Low coal prices and the resulting crisis at the state-owned Store Norske coal company means the government is recommending the new Lunckefjell mine suspend operations for up to three years. By the end of 2019, Store Norske's board of directors must decide if the mine, built at a cost of 1.2 billion kroner, will be reopened. A proposal now before Parliament indicates the cost of reopening will become more expensive with every year that passes.
The governing parties say they're keeping door open for reopening the mine, but a belief Svalbard's mining adventures should continue is dwindling.
The Progress Progress has stated the market must decide whether there is a reopening. The Conservative Party is voicing a similar opinion. Tina Bru, a member of Parliament's Energy and Environment Committee said Minister of Trade and Industry Monica Mæeland, a Conservative, stated during a recent visit in Longyearbyen that mining's future is uncertain.
If Lunckefjell remains closed, is there a possibility other mines mine will open in Svalbard?
"It is impossible to predict the future, but the way the world looks out there today with falling coal prices and with ambitious climate targets, it is difficult to imagine that new mines will come into operation," Bru said.
Store Norske has done work at Ispallen, on the other side of Braganzavågen where the Svea mine is. Even if coal prices rise, everything to date suggests the coal will remain there. The same applies to Bassen on the other side of Adventdalen opposite Mine 7. Øyvind Korsberg, a Progress Party member, said coal-fueled power in Svalbard may be history in the relatively near future. The Christian Democratic Party, another member of the ruling coalition, also is willing to turn its back on coal mining.
"In time, coal production will be phased out completely and it is not natural against that background to open new mines," said Rigmor Andersen Eide.
"Norway cannot demand that the rest of the world ends coal production, but we continue even when there are environmentally sustainable options," said Heikki Holmås, a Socialist Left Party member of Parliament.
Lone Green Party member Rasmus Hansson, referring to the agreement reached during the United Nations climate summit in Paris in December, said new coal mines will be "beyond all bounds of inconsistent hypocrisy."
But Hansson can relax. The chances of that happening are small. Terje Aasland, a Labor Party member, confirmed they're with the majority in Parliament in terms of ending such projects.
"The process to open one or more new mines in Svalbard will be demanding," he said. "We do not think this will become a relevant issue as the situation and energy markets evolve."
Translated by Mark Sabbatini