State officials are seeing gold in the Arctic wilderness. New mining ventures could employ more people in northern Norway’s Finnmark County than the area’s budding oil and gas industry, but lots of conflicting interests are at stake.
Newspaper Aftenposten recently reported that rising metal prices may lead to the re-opening of old mines. Mining could contribute more to Finnmark’s economy in the long term, claim some industry observers, than the petroleum industry.
Growing demand from emerging economies such as India, China and Brazil is driving up the prices of minerals such as gold, silver, platinum, cobalt, nickel and the lesser known but equally valuable rare earth metals lanthanum and neodymium.
Iron ore reserves in the Sydvaranger mine near Kirkenes, valued at NOK 29 billion (USD 4.8 billion) 10 years ago, have nearly tripled in worth to an estimated NOK 85 billion, reports Aftenposten.
“The new mineral extraction law is in place and the authorities will now formulate its strategy,” says Helga Pedersen, deputy leader of the Labour Party, who hails from Finnmark. The potential is great, she told Aftenposten, “but before we invest we have to be welcome,” she says, alluding to the usual controversy between environmental impact and much-needed jobs. She has spent the last week consulting with mining companies, land owners and reindeer herders.
To the south of the Finnmark plateau, Store Norske Gull, a gold mining company, has found gold ore. A mine would create an estimated 300 jobs. Across the border from the find, Finnish mining companies have started production resulting in a lot of activity.
Old mines throughout the country are being analyzed to see whether they would be worth reopening. New areas will also be examined.
“Up to now we have documented resources in the sea and under the seabed 100 percent,” Morten Smelror, head of the Geological Survey of Norway (NGU), told Aftenposten. “We still have a long way to go before we have the same knowledge of the potential on land.”
Jørgen Stenvold, CEO of Store Norske Gull, told Aftenposten that state and local authorities “need to take responsibility for collecting geological data. This work is too expensive for mining firms. We also want more research on the effects on the environment and local communities.”
The future of mining in the Norwegian Arctic will depend on resolving the different interests of local authorities hungry for employment opportunities, national nature conservancy organizations and nomadic reindeer herders.
“The Finnmark plateau is our pasture,” said reindeer herder Alf Johansen during a recent conference with Labour Party deputy leader, Helga Pedersen. He thinks that reindeer grazing areas should have as much legal protection as a crop farmer’s fields.