MAC/20: Mines and Communities

Can Norway's Sami score another success against mining?

Published by MAC on 2015-12-10
Source: Nostromo Research, statement

A London Calling Special

Norway has just given permission to a domestic company to dispose of its mine wastes into a major pristine northern fjord.

And this, by a government known throughout the world for its "ethical" investment stance that has seen its national Pension Fund disinvest from a number of mining outfits for similar unacceptable practices over the last decade.

The villain in this particular piece is Nussir ASA, which dubs the intended practice as "sea tailings placement". Others will know it as "submarine tailings disposal" or, quite simply "dumping". It's now widely condemned across the world - including by other mining companies, like BHP Billiton [See:]

Nussir says on its website that:"[W]ith its sustainable mining initiative, [it] is committed not only to the viable harnessing of the rich deposits in the mine but also to the minimal intrusion in our host community's way of life".

It goes on: "We take our social responsibility seriously and this is done by engaging local folks in regular fora, prioritizing the human resources in the region and by respecting the nature around it. Because of these, the local authorities and residents in the area are in unison as they welcome the Nussir Project".

Fiddle-de-dee! Or, as they say in Norwegian -"Afvall" (rubbish).

An article (see below), published late last year by a member of Young Friends of the Earth Norway, points out:

"Protests in the Repparfjord area are also coming from the indigenous Sami population. The Sami claim that the mining will interfere with their traditional Sami culture, as their reindeer stocks depend on the areas for grazing".

A history of resistance

It won't by any means be the first time that the Sami have had to contend with a threat to their livelihoods. Twenty five years ago, in late 1979, the Norwegian goverment's plan to dam the Alta-Kautokeino river in the same area (Nussir is based in the city of Alta) met with strong resistance by thousands of indigenous and other Norwegian citizens.

Protesters carried out two acts of civil disobedience: at the construction site itself at Stilla, when activists sat down on the ground and blocked the machines, and at the same time, by Samis who began a hunger strike outside the Norwegian Parliament.

Documents, since declassified, show that the Government planned to use military forces as logistical support for police authorities in an attempt to stop the protests.

The Prime Minister at the time, Odvar Nordli, pre-empted such an escalation by promising a review of the Parliament's decision, but the Norwegian Parliament subsequently confirmed its decision to dam the river for a hydro-electric power station.

More than one thousand protesters chained themselves to the site when the work started again in January 1981. The police responded with large forces; at one point 10% of all Norwegian police officers were stationed in Alta (during which time they were quartered in a cruise ship). The protesters were forcibly removed.

For the first time since World War II, Norwegians were arrested and charged with violating laws against rioting. The central organizations for the Sami people discontinued all cooperation with the Norwegian Government. Two Sami women even travelled to Rome to petition the Pope.

Norway's Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Government in early 1982, at which point organised opposition to the power plant ceased, and the power plant was built.

The London (dis)connection

Twelve years later, in 1994, members of the Sami parliament in Norway successfully defeated plans by Rio Tinto to explore their territory at Karasjok. Their success was preceded by protests made by two members of the parliament at an earlier Rio Tinto AGM in London, at which point a representaive of Partizans (People against Rio Tinto and its Subsidiaries) was invited to address  the parliament itself.

As summarised in a detailed report, published in March his year by the Arctic Review:

"Being only a few years after the foundation of the Sami Parliament and Norway signing ILO 169, such permissions [to Rio Tinto]were given without informing Sami users of the land. However, Ole Henrik Magga, President of the Sami Parliament stood up and read a declaration for the company known as the first Sami resistance against mining. His words that the Sami people have not given permission to conduct this activity, scared off the international mining companies, and they were not to return for the next decade".

In 2013, a group of Swedish Sami - led by women - successfully rebuffed the attempt by another UK mining company, Beowulf Mining, to start test drilling [See:]

So, the good news, at least for the Sami, is that no major foreign extractive outfit has dared mount an assault on their territory in recent years.

But now, joining Nussir ASA in the region, are Arctic Gold and Nordic Mining, thus posing a clear and future danger to the integrity of Sami resources.

You might think there's a distinct irony in the fact that,  were these overseas companies currently held in Norway's pension fund portfolio, they'd now stand a very good chance of being kicked out.

Or, as they say in Norway: "Kastet Ut!"

For further information on Norwegian mining and related struggles (mainly in Norwegian), see:

[London Calling is publshed by Nostromo Research. Opinions expressed in this column are those of the author, and do not necessairly represent ones held by any other party. Reproduction is welcomed under a Creative Commons Licence]

Norway moves to destroy another fjord

8 December 2015

The government of Norway has doomed another of their world famous fjords to destruction by allowing the dumping of toxic waste from a copper mine into the Repparfjord Arctic fjord, reports Naturvernforbundet/Friends of the Earth Norway.

Two million tons of the mining waste, containing large amounts of heavy metals, will annually be deposited in spawning waters of cod and other fish stocks important to coastal fisheries in the far north of Norway. Small particles spreading in the water column could also harm the threatened Atlantic salmon in what has been classified as a 'National Salmon Fjord'.

Lars Haltbrekken, leader of Friends of the Earth Norway, said:

"It is totally unacceptable to use Norwegian fjords as a dump site for the mining industry. Emissions from the copper mine will breach the limits for heavy metals, and in this cocktail of contaminants, the nickel content is alone enough to give poor chemical status in the fjord."

