DRAINING DISASTER: Mine 7 flooded by melting glacier caused by record heat; pause in operations until Aug. 17 due to COVID-19 now likely to be prolonged

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A “major inflow of water” into Mine 7 from a melting glacier caused by a heat wave that triggered Longyearbyen’s highest recorded temperature in history is forcing Store Norske to undertake an extensive operator to remove the water and assess damage to equipment, which likely will prevent from mine from resuming operations next month following a suspension caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the company announced this week.

The flooding at the hilltop mine about 10 kilometers east of Longyearbyen was discovered during a routine inspection last Saturday, one day after a record-high temperature of 21.7 degrees was recorded at Svalbard Airport. It was until then also the only second time the temperature rose about 20 degrees, although that marked was topped the three following days as well.

“We do not yet know how long it will take to get full control, but we are more optimistic now than we were earlier today,” Per Nilssen, the mine’s manager, said in a prepared statement Tuesday. “Even though particularly risky work tasks are not being performed, this is an abnormal situation and we therefore are placing safety higher than the progress in everything we do,.”

The built-in pumping system in the mine was unable to remove the water, so extra pumping equipment was installed, according to the company. However, the water continued rising and spreading to other areas in the mine Monday afternoon. An attempt to build a dam to contain the water and a pipeline to remove it are among the efforts now underway.

“We are also working on trying to get an overview of equipment that we can expect has been destroyed and must be replaced to start operations again,” Nilssen said. “We also do not know when we can expect to get back into operation, but are working with the goal of getting things in place as quickly as possible.”

Workers and equipment from the now-closed Svea mine are being brought in to assist with the help of the Norwegian Coast Guard, with Pole Position Logistics, The Governor of Svalbard and Lufttransport providing additional assistance.

Mine 7, which supplies Longyearbyen’s power plan and exports the remainder to Europe, is the only remaining active Norwegian coal mine in Svalbard (and the country), following the government-ordered shutdown and dismantling of Svea and Lunckefjell. However, operations were on pause until Aug. 17 due to COVID-19 pandemic restrictions affecting both the company’s employees and customers.