From (David P.)@21:1/5 to All on Thu Oct 7 01:05:20 2021
The World Wants Greenland’s Minerals, but Greenlanders Are Wary
By Jack Ewing, 10/1/21, NY Times
NARSAQ, Greenland — This huge, remote & barely habited
island is known for frozen landscapes, remote fjords &
glaciers that heave giant sheets of ice into the sea.
But increasingly Greenland is known for something else:
rare minerals. It’s all because of climate change & the
world’s mad dash to accelerate the development of
As global warming melts the ice that covers 80% of the
island, it has spurred demand for Greenland’s potentially
abundant reserves of hard-to-find minerals with names like
neodymium & dysprosium. These so-called rare earths, used
in wind turbines, electric motors & many other electronic
devices, are essential raw materials as the world tries to
break its addiction to fossil fuels.
China has a near monopoly on these minerals. The realization
that Greenland could be a rival supplier has set off a
modern gold rush.
Global superpowers are jostling for influence. Billionaire
investors are making big bets. Mining companies have staked
claims throughout the island in a quest that also includes
nickel, cobalt, titanium and, yes, gold.
But those expecting to exploit the island’s riches will
have to contend with Mariane Paviasen and the predominantly
Indigenous residents of the village of Narsaq.
Until she was elected to Greenland’s Parliament in April,
Ms. Paviasen was manager of a heliport that provided one of
the few ways to get to Narsaq, a village at the mouth of
a fjord on the island’s southwest coast.
The forces reshaping the planet — extreme weather caused
by rising temps, & rising demand for electric vehicles &
other green technology that require bits of rare metals —
converge at Narsaq, where fishing is the main industry &
most people live in brightly colored wooden houses with
tar paper roofs.
Because of climate change, the nearby fjord no longer
freezes so solidly in winter that people could drive
their cars on it.
But rocky heights above Narsaq, population about 1,700,
also contain what may be some of the richest concentrations
of rare minerals anywhere. The lodestone attracted an
Australian company backed by Chinese investors that had
hoped to blast an open-pit mine — until it ran into
The mine would bring jobs and tax revenue to the village,
but it would also produce radioactive uranium. That alarmed
Ms. Paviasen, who in 2013 formed a protest group she called
“Urani? Namiik,” Greenlandic for “Uranium? No.”
“I was aware that this thing would affect us,” she said.
“So I had to do something.”
Paviasen is a guarded person who speaks softly & chooses
her words carefully, at least when speaking English, which
is not her first language. But she also has a reputation
in the region for implacability whose opposition to the
mine has made her into a figure of some renown.
In April elections for Parliament, Ms. Paviasen and her
protest group overcame a determined lobbying effort by
the mining company, Greenland Minerals, and swayed public
opinion in favor of a party that promised to stop the mine.
The victory for Paviasen & her alliance of sheep farmers,
fishermen & other residents sent a signal to all those
eyeing Greenland’s mineral wealth.
The lesson was that any project that threatened the
environment or livelihoods was going to run into trouble
from local people who were quite capable of standing up
to powerful interests.
She is also aware that foreign money is still circling.
“The mining companies know what we have in Narsaq,” she
said with a frown. “We are not safe in the future.”
With 58,000 people in an area half the size of the
European Union, Greenland has been a mecca for prospectors
since the 1800s because of its geological history. Because
there are almost no trees & sparse vegetation, it's much
easier for geologists to read the rocks & find likely
places to dig for valuable ore.
Climate change has exposed more potential deposits.
Pacific-bound ships carrying ore can now sail across the
top of Canada much of the year, shortening the trip to
processing plants in Asia.
Reflecting Greenland’s newfound stature, the U.S. has
recently stepped up its diplomatic presence. Antony J.
Blinken visited Greenland in May, 4 months after being
named Biden’s secretary of state, meeting with members of
the newly elected Greenland govt. Last year, the U.S.
opened a consulate in Nuuk, the capital, for the first
time since the 1950s. A delegation of U.S. officials
visited Greenland last month and pledged aid to improve
trade, education and the mining industry.
Anglo American, a British mining giant, has staked out
swaths of an island believed to have lucrative deposits
of nickel, essential for most electric car batteries.
In August, KoBold Metals, a California company backed by
Bill Gates & Jeff Bezos, formed a joint venture with
Bluejay Mining, a British company, to search for minerals
in Greenland using artificial intelligence to pinpoint
deposits from mountains of data.
At the moment, only two mines in Greenland are active,
one producing rubies and the other anorthosite, used in
paints, plastic coatings and special varieties of glass.
But dozens of companies have exploration projects
underway, and five have licenses to begin digging.
Leaders of the new govt in Greenland see the country’s ore
as a means to work toward financial independence from
Denmark. Greenland has a Parliament that oversees domestic
affairs, but Denmark determines foreign policy & subsidizes
the Greenland budget with 3.9 billion Danish kroner per
year, or about $620 million.
No one believes that Greenland’s reserves are big enough
to make it the Saudi Arabia of nickel or titanium. Denmark
would take a big share of any mining royalties.
A promise of riches
On a crisp, sunny Saturday morning recently, men drifted
down to a dock in Narsaq lined with small boats. Some
carried rifles on their shoulders &, in one case, a well-
used harpoon. Some were on their way to hunt seals while
another group planned to look for minke whales.
Other men — they were all men — simply watched & gossiped
from mismatched chairs in front of a storage shed.
Opposition to the mine appeared to be unanimous.
