Norway is a country known for both its affluence and progressive policies. But despite its sterling reputation, its government makes a highly destructive allowance to the mining industry: it permits mining operations to allow the direct dumping of toxic mine waste into the country’s famous fjords.
In February 2016, more than 100 local activists conducted a powerful act of peaceful civil disobedience to protect these stunning water bodies, which are channels of ocean carved out by glaciers. The group says more than 80 people were arrested during the protest.
Activists had many reasons to block test drilling of a mining site near Førde fjord last month, peacefully occupying the place for three weeks. Fjords are the site of spectacular mountain views that draw tourists from around the world. They also offer vital spawning areas for salmon and cod, and some serve as congregation sites for whales and porpoises. They support diverse aquatic ecosystems, as well as a thriving fishing industry.
The group was protesting the government’s decision to grant permission to Nordic Mining to mine Engebø mountain for rutile ore– a mine which would dump its contaminated waste d into the nearby pristine fjord. (Rutile is a titanium mineral used for pigments in paints, plastics and other substances]).
Norway-based Nordic Mining plans to dump nearly 6 million tonnes of mine waste a year for 50 years into Førde Fjord. According to The Guardian, “the annual waste would include 1,200 tonnes of sulphuric acid, 1,000 tonnes of sodium, 1,000 tonnes of phosphoric acid, 360 tonnes of carbonic acid and 90 tonnes of acrylamide as well as other acids, solvents and heavy metals including copper, nickel, lead, zinc and mercury.”
Norway is one of only a handful of countries that allow the practice of directly dumping toxic mine waste into the oceans. This is an issue particularly important to us for many reasons: the toxicity of mine waste, the staggering amount that gets dumped into water bodies, and because it’s sludge that disperses in water, the uncertainty over the extent of impacts.
In 2012, Earthworks and MiningWatch Canada released a report, Troubled Waters, on this practice, known in the industry as “aqueous tailings disposal.” It found that each year, mining companies dump over 180 million tonnes of these hazardous mine wastes into rivers, oceans, and lakes – more than 1.5 times the amount of waste that US cities send to landfills each year.
Norway sets an example for social and environmental progress to the world — yet it allows this destructive industry practice to continue when it has been banned in most other places. We join our friends at Friends of the Earth Norway to call on the government to reverse its decision to allow Nordic Mining and other companies to dump tailings into fjords.