Thus, the next big mining project is of public interest. Store Norske plans to conduct several drillings in 2014, but preliminary estimates indicate the rock contains more than 10 million tons of coal, 1.5 million tons more than Lunckefjell. The coal seam is relatively thick, averaging two meters, with the thickest at 2.7 meters.
The biggest challenge however, is access to Ispallen, which is located opposite of Svea with Braganzavågen in-between. A road or bridge must be built, which means significant environmental impacts. The options are access over Braganzavågen or a detour across the river in Kjellstrømdalen.
"I think the engineers' challenge around the access routes is greater than the environmental challenges," said Oddmund Rønning, the company's health, safety and environmental management leader.
"We expect that the impact assessment will tell us about the extent of the various challenges," he said.
A preliminary report points out a survey of bird life in the area concerned. The conclusion of the study is the mud surface in Braganzavågen has little value for shorebirds, probably because it is covered with ice most of the year and the river brings a mass with it that prevents ground organisms from establishing themselves.
The report concludes the consequences for the fauna with Store Norske proceeding are "relatively modest."
This is one of several issues that will be discussed in the coming years. Svalbard's governor will soon be sending an advance notification about hearings with a time limit of at least six weeks. The results will form the basis of the final environmental impact statement to Store Norske. That will also be sent out for consultation. Finally, the report with the governor's recommendation will be sent to Norway's Ministry of Climate and Environment.
"The governor's part of the process is time-dependent on the basis of regulations," said Guri Tveito, the governor's environmental director. "That which took the longest time in the previous process in Lunckefjell was the actual preparation of the impact assessment and the hearings that came after there was a recommendation from here."
Once work with the Lunckefjell mine started, it took three years and nine months until the project received final approval.
"It is difficult for to predict the overall time frame since it also depends on the developer and other parties," Tveito said.
Experience from previous applications is why Store Norske is embarking on this one five years before the planned commencement of any construction work.
Ispallen is the last of the large and well-known deposits in the Svea area. Harry Higraff, the project's current manager, agrees with Rønning that access will be the biggest challenge, but it is not so large it can't be solved.
"We've haven't done any research, but the road to Höganäsbreen is partially built out in Braganzavågen and it is stable," he said.
At current prices Lunckefjell's coal is worth about five billion kroner. Economic prospects are also improved in that the stope to be used at Ispallen is the same one at Lunckefjell and it will only require five panels.
It is therefore only necessary to move the stope five times, resulting in lower moving costs during the production phrase. In comparison, Lunckefjell has nine panels.
Must be 'acceptable'
Previous governments have established there should be mining in Svalbard, but it should take place within strict limits. Parliament's White Paper 22 (2008-2009) states there will be severe limits on major infrastructure development in areas not previously affected by such interventions.
It further states coal mining must not reduce the extent of wilderness areas, and the projects must be "acceptable from the viewpoint of the environment and the goal of preserving the natural wilderness of Svalbard."
The message in short form
Getting there: Over Braganzavågen from Baryneset to Crednermorena or across the river in Kjellstrømdalen on the east side of Braganzavågen
Tunnel opening: Low-activation threshold which leads into the coal seam
Dayworker infrastructure: Barracks facilities for operations that cannot be handled from Svea
Coal transportation: By truck/dumper or belt conveyor
Mineral processing: The quantity of tailing are less than from Svea Nord and Randsonen
Shipping: Similar as now, from Kapp Amsterdam
Cleanup: The area is to be returned to its original character after the operation is completed
To be investigated:
– Selection of the access road
– Removal of native soil and a waste disposal site for surplus material
– Choice of transportation for coal
– Use of helicopters, hovercraft, snowmobiles and ATVs in the establishment and operation phases.
– Risk of contamination from the mine (noise, runoff and potential emissions from fuel tank facilities)
– Freight shipping impacts in Van Mijenfjorden
– Impacts in the area of discontinuing operations (disposal of surplus site materials and those used for the route to Braganzavågen)