Mines and Money 2015: Greenland open for mining business

By Laura Syrett, Myles McCormick
Published: Monday, 21 December 2015

Country currently lags Scandinavia in mineral exploitation, but several companies are expected to fast-track local projects over the next two-to-three years.

Greenland is expected to go from having no active mines to operating between three and five producing deposits by 2018, delegates at the Mines and Money 2015 conference in London heard in December.

"Despite having similar geology to Scandinavia, where there are over 90 operational mines, there are no active mines in Greenland," Julie Hollis, head of the geology department at Greenland’s Ministry of Mineral Resources, told potential investors.

The North Atlantic Danish territory offers a number of industrial mineral development opportunities, including rare earths, barite (barytes), graphite, olivine and antimony, with a handful of mines in these sectors slated to come online in the next few years.

Canada’s Hudson Resources Inc. owns the Naajat or White Mountain anorthosite mine, which aims to supply calcium feldspar to the fibreglass industry as an alternative to kaolin and potentially as a substitute for bauxite in the production of alumina. Naajat has a predicted mine life of more than 100 years at an output rate of 200,000 tpa.

In rare earths, Tanbreez Mining Greenland AS is developing a deposit with an inferred resource of 4.7bn tonnes at average grades of around 1.8% zirconium oxide, 0.2% niobium oxide, 0.5% light rare earths, 0.15% heavy rare earths and 0.01% tantalum oxide.

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On the other half of the same development, Greenland Minerals and Energy Ltd holds a 1.01bn tonne mineral resource with 0.37% heavy rare earths and 0.87% yttrium oxide.

Hollis expects both of these sites to proceed to construction over the next 12 months.

Other prospective industrial minerals sites in Greenland include a barite deposit, which Henrik Stendal, chief geologist at the Greenland Ministry of Mineral Resources, told IM was at one point being explored with a view to providing drilling grade material for North Sea oil wells, but ultimately lost out to competition in Scotland.

An olivine mine was active in the country between 2004 and 2009, Stendal added, operated by Swedish mining company Minelco, which has since rebranded as LKAB Minerals Group. This mine was forced to close due to high transport costs, Stendal said.

A number of graphite deposits are also under exploration in the country. Denmark’s 21st North is investigating sites at Eqalussit-Akulianiseq in eastern Greenland and has recently started exploring the Kangikajik, also in the east of the country.

UK-based Alba Mineral Resources Plc, meanwhile, has secured an option to acquire the Amitsoq graphite project in western Greenland.

According to Michael Nott, Alba’s CEO, the Amitsoq deposit has a non-compliant mineral resource of around 300,000 tonnes graphite. "There is also nickel, gold and platinum group elements in there," he told IM.

Nott said that even though graphite prices are depressed at present, he was confident of the longevity of the graphite sector and had taken the opportunity to secure a potential foothold in the Greenland project.

He explained that Alba, which also has a stake in the Horse Hill oil project in the UK, is looking to diversify its resource portfolio. "We want to try and spread ourselves (…) If you are only in one commodity, you can find yourself in a dead space when the market goes down," he said.

While there are no roads between settlements and towns in Greenland, Hollis noted that large parts of its coastline are accessible year round, unimpeded by ice, allowing for efficient transport of materials.

Greenland is an autonomous country within the Kingdom of Denmark with a population of just 57,000. It became self-governing in 2010 and has since made a concerted effort to use its geology to its economic advantage.

Land use and costs hold Scandinavia back

While Greenland is being touted as a future mining destination, some exploration businesses are struggling to get projects off the ground in Scandinavia.

Speaking at IM’s 5th Graphite and Graphene Conference shortly after Mines and Money, Havard Gautneb, senior geologist at the Geological Survey of Norway, said that Norway was highly prospective for metallic and industrial minerals including ferroalloy metals, silicon, nickel, manganese, magnesite, olivine and graphite.

He told IM that even though Norway and Scandinavian countries in general are "mining friendly" with well-developed associated infrastructure, land ownership issues and the relatively high costs of mining in the region are among the reasons why Scandinavia does not have more resource exploitation.

One company, which preferred not to be named but which is investigating developing graphite alongside its metallic mineral operations in Sweden, told IM that it was very positive about the opportunities to develop mines in Scandinavia, but said that even relatively straightforward projects required extensive stakeholder negotiations, for example with reindeer farmers.