Greenland’s treasure trove of rare earth metals, the largest deposit outside of China, cannot be mined because the elements are connected to restricted radioactive materials.
Several reports, such as The Epoch Times’ latest article, claim the island could become the world’s top rare earth producer if it wasn’t because of the tight restrictions the local government has on the exploitation of its natural resources. Not to mention the “zero tolerance” policy when it comes to uranium mining.
Recent geological work shows that below Greenland's massive ice mass there is enough rare earths to satisfy at least a quarter of global demand in the future. The problem is they are bound up to uranium.
Jorgen T. Hammeken-Holm, department head at Greenland’s Bureau of Mineral and Petroleum confirmed to The Epoch Times that rare earth metals are tied up to the radioactive yellow material.
“With our current zero-tolerance policy [against uranium mining], it means that this deposit cannot be exploited,” Hammeken-Holm was quoted as saying.
But that is not the only problem. The other main issue is the lack of skilled workers. The national labour union wants the government to ban the use of low-wage foreign workers because it does not want local pay scales undermined or jobs lost to outsiders. However, there are simply not enough nationals able to help developing mines in the island.
That is why the Greenlandic Parliament passed earlier this month an act allowing large-scale extraction projects valued more than $900,000 to use imported labour and contractors during the development phase of the projects.
“When that phase is over, [the migrant workers] must leave the country, and the regular workforce, contractors, or service personnel must take over,” told The Epoch Times Hammeken-Holm.
Much more than rare earth
Several European leaders have been recently engaging in a strenuous bout of diplomacy with Greenland’s authorities to open up access to the country’s riches.
The vice-president of the European commission, Antonio Tajani, has led the negotiations, shaping a deal to look at multiparty development of some of Greenland’s deposits. As reported by The Guardian, the agreement is likely to extend beyond rare earths to metals such as gold and iron, and potentially to oil and gas, which are plentiful in the country’s waters.
If successful, a paradigm shift might be around the corner, as Greenland's oil resources may be able to generate approximately 50 billion barrels of oil. This vast potential resource would benefit the European Union as most of the continent's currently exploited oil and gas fields belong to Norway, a non-member of the block.
NOTE: In response to this article, we've received a letter from a company about to start a rare earth operation in Greenland. The firm, Tanbreez, disagrees with most of what it is said in this article. You can read an excerpt of Tanbreez letter here.