Rare earth, other mining projects pile up in northern Europe

Rare earth, other mining projects pile up in northern Europe

Lake Tornetraesk, Lapland, Sweden. | Bildagentur Zoonar GmbH/Shutterstock.

Vast stretches of northern Europe’s wilderness will soon host more British, Australian, Canadian and other companies going ahead with several mining projects in Lapland, a region that covers Finland, Sweden, Norway and Russia.

While most of these miners are in search of rare earths, they are also searching for uranium, iron ore, nickel, gold and phosphorus, among other resources, The Guardian reports. And their increasing number has made more than a few conservationists quite nervous.

They claim the area's fragile wetland ecosystem will pay the price, resulting in permanent damage to rivers, lakes and mountains that are home to many of Europe’s largest mammals, such as the lynx, wolf, bear and wolverine, according to the newspaper.

These concerns have not weakened the international rush for the mineral and energy resources melting ice caps are revealing in the area up to the Arctic region, which holds over a fifth of the world’s untapped, recoverable oil and gas resources, as well as significant reserves of rare earth, coal, uranium, gold, diamonds, zinc, platinum, nickel and iron ore, recent studies have revealed.

Rare earth, other mining projects pile up in northern Europe

Lapland area | mariakraynova/Shutterstock

Mining companies began flocking to northern Europe about two years ago, choosing Finland as a main mining destination, a position that it easily kept last year.

The nation has focused on maintaining the balance between mining’s economic benefits and the environmental damage it can cause. By the end of 2013, 46 mines and quarries were operating in Finland, the majority in poorer rural areas and, according to Spiegel, some towns, such as Sodankylä in Lapland, are now surrounded by mining claims and several operating mines.

Greenland has also been fostering strong ties with global miners. In March, Prime Minister Aleqa Hammond said the government was opened to seek investment from across the world to develop its own mining industry. The country holds  the largest deposit of rare earths outside of China.

According to European Commission data, Greenland has "especially strong potential in six of the fourteen elements on the EU critical raw materials list." And its oil reserves may be able to generate approximately 50 billion barrels.

Further east, work to relocate Sweden’s most northerly town Kiruna and so make way for what will be one of the world’s biggest underground iron ore mines is set to begin in 2015. Over the next twenty years, about 3,000 buildings, several hotels, and 2.2 million square feet of office, school and health-care space will be moved a few km east.

Norway, the country that owes much of its wealth to oil, seems to be the only one of the group going the opposite way. In February the government said it would reconsider its investments in the mining industry this year due to environmental concerns.

But according to The Guardian, it hasn’t been very successful in this topic, especially when it comes to handling waste.

“Norway is one of only four countries in the world where the mining industry is still allowed to use submarine tailings, the cheapest available and environmentally harmful technology of waste handling,” Lars Haltbrekken, chair of Norway’s Friends of the Earth was quoted as saying.

The country, which has over 40 working mines in the north, anticipates it will have nearly 70 within a few years.