said: “This is a disaster for the sea.

“Norway is now allowing irreversible interventions in areas where nature is completely unknown.”

Martin Sveinssonn Melvaer of the Norwegian Bellona environmental group said the move was “completely contrary to scientific recommendations” and believes “it is a dangerous derailment in the fight against climate change to open up seabed minerals”.

The Norwegian government – made up of the Labour and the Centre Party – made the deal with the conservatives from Hoeyre and the Progress Party, the NTB news agency said.

It said they had agreed on a step-by-step opening process where the Norwegian parliament, or Stortinget, will approve the first development projects, in the same way as it has done for certain extraction projects in the petroleum sector.

The Scandinavian country, which is one of the world’s wealthiest due to its vast oil and gas reserves, says there are significant mineral resources on the seabed of the Norwegian continental shelf.

According to the Norwegian Petroleum Directorate, there are sulphides and manganese crusts containing metals and minerals that are crucial for making batteries, wind turbines, PCs and mobile phones.

If proven to be profitable, and if extraction can be done sustainably, seabed mineral activities can strengthen the economy, including employment in Norway, while ensuring the supply of crucial metals for the world’s transition to sustainable energy, the ministry of petroleum and energy said in June.

The planned area is located south-west of the Arctic island of Svalbard.