COAL SEASON IS HERE AGAIN: Mine 7 reopens after being flooded by record July heat, but operational challenges remain


Mine 7 is finally resuming production more than three months after meltwater from a glacier above it caused by record heat flooded the tunnels and damaged equipment, with extraction and restoration efforts taking far longer than expected for the mine that supplies Longyearbyen’s electricity plant.

But operations at the coal mine, the only one still operated by Store Norske and last such mine in Norway, still may take another couple of months before they are fully back to normal.

“We know that we will have some challenges in the start-up phase,” Store Norske Administrative Director Jan Morten Ertsaas told High North News in an article published Monday. “Especially when it comes to preparing the belt system that has been under water. We will run 24-hour operations now, seven days a week, for a period until Christmas. We hope to be back in normal operation in January.”

The flooding occurred in the latter part of July after Longyearbyen hit an all-time high temperature of 21.7 degrees Celsius, one of several consecutive days of abnormal heat, prompting the glacial melt that was discovered in the mine a day later. A built-in pumping system failed to extract the water, which spread to other parts of the mine.

Operations had already been put on hold at the time until mid-August due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and mine officials at the time said that reopening date would likely be delayed at least a few weeks as a dam to stop the water and drainage systems to redirect/remove it were built.

The work proved more extensive and challenging than expected, including drainage installations extending up toward the glacier. While existing coal stockpiles from the mine were sufficient to fuel the power plant at least until the end of the year, the possibility of importing more was mentioned if the closure ended up being sufficiently prolonged.

Ertsaas told High North News mining operations resumed at 10 p.m. Saturday.

“We now have full monitoring of the belt system, which is important in this run-up period we are in now,” he said. “There is still some clearing work that we must do away with. A fantastic job has been done by both our own employees in the mine, but also by subcontractors and the community in general.”

Store Norske is in the process of dismantling its other and larger coal mines at Svea and Lunckefjell, due to the Norwegian government deciding it no longer made financial sense for the state-owned company to continue operating them. But production at Mine 7 is possible for at least another decade, keeping roughly in line with the expected life of the power plant, and the government is proposing to give Store Norske an extra 40 million kroner in next year’s state budget to compensate for operating losses this year.