Norway to extend life of its last Arctic coal mine

The mine was set to close next year as islands in the Svalbard archipelago switch to less-polluting fuel.

By Terje Solsvik, Reuters - September 2, 2022
An old locomotive train that was used for transporting coal is preserved as a monument at Ny-Alesund, in Svalbard, Norway, October 13, 2015. (Anna Filipova / Reuters)

Norway’s state-owned coal company will extend production at its last mine in the Arctic Svalbard archipelago by two years until mid-2025 to help ensure supplies to European steel-makers at a time of war, the government said on Friday.

The decision reverses a plan to shut the mine next year when the local coal-fired power station is set to close as the islands switch to less-polluting fuel.

“There is war and significant uncertainty regarding access to critically important raw materials, including for Europe’s steel production on which we also depend,” Norwegian Industry Minister Jan Christian Vestre said in a statement.

“Norway must take its part of the responsibility for the security of supply of commodities,” he said.

Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24 in what it called a “special operation” to demilitarize and “denazify” its neighbor.

While Store Norske Spitsbergen Kullkompani (SNSK) has shut its major mines in the islands over the past two decades, it has kept the smaller Mine 7 open to produce some 125,000 tonnes per year to supply the local plant and ensure some exports.

Environmentalists have for many years called for an end to Norway’s coal extraction.

The Arctic islands are warming faster than almost anywhere on Earth, highlighting the risks to fragile ecosystems from climate change, and Norway aims to cut its overall emissions, although it also remains a major oil and gas producer.

Located around 700 km (435 miles) north of the European mainland, Svalbard is governed under a 1920 treaty giving Norway sovereignty but allowing all nations signing it to do business there and to exploit its natural resources.

Russia operates a coal mine at its Barentsburg settlement.