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Decision on new Svalbard coal mine delayed

New Norwegian coal mining on Svalbard is a hot potato for the government. Ministry of Environment is likely not to take a decision before next year.

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Norway’s current coal mine in Svea Nord will run out of resources within the next few years. The state own company Store Norske adopted in September 2010 a business plan for opening a new coal mine in Lunckefjell, just north of the current mine.

The environmental challenge to new mining is divided; should Norway continue with what many believes is dirty coal mining in the fragile Svalbard environment, and secondly; is coal mining sustainable as the globe and especially the Arctic is heating up.

Read alsoGreenpeace blocking Svalbard coal shipment

Coal Miner at Svalbard
Store Norske mining company operates the Svea Nord coal mine. Photo: Thomas Nilsen

The question is now on the table of the Minister of Environment, reports Aftenposten. Minister Erik Solheim is in the government from the Socialist Party, a party that has stated that they are against new coal mining on Svalbard. Other members of the three-party coalition government, like Minister of oil and energy Ola Borten Moe, are supporting new coal mining.

The government’s White Paper on Svalbard from three years ago says the coal mining should continue within the frames of the strict environmental laws that apply to Svalbard. The government’s position is that coal mining is important to maintain Longyearbyen as a family society. A living settlement is important for Norway’s superior Svalbard policy.

The Ministry of Environment will decide if the new coal mine can be opened without coming into contradiction with the environmental laws and regulations on Svalbard.

Norway has the full sovereignty over the Svalbard Archipelago in line with Paris Treaty of 1920. However, also the other signatory countries, like Russia, are entitled to engage in industrial activities in the area, but then only in accordance with Norwegian law.

Norway has earlier put restrictions on Russian coal mining on Svalbard with reference to environmental laws. The Russians wanted to open a coal mine in the Coles Bay in 2001, but Norway adopted new environmental regulations the same year preventing the mining plans.

Read alsoNew restrictions for Russians at Spitsbergen

The Russian mining company Trust Arktikugol restarted coal mining in Barentsburg last autumn after a two and a half year break following a fire in 2008.

A dilemma for the new Norwegian planned mine in Lunckefjell is that the mine, although underground, will slightly be in the vicinity of the Nordenskiöld Land national park.

In the 2009 White Paper on Svalbard, the government stipulates a timeframe for deciding the Lunckefjell mining to be ready by late 2010. Today, a year after, no decision is taken and the case could be even further delayed.

The last governmental White Paper to mention the Lunckefjell coal mining is the Foreign Ministry’s report on the High North, presented last week. The paper reads: “If the government’s processing concludes with the opening of mining in Lunckefjell, the matter will be presented to the Parliament.

Lunckefjell contains some 8,2 million tons of sales coal according to the mining company Store Norske. The company regards exploitation of the deposit as a natural continuation of the current mining operations in Svea Nord.