Store Norske seeks to reopen a Svalbard coal mine

The company, tasked with cleaning up the mines, wants to extract and sell some coal in parallel with the cleanup. But the Norwegian government is reluctant to approve such a step.

By Arne Finne, High North News - May 8, 2018
The Svea mine as seen from the air. Store Norske wants to reopen the mine to extract coal in parallel with the clean-up process. (Bjørtvedt / Wikimedia Commons)

The board of Store Norske (the Svalbard coal mining company) has given the go-ahead for a reopening of the Svea coal mine at Svalbard, with for the extraction process to run parallel to the cleanup. The Norwegian government, however, is reluctant.

Local newspaper Svalbardposten writes that Managing Director Jan Morten Ertsaas of Store Norske plans for the company to extract up to 1 million tons of coal from the Svea Nord mine, a job that can take place in parallel with the major cleanup that has been requested by the parliament and the government.

“There are several good reasons why the coal that is easiest available in the Svea Nord mine should be extracted,” Ertsaas told the newspaper.

He points out that Svea Nord has to be kept open and maintained anyway, as it is needed in order to access the Lunckefjell mine.

Preliminary calculations also show that extracting the remaining coal from the Svea mine, which was shut down in 2016, may be rather profitable.

The current task of the Store Norske company is to clean up after mining in Svea and Lunckefjell. According to Ertsaas’ statement to Svalbardposten, they are not planning on resuming full-scale operations in Svea.

That would, as he says, not be in accordance with the task the company has been assigned with by the Norwegian Ministry of Trade, Industry and Fisheries.

The government, represented by then-Minister of Trade Monica Mæland, has repeatedly rejected the idea of reopening the Svea mine.

The final nail in the coffin came in the 2018 State budget, which stated that further operations in Svea and Lunckefjell mines was not an option, however, that mine 7 would continue to produce in order to supply the local Longyearbyen power plant with coal.

State Secretary Daniel Bjarmann-Simonsen now tells High North News that the decision to liquidate coal mining in Svea and Lunckefjell mines and to start a cleanup in the area remains firm.

“The company is currently working on a proposal for how to finish off Svea and Lunckefjell, and the proposal will be subject to quality assurance by an external advisor,” he said.

If the coal could be extracted and sold profitably, without disturbing or delaying the cleanup, would the government react positively?

“At the present time in this process, I can only say that we are focused on the cleanup project being conducted as cost efficiently as possible within the frames given. We are now awaiting the company’s assessment,” said Bjarmann-Simonsen.

This article was translated from the original Norwegian by Elisabeth Bergquist.