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HomeArctic blog: Jan Mayen, Spitsbergen → Lun­ckef­jel­let: the end of an arc­tic coal mine

Lun­ckef­jel­let: the end of an arc­tic coal mine

The Lun­ckef­jel­let coal mine is a poli­ti­cal-eco­no­mic­al phe­no­me­non. The first ton of coal was “pro­du­ced” in Novem­ber 2013 – a sym­bo­lic act, the mine was not yet in pro­duc­ti­ve ope­ra­ti­on. This was not the case eit­her when Lun­ckef­jel­let was offi­ci­al­ly ope­ned on 25 Febru­ary 2014, but the mine was “rea­dy to go”. Many thought pro­duc­tion would start now big-time, as the mine had until then cost more than 1 bil­li­on Nor­we­gi­an crowns (more than 100 mil­li­on Euro) and it was the­re and rea­dy to start pro­duc­tion.

Scientists on the way to the Lunckefjellet coal mine

Sci­en­tists on the way to the Lun­ckef­jel­let coal mine.

But this was not to hap­pen. The coal pri­ces on the world mar­kets drop­ped and the mines of Sveagru­va, the Nor­we­gi­an mining sett­le­ment in Van Mijenfjord, went into stand­by ope­ra­ti­on just to make sure they would not beco­me inac­ces­si­ble and mining could start one day – if this decis­i­ons was made.


Sveagru­va: Nor­we­gi­an coal mining sett­le­ment (Swe­dish foun­da­ti­on in 1917) in Van Mijenfjord.

In the fall of 2017, the Nor­we­gi­an govern­ment put their foot down. Being the 100 % owner of the Store Nor­ske Spits­ber­gen Kul­kom­pa­ni (SNSK), the com­pa­ny that owns and runs all Nor­we­gi­an coal mines in Spits­ber­gen, the govern­ment could direct­ly deci­de about the fate of mining and miners in Sveagru­va and Lon­gye­ar­by­en and rela­ted eco­no­mies. The decis­i­on in 2017 was to put an end to all mining in Sveagru­va. Both the coal mine Svea Nord, which had been pro­fi­ta­ble for a num­ber of years, and the new mine in Lun­ckef­jel­let were to be pha­sed out and phy­si­cal­ly clea­ned up as far as pos­si­ble. And the same was to hap­pen for the sett­le­ment Sveagru­va its­elf. Nor­we­gi­an coal mining in Spits­ber­gen is only con­tin­ued now in mine 7 near Lon­gye­ar­by­en (whe­re the ope­ra­ti­on has sin­ce increase from one shift to two shifts).


Day faci­li­ties and mine ent­rance at Lun­ckef­jel­let.

The reasons were offi­ci­al­ly said to be enti­re­ly eco­no­mic­al con­side­ra­ti­ons. The govern­ment does not real­ly give more infor­ma­ti­on than neces­sa­ry, rele­vant docu­ments have been declared con­fi­den­ti­al. Many see the end of coal mining in Sveagru­va, espe­ci­al­ly in the new­ly built Lun­ckef­jel­let mine, with a tear in their eyes, as tra­di­ti­on, jobs and an indus­try that is important for Lon­gye­ar­by­en are about to get lost.

The end of coal mining in Spits­ber­gen does not come as a total sur­pri­se, ever­y­bo­dy knew it would come one not too far day. Other bran­ches are deve­lo­ped, with sci­ence, edu­ca­ti­on and tou­rism high up on the list. Nevert­hel­ess, Lon­gye­ar­by­en would not exist wit­hout coal mining and mining has been the main acti­vi­ty here for most of the histo­ry so far. Many peo­p­le have an emo­tio­nal con­nec­tion to mining and quite a few still have a real one, direct­ly or indi­rect­ly, and losing coal mining will hurt them eco­no­mic­al­ly.

The govern­ment was not inte­res­ted in dis­cus­sing offers from inves­tors to con­ti­nue mining in Lun­ckef­jel­let, which was never inten­ded to last for more than may­be 7-8 years any­way. This does not add to the cre­di­bi­li­ty of the offi­ci­al reaso­ning for clo­sing of the Lun­ckef­jel­let mine being sole­ly based on the dif­fi­cult eco­no­my.

Tunnel Lunckefjellet

Tun­nel of the coal mine in Lun­ckef­jel­let.

