Norway is known for the unparalleled beauty of its fjords, channels of the ocean carved out by glaciers. In addition to offering majestic mountain views that draw many tourists, the fjords are also the site of a thriving fisheries industry.
In short, fjords are of crucial importance to the people of Norway — but they are under threat by the mining industry, which the Norwegian government permits to dump toxic mine waste directly into fjords. More companies propose to do the same.
One of Many Offenders:
There are multiple companies engaging in mine waste dumping into fjords. As of 2012, these include: Rana Gruber AS: dumps hundreds of thousands of tailings from its iron ore mine into Ranfjorden, Sibelco Nordic’s nepheline syenite mine in Stjernøysundet, Omya Hustadmarmor AS’ calcium carbonate production plant in Elnesvagen, and Skaland Graphite AS’ mine in Senja.
More recently, the Norwegian government recently approved two projects that would dump mine waste into fjords. One is Nordic Mining’s proposal to dump tailings from its rutile mine in the Engebø mountain into the Førdefjorden which could total up to 250 million of tons of tailings over the expected 50 year life of the mine. The other was is Nussir ASA’s copper mine in Finnmark, which would dump approximately 2 million tons of mine waste annually into the Repparfjord.
Tailings are the toxic sludge left over once the mineral is extracted from the ore. They contain crushed rock, processing chemicals and naturally occurring elements such as arsenic that become toxic when exposed to air or water. These materials mix to form a sludge that can be very harmful to aquatic ecosystems.
A scientist with the Norwegian Institute for Water Research (NIVA) told BBC what could happen once the tailings are dumped:
“The mining companies send these tailings down a long pipe, down below the euphotic zone, below 200m, and essentially smother everything on the seafloor. All the animals that live in the sediments that provide food for larger invertebrates and fish, for example, will be killed off. Potentially, you are also going to kill off a lot of deep water corals. And you can get extremely turbid water columns, and it can stay turbid for long periods of time. So, it's a big deal,” he told BBC News.
Tailings can also spread from their original site and increase their area of damage over time.
There is strong opposition to this mine waste dumping from a variety of group in Norways, including environmental organizations, marine scientists, government officials, fishermen and reindeer herders.
In February 2016, environmental activists and locals climbed the Engebø mountain and occupied machinery for three weeks to prevent test drilling for Nordic Mining’s rutile mine near the Førdefjorden. Police arrested more than 80 people, who all face stiff fines.
Despite this crackdown, opposition to these mines remain strong.