Another potential golden age of mining for Svalbard – literally – may be on the horizon as researchers have unveiled a massive deposit of precious minerals in the seabed near the archipelago that may be worth about one trillion kroner. But while a government proposal in 2018 would allow exploration and extraction of those minerals, there are numerous issues to resolve before companies and countries can hope to strike it rich.
The discovery by researchers from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU), made using underwater robots, was presented Tuesday at the Arctic Frontiers Conference in Tromsø.
“The minerals have come up with warm water from the Earth’s interior through cracks in the Earth’s crust,” Egil Tjåland, head of the Department of Earth Sciences and Petroleum at NTNU, told TV2. “A preliminary estimate is that the value of them is about one trillion kroner. There is still a lot of uncertainty around the estimate, it can be much more or a little less.”
Minerals discovered include copper, zinc, gold and silver. In addition to their value as precious metals, the minerals discovered are used in wind turbines, electric cars, batteries and and items with aluminum alloys.
The extraction might not directly benefit Svalbard in terms of replacing the near-defunct coal mining industry that for more than a century was the archipelago’s economic base. But it would substantially further Norway’s goal of further cashing in on Arctic resources as a multitude of countries are racing further north in search of control and profit in the Arctic.
But while the extraction and minerals might be more “green” than coal, extraction efforts are all but certain to be opposed by environmental interest opposed to most or all such industrial activity due to the potential adverse impacts from both intended and unintended events. Also, parties interested in the extraction will need to solve issues such as how to extract minerals several thousand meters beneath the surface of the sea while dealing with both environmental concerns and extreme climate conditions.
NTNU will take the lead in follow-up work with research communities, governing bodies and industry players, according to a statement by the university.
The Norwegian government introduced a Mineral Resources Act in the summer of 2018 to ensure the sustainable and profitable management of mineral deposits on the Norwegian continental shelf. The law allows commercial companies to compete to look for and extract mineral deposits on the seabed. The Norwegian Petroleum Directorate is already in the process of mapping, and magnesium and sulphides have been detected at depths near Jan Mayen and Svalbard.