[Show/Hide Left Column]

Arctic Mining, Resources and Activity

(from Lloyd’s Report 2012: Arctic Opening – Opportunity and Risk in the High North)


Mining has a longer history than hydrocarbon production across the Arctic. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries the quality of Arctic coal deposits (the principal fuel of shipping) led to investment and interest in the Svalbard archipelago, culminating in the Svalbard treaty in 1920 (xxvi). For a long time, mining was Greenland’s only economic export activity besides fishing.

More recently, and with less publicity than the growth of oil and gas interest in the Arctic, mining companies have increased their investments in the region. In some cases, the risks associated with air and water pollution of rivers and streams have made these investments as controversial as oil and gas projects. However, mining projects often offer better long-term potential for economic development than oil and gas, with a larger permanent and local workforce and a project lifetime of several decades, from prospecting and production to closure and rehabilitation.

At the time of writing, there are currently 25 mines in operation in the Russian Arctic. These include the mines of Norilsk Nickel, a large Russian diversified mining company, the largest nickel producer in the world and a major producer of palladium and platinum1 . In 2010, 36.8% of Alaska’s foreign (non-US) export earnings came from exports of zinc, lead, gold and copper, generating $1.3bn2 . The Red Dog mine is one of the largest lead-zinc mines in the world, employing 700 people, mostly year-round.

Greenland is already home to a number of mines, such as Swedish company LKAB’s Seqi Olivine mine. The opening of coastal areas of Greenland to development, partly as a result of climate change, has increased the potential attraction of a range of other projects including gold, platinum and rare earth metals with high-technology applications at the Kvanefjeld deposit. Greenland’s government does not currently allow development of the island’s well-known uranium deposits, though its stance on exploration has recently been partially relaxed3 .

In Canada, mining accounts for half the income of the North-West Territories and geological mapping is strongly supported by the federal government4 . Diamond mining north of Yellowknife has expanded rapidly. Between 2003 and 2008, total spending at a single mine, the Diavik diamond mine, amounted to $4bn, of which a substantial share was with local businesses5 .The Mary River iron ore project on Baffin Island in Canada’s Nunavut territory is due to enter development in 2013 and will require an estimated $4.1bn of direct investment up to 20406 .

In northern Scandinavia, there are mining prospects across northern Sweden and Finland, and iron mines in Kirkenes (in northern Norway) and Kiruna. The latter is the world’s largest underground iron ore mine and the world’s largest Arctic mine – yet most of the ore is currently un-mined7 .


(xxvi) Broadly the Svalbard treaty confirms Norwegian sovereignty over the Svalbard archipelago, but provides for access for treaty signatories (including Russia, the United Kingdom and others) on equal terms.


  •  1. Mineral Resources of the Russian Shelf 2006 Geoinformark
  •  2. State exports for Alaska US Census Bureau
  •  3. Greenland amends law to allow uranium mining 2010 Mining Journal
  •  4. http://www.nrcan.gc.ca/earth-sciences/home
  •  5. Mine Factbook Diavik Diamond 2008 Rio Tinto
  •  6. The Economic Impact of the Mary River Project on Nunavut and the provinces of Canada Appendix 4b to Baffi nland Environmental Impact Assessment Eric C. Howe 2010
  •  7. Mining in the Arctic Morten C. Smelror

Charles Emmerson, Glada Lahn, 2012, Arctic Mining, Resources and Activity, Lloyd’s.©

Search Guide [toggle]