BACK IN BLACK? Store Norske’s new leader says 100M tons of coal can be extracted while mines are dismantled. The government doesn’t sound enthusiastic


Norway’s government has adamantly and repeatedly insisted Store Norske cannot reopen its two main mines, but the company isn’t giving up the fight as it is proposing to extract 100 million tons of coal from Svea during the dismantling process scheduled to take place for the next few years.

Store Norske’s board of directors ordered Jan Morten Ertsaas, who took over as administrative director of the company a month ago, to complete the specifics of the proposal to extract the coal legally available at Svea, according to Svalbardposten. He said there is a strong case the coal can be extracted profitably while the extensive work of dismantling the infrastructure at the nearby Lunckefjell mine was underway.

“Svea Nord must be maintained and kept open because we need it to have access to Lunckefjell,” he told the newspaper. “Much of the equipment is ready on site. Another argument is that such a limited operation is possible over a relatively short period of time so that some of the uncertainties previously pointed out in terms of future coal prices and currency rates can be handled.”

But while the proposal has the backing of plenty of local residents – if not necessarily optimism it will actually happen – there are a lot of hurdles to overcome before it becomes reality.

Most significant is the government’s repeated opposition to requests and proposals to allow mining to resume at Svea in the wake of the decision last year to dismantle the mining infrastructure. Attempts by private entities to take over operations were rebuffed and officials in Oslo are noncommittal about the company’s hopes of preserving some infrastructure for tourism or other purposes.

“At this point in this process, I can only say that we are concerned that the cleanup project is carried out as cost-effectively as possible within the framework set,” Norwegian State Secretary Daniel Bjarmann-Simonsen told High North News when asked if the government would support the proposal if it didn’t delay the dismantling process.

Hiring qualified miners for a short-term project could also be a challenge, although Ertsaas told Svalbardposten the company is considering an arrangement where such workers could become part of the dismantling operation afterward.

In addition, the company continues to hold out hope of preserving and/or modernizing at least some infrastructure at Svea for research and other entities now using it – again at odds with the government’s mandate.

Furthermore, a group of former Store Norske employees – including former Administrative Director Robert Hermansen – recent formed a company with the goal of presenting a profitable mining operation plan to the government.