The discharge permit is contrary to national and international environmental legislation regarding water management, and Friends of the Earth Norway will appeal to the Surveillance Authority of the European Free Trade Association (the intergovernmental organisation of Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland), claiming that Norway is violating the European Water Framework Directive.

Friends of the Earth Norway believes the Norwegian Environment Agency has abandoned the role of professional environmental administrative body in mining matters.

Lars Haltbrekken said:

"For the Norwegian Environment Agency to give the green light for one of the most environmentally harmful industrial projects in Norwegian history, despite professional advice and warnings, is not environmental management. It is promoting a dirty industrial policy based only on uncertain assumptions about future revenues".

Most countries have stopped the practice of dumping of mine waste into the sea, and today, Norway is the only country left that still practices sea dumping in Europe. Marine scientists, environmental organizations, fishermen and reindeer herders of the Sami people have also raised concerns about the plans.

Risking fjords for profit? Norway’s dirty mining story

By Tina Andersen 

New Internationalist

14 October 2014

The mineral industry is growing in northern Europe, where countries like Sweden, Finland and Norway are all looking to forage into a new mineral era. Proposed mining projects have been met with strong protests from local environmental groups, marine researchers and indigenous rights groups, who oppose the massive destruction of nature and ecosystems linked to tailing deposits and potential spills. The Norwegian government is currently assessing two mining projects, both involving the controversial waste management practice of submarine tailings disposal.

The use of submarine tailings disposal is not a common practice across the world. In fact, Norway is one of only five countries worldwide to use this method for waste disposal, and there is a growing consensus that this is not the best way to dispose of waste: several countries are considering banning the practice, which is not on the EU’s ‘best available technology’ list.    

In the Repparfjord, situated in Finnmark, in the extreme northeastern part of Norway, mining company Nussir ASA is planning a copper mine. The tailings from the mine will be deposited in the fjord, a total of 30 million tonnes of toxic mining tailings over a period of 20 years. Locals and environmental groups are worried, and with good reason: several research institutes with marine research as their main field, including the Institute of Marine Research, have condemned the plans as environmentally irresponsible.

In Førdefjorden, Nordic Mining plans to open a rutile ore mine and dispose of the tailings in the fjord. Like Repparfjord, Førdefjorden is classified as a ‘national salmon fjord’ for wild salmon, and should in theory be protected by law. In other words, an ecosystem deemed too valuable to allow salmon farming is about to be opened for mining.  

This is despite the fact that former experiences with submarine tailing deposi[ion] has negatively impacted ecosystems and local economies. Forty years ago, mining company Folldal Verk ran an open-pit mine dumping tailings in the Repparfjord, and the effects hit the local fishing industry particularly hard: healthy fish nearly disappeared. The quality of water in the fjord has only recently recovered to an acceptable level, but is at risk of a new drop if new tailing deposits are allowed.

Both Repparfjord and Førdefjorden have strong underwater currents, and scientists from the Institute of Marine Research fear the fine particles from the deposit will spread far away from the deposit site. If this happens, toxins will be taken up by the fish, cause severe damage to the food chain, and harm the vulnerable ecosystem in the fjord.   

The initial decision to allow deposits was based on reports that have since been heavily criticized for not considering the strong currents in the fjords. The report by Akvaplan Niva, on which the decision to allow the project in Repparfjord was based, has since been countered by two independent investigations by Sintef and Det Norske Veritas (DNV). Akvaplan Nita did not account for the tidal patterns in their models, and have since been criticized for sloppiness and inadequacy.1 Despite this, the government has not changed its decision for either of the licences.

In addition, the size of the projects has grown beyond the initial plans. This week, Nussir announced that it has found double the amount of copper ore stated in its original application, or more than 66 million tonnes to be extracted over a period of 30 to 40 years. Nordic Mining plan to extract up to 250 million tonnes of minerals from the Engebø mountain. These numbers only include the pure extractable mineral, not the waste they create in the process. In the Engebø mountain, estimates have found that only about five per cent of the mountain can be classified as pure mineral, while the rest will be dumped in the fjord as waste.

The environmental movement has rightly questioned the sustainability of such a practice, and is scaling up its protests to prevent the projects from happening. Protests in the Repparfjord area are also coming from the indigenous Sami population. The Sami claim that the mining will interfere with their traditional Sami culture, as their reindeer stocks depend on the areas for grazing. As indigenous people, the Sami have protected rights to activities like hunting, fishing and reindeer herding, and mining development threatens the land they have a protected right to use.

Neither local protesters nor the environmental movement are against mines in principle, but raise alarm on these projects as best available knowledge and independent reports speak against them taking place. Dumping millions upon millions of tonnes of toxic waste in fjords, through the disposal of the submarine tailings, is neither reasonable nor sustainable. Other solutions are available. They may be more costly in financial terms, but that is a small price to pay when the alternative is to damage vulnerable ecosystems for short-term exploitation of a finite resource.

Tina Andersen, Young Friends of the Earth Norway (with Ragnhild Freng Dale, PhD candidate at Scott Polar Research Institute, University of Cambridge)


Home | About Us | Companies | Countries | Minerals | Contact Us
© Mines and Communities 2013. Web site by Zippy Info