The Cook Islands nodules and their high cobalt values have been known for decades. In fact, the Cook Islands government has spent considerable effort to promote their seabed nodule resources.
In 2009 they passed a comprehensive Seabed Mining Act and formed a Seabed Mining Authority (SMA). Regulations covering Exploration Licenses and Mining Permits were issued in 2013. More recently, prompted by the work of Kato et al [nature geoscience, 3 July 2011], the sea floor sediments that lie beneath the nodules in the Cook Islands Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) have been identified as a potential resource of Rare Earth Elements (REE) and Scandium (Sc).
In 2017, OML signed an agreement with the Cook Islands which grants OML exclusive rights to apply for an exploration license over a 23,000 sq km area of the seabed in the Cook Islands Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). According to an independent assessment (NI43-101) of the resource, the OML reserved area contains an inferred resource of 200MM tonnes of polymetallic nodules with a grade of 0.5% cobalt, and a nodule abundance of 28 kg/sqm. This makes this the largest known primary cobalt resource in the world.
In 2016, a multi-year cooperative research and development program between the U S Army Research Laboratory (Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland) and Deep Reach Technology, Inc. of Houston, Texas (DRT) identified over 180 million tonnes of Rare Earth Elements (REE) and Sc at total grades of 3000 – 4000 ppm including 40% valuable Heavy Rare Earth Elements (HREEs) and about 26% of the valuable magnet rare earth elements, Dysprosium, Neodymium and Praseodymium.
OML was granted an exclusive license by the government of the Cook Islands to apply for an exploration license to a 12,000-sq. km. block which could contain a large new source of REE and Sc. The agreement with the Cook Islands also grants OML “rights of first refusal” over an additional 48,000 sq km of high prospective area in the Cook Islands Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).