“My kids & grandkids would also like to live in this
town,” said Emanuel Joelsen, one of the whale hunters.
Whale meat is still a big part of Greenlanders’ diet, &
they are allowed under international agreements to hunt a
limited number of animals.
Like almost all settlements in Greenland, Narsaq can be
reached only by sea or air. Most people speak Greenlandic,
the Indigenous language that is related to Inuit languages
spoken in Canada & Alaska. The main employers are the govt
& a small factory that cleans & freezes halibut, salmon &
shrimp caught by local people for export to Asia.
Narsaq residents were initially in favor of the nearby mine,
attracted by the promise of badly needed jobs. “They said
people in Narsaq would be rich because of the mine,” said
Niels Sakeriassen, who manages the fish processing plant.
But opinion shifted as people learned more about the
project. Tailings from the open-pit mine would be deposited
in a lake that lies above the town. Narsaq residents
distrusted assurances by Greenland Minerals that a dam
would keep radioactive water from reaching their homes.
Mining ‘the right way’
Mining executives say they are aware of the need to pay
attention to climate concerns. In August, rain fell for
the first time at a research station at the high point of
Greenland’s ice sheet. It was a topic of discussion
wherever Greenlanders gathered.
Some mining companies see a chance to establish Greenland
as a reputable source of the raw materials for emissions-
free power generation and transportation.
“You can do it the right way,” said Bo Moller Stensgaard,
a former Danish govt geologist who is the chief executive
of Bluejay Mining.
He pointed to Bluejay’s plans to begin mining ilmenite,
an ore that contains titanium, from a site hundreds of
miles north of Narsaq. The ilmenite can be separated from
the black sand that contains it using magnets rather than
toxic chemicals, Mr. Stensgaard said, and the sand will be
restored after mining is complete.
An alternative to China
On the opposite side of the fjord from Narsaq is a mining
project whose main backer hasn't generated the same
hostility as Greenland Minerals. Greg Barnes, a veteran
prospector from Australia, has a license to mine the area,
known as Tanbreez. The site has only trace amounts of
radioactivity, Barnes said from Australia, but rich deposits
of metals like tantalum, used in mobile phones, and
zirconium, used in fuel cells & various kinds of electronics.
Barnes may have unwittingly played a role in prompting Trump
to float the idea of buying Greenland while he was president.
Word that Trump wanted to acquire the island from Denmark
emerged soon after Barnes visited the White House in 2019
to brief officials on Greenland’s potential.
While denying that he planted the idea in Trump’s head,
Barnes said U.S. officials “see us as a solution” to
China’s dominance of rare earths.
So far Paviasen her group have focused on stopping the
Greenland Minerals project. But they are watching
Barnes’s plans warily.
‘A lot of money for local people’
Greenland Minerals has kept a low profile since the
April elections brought an anti-uranium govt to power,
but it has not given up on mining near Narsaq. The company
is looking for ways to address local concerns, for example
by shipping the minerals somewhere else for processing
rather than separating out uranium in Narsaq.
Greenland Minerals promised to train local people to work
at the mine & to buy from local suppliers whenever possible.
It also commissioned studies showing that radioactivity
from the mine would be negligible and that there would be
minimal impact on the environment.
The project would “bring many benefits to Narsaq & south
Greenland,” John Mair, the managing director of Greenland
Minerals, said in an email. “It would be a significant
economic stimulus for local businesses.”
Greenland Minerals’ largest shareholder, with a 9.4% stake,
is Shenghe Resources, which has close ties to the Chinese
govt. Mair denied media reports that Greenland Minerals
is a stalking horse for Chinese interests, saying Shenghe
plays a crucial advisory role. “There are no Western world
groups that can match Shenghe’s proficiency & expertise”
in rare minerals, Mr. Mair said.
Some local people support the mining project, though they
tend to be less visible. “It’s about jobs, work, a lot of
money for the local people,” said Jens Karl Petersen, a
cook in Narsarsuaq, a former U.S. air base about 30 miles
A league of sheep farmers
On a sunny day in August, Aviaja Lennert, who raises sheep
on a farm farther inland from Narsaq, steered her battered
4-wheel-drive station wagon up a precarious gravel road to
the crest of a high ridge and braked to a stop. Below,
icebergs slowly drifted in the blue-green water of the
fjord. The only sound was the wind & the occasional “baa”
of a sheep grazing on the steep, rocky slopes.
Lennert, who also works as a schoolteacher and rents a
small house on her farm to tourists, walked briskly up a
nearby rise and pointed at a slab of dark gray mountain
above. “That’s where the mine will be,” she said.
Her sheep, raised for their meat, graze at the foot of
the mountain. “I’m worried about my family,” said Lennert,
who is married & has 3 kids. “I’m worried about my sheep.”
Lennert & other farmers in the area, one of the few places
in Greenland warm enough for agriculture, are among the
most fervent supporters of Ms. Paviasen’s protest group.
They are afraid that people would stop buying their meat,
believing it tainted. The org’s symbol, a smiling orange
sun, is painted on the side of Lennert’s barn.
Sheep farming in Greenland is not an easy life. The roads
are so rough that some farmers’ children sleep during the
week at their elementary school in a nearby village. A
daily commute would be too arduous, even though their
homes may be only 10 miles away.
In the spring when the lambs come, the farmers sleep for
weeks in their barns to deal with difficult births. The
rewards of such a life are impossible to put a price on.
“This is one of the most beautiful places in Greenland,”
Ms. Paviasen said. “It’s worth fighting for.”