NOT SO ICE: Anger abound about sea breakup in polar bear, seal area to bring ship carrying fuel to Svea


The breakup of the sea ice early this week in an area populated by polar bears and seals so that Store Norske can continue the government-ordered dismantling of the Svea mine triggered considerable outrage among locals and The Governor of Svalbard is now stating it would not have approved the activity if current conditions were known.

Store Norske received permission in January for the ice breakup in Van Mijenfjorden, although the governor stated at the time the work needed to be completed by February in order to prevent disruption to wildlife during the spring, according to Svalbardposten. But the icebreaking did not occur as planned, resulting in Store Norske transporting machinery and equipment over land for two-and-a-half months until it discovered a “serious mistake” in calculating diesel use at Svea to the point the site was facing a work shutdown due to running out of fuel.

“It has to do with the ventilation inside the mine,” Store Norske Administrative Director Jan Morten Ertsaas told the newspaper following a public meeting Tuesday to discuss the situation. “Without circulation in the air in there, we cannot do any work there.”

The governor’s office, which expressed reservations about granting permission for the icebreaker when Store Norske applied, granted it because the company was facing extraordinary circumstances, Morten Wedege, the governor’s environmental manager, told Svalbardposten.

“If this activity had been planned for April we would not have given the permit,” he said.

The permit Wedege sent to Store Norske states it is “very unfortunate that the company has put itself in such a situation” and “it must be considered a very serious mistake not to have included a cold winter and have sufficient reserves.”

Store Norske needed 1.2 million liters for its work at Svea, which posed significant environmental and safety risks if transported over land, but took advantage of the sea transport to fill the settlement’s tanks to their five-million-liter capacity.

The fjord is populated by seals giving birth to pups and polar bears with cubs hunting from the sea ice before the relatively meager summer feeding season. The same wildlife presence resulted in the governor closing Tempelfjorden to motorized traffic at the beginning of March for the spring season due to numerous reports of human disruptions, although Wedege told Svalbardposten the difference in Van Mijenfjorden is the activity is short-lived.