Arctic interests clash over mining

Date of publication: 
21 October 2013

The recent discovery of new and potentially lucrative mineral veins containing copper in the mountains above the Repparfjord in Finnmark looks set to stir up more conflicts over natural resources in Northern Norway. The mining company involved wants to dump its tailings in the fjord, and that’s set off protests from the fishing industry and environmentalists.

The fjord is dubbed as a “nasjonal laksefjord,” known for its salmon, and the fisheries directorate is among those seeking to block efforts to use the sea for disposal of mining debris.

The indigenous Sami people in the area, meanwhile, are also concerned over what more large-scale mining operations conducted by Nussir ASA will mean for their reindeer herding, while concerns also have arisen over the sheer invasiveness of the mining operation.

It will mostly be up to the new conservative government coalition to decide whether Nussir’s ambitious copper mining project can move forward. Øystein Rushfeldt, chief executive of Nussir, The Norwegian Copper Company, is optimistic and hopes the government will follow through on its own political platform to “clear the way for mineral industries to use the sea for disposal, but under strict regulation and with environmental monitoring.” He has insisted that Nussir won’t “dump” its mining debris, but rather “deponere” it (store it temporarily) in the fjord.

The issue remains up for evaluation by the environmental protection ministry, and Rushfeldt told newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) recently that he doesn’t think it needs to go to a vote in Parliament. “We hope this can be solved at the directorate level, but it also can be solved at the ministerial level,” he told DN.

He’s clearly hoping that the new Conservatives-led government that took power last week will be as enthusiastic as he is over the prospect for as many as 150 new jobs created through the mining venture near Kvalsund, just south of Hammerfest. He also cites the prospect of more than a billion kroner worth of value creation in an area that’s rich in scenery but economically challenged despite all the gas flowing into nearby Hammerfest. After decades of economic hard times and high unemployment, the county of Finnmark has been on a roll of late, and Rushfeldt’s company seems poised to generate needed revenues after the latest discovery of rich mineral veins that can yield copper and other metals.

Drilling campaign with promising results

Nussir’s announcement last month that it had found 44 million tons of highly promising ore deep in the earth above the Repparfjord was the result of a drilling campaign in 13 spots, some of them around 600 meters deep. More detailed analysis won’t be available until November, but Rushfeldt says there’s “no doubt that we’re talking about new copper resources in the billion-kroner class.”

Copper prices have been “stable and good” in recent years, at around USD 6,000-8,000 a ton, reported DN. That would allow for “good returns” on Nussir’s venture, Rushfeldt said.

DN also reported that five of the 15 biggest mining companies in the world have already visited the site in Norway’s far north, but both them and institutional investors are sitting on the fence because of uncertainty over mining practices. Even though the former left-center government’s mineral resource strategy was set to allow dumping at sea, its partner SV (the Socialist Left Party) objected, as have several environmental organizations and the fisheries directorate. The fjord not only is renown for its salmon but also serves as a breeding grounds for cod. And then there are the Sami objections and other local skepticism.

Rushfeldt is undaunted. “What’s most important right now is that those working on our case, in the environmental protection ministry and elsewhere, understand that this is a (mineral) discovery of national significance,” he told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK). “And it’s also important that we have good news to tell the capital markets.” Berglund