The coal mine in Lun­ckef­jel­let will be clo­sed soon. The ven­ti­la­ti­on sys­tem is curr­ent­ly being dis­mant­led, and once that is not ope­ra­ti­ve any­mo­re, only spe­cia­lists with self-con­tai­ned breathing appa­ra­tus could, theo­re­ti­cal­ly, still enter the mine – for a short peri­od, until the roof has beco­me mecha­ni­cal­ly unsta­ble. This will not take a lot of time. The Lun­ckef­jel­let mine will soon be as dif­fi­cult to reach as the far side of the moon.

Tunnel Lunckefjellet

Device to moni­tor rock move­ments in the roof of the mine.

Stabilising the roof, Lunckefjellet

Bolts to secu­re the roof are expo­sed to per­ma­nent ero­si­on and mecha­ni­cal stress. If they are not regu­lar­ly con­trol­led and ser­viced a coal mine soon beco­mes a very dan­ge­rous place.

Last week (5-7 Febru­ary 2019), geo­lo­gists from the mining com­pa­ny Store Nor­ske and UNIS took lite­ral­ly the last chan­ce to take samples from the coal seam in Lun­ckef­jel­let. The coal geo­lo­gy in Spits­ber­gen is less well known than one might assu­me and than geo­lo­gists would want it to by: nobo­dy real­ly knows what the land­scape exact­ly loo­ked like whe­re the bogs grew that later for­med the coal.

Geologist Malte Jochmann, Lunckefjellet

Geo­lo­gist Mal­te Joch­mann at work in Lun­ckef­jel­let.

Of cour­se the­re were bogs, and salt­wa­ter from a near­by coast is likely to have been an important fac­tor, at least at cer­tain times. But which role did sweet­wa­ter play, lakes and rivers? Why are the­re sand­stone and con­glo­me­ra­te (gra­vel-bea­ring sand­stone) lay­ers and chan­nel fil­lings within and just on the edge of the coal seam? What did the sea level do at the near­by coast, what was the influence of tec­to­nics? Were the­re hills or even moun­ta­ins in the area, or was the sur­roun­ding reli­ef more or less level?

Geologische Aufnahme, Lunckefjellet

Geo­lo­gists Mal­te Joch­mann, Maria Jen­sen and Chris­to­pher Mar­shall at work in the Lun­ckef­jel­let mine, inspec­ting out­crops and poten­ti­al sam­pling sites.

A walk through the tun­nels of the Lun­ckef­jel­let mine pro­du­ces fasci­na­ting views into the geo­lo­gi­cal histo­ry, rai­sing ques­ti­ons and ans­we­ring some of them. The geo­lo­gists Mal­te Joch­mann (SNSK/UNIS), Maria Jen­sen (UNIS) and Chris­to­pher Mar­shall (Uni­ver­si­ty of Not­ting­ham) had just two days to docu­ment out­crops and to take samples which might ans­wer some of the­se ques­ti­ons in fur­ther, detail­ed inves­ti­ga­ti­ons invol­ving advan­ced labo­ra­to­ry methods.

Eiskristalle, Lunckefjellet

Even insi­de a moun­tain you are con­stant­ly remin­ded that you are in the Arc­tic: the tem­pe­ra­tu­re is con­stant­ly below zero, and ice crys­tals are gro­wing on black coal sur­faces.

Now the Lun­ckef­jel­let mine is about to be clo­sed fore­ver. A lot of equip­ment has alre­a­dy been remo­ved, soon the mine can not be ente­red any­mo­re. Also Sveagru­va will be sub­ject to a major clean-up, initi­al work has alre­a­dy begun. The­re won’t be much left in the end. Some arte­facts which are con­side­red having his­to­ri­cal value will remain (ever­y­thing older than 1946 is gene­ral­ly pro­tec­ted in Spits­ber­gen, the thres­hold will pro­ba­b­ly be moved up to 1949 in Sveagru­va) and pos­si­bly a very few buil­dings for future use – rese­arch? Limi­t­ed tou­rism? Nobo­dy knows.

It will not be mining, that is for sure.

Sky of stars, Spitsbergen

Sky of stars on the way back from Sveagru­va to Lon­gye­ar­by­en.



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last modification: 2019-02-15 · copyright: Rolf Stange