|Nordic Mining argues
that recolonisation of marine life on the sea
floor is faster than with onshore tailings disposal.
(Source: Arild Finne Nybo via
At the end of January, The EFTA Surveillance Authority (ESA)
closed three complaint cases against Norway’s
decision to allow for the disposal of tailings from Nordic
Mining ASA’s mineral sands operations into the
The ESA, which monitors compliance with the Agreement on the
European Economic Area (EEA Agreement) in Iceland,
Liechtenstein and Norway, received three complaints in 2015
over the permitting of tailings disposal for the Engebø
rutile project in Norway. The complaints accused Norwegian
authorities of breaching the Water Framework Directive in the
EEA Agreement in allowing for the disposal of tailings in the
Norway, meanwhile, has argued that it had taken all practical
steps to mitigate the negative impact of the mine dumps and
that monitoring of water quality would take place on an
According to Nordic Mining’s CEO, Ivar Fossum,
one of the biggest challenges with the development of the
Engebø rutile project has been the permitting of the
deposit, particularly the permitting of the sea disposal of
"We are extremely pleased that we’ve had the
endurance to stay through the permitting period, which has now
ended successfully on our part," he
He explained that he sees Nordic Mining and its strategy as
a response in part to the initiatives driven by the European
Union (EU) to encourage the development of mineral deposits in
Europe, for companies to be more transparent about where their
raw materials are coming from and for the production of
minerals in a more sustainable manner.
"The clarification [by the ESA] underpins the assessment and
use of sea disposal as a viable and environmentally safe
solution for the project," he added.
Nordic Mining established plans for the open pit and
underground mine operations at Engebø in November last
year. The previous quarter, the company almost tripled the
measured and indicated resource at the site following a
drilling programme. Total estimated resources in the measured
and indicated categories were reported at 93m tonnes rutile
with a 3% cut off grade, up from 32m tonnes reported in 2008.
The average titanium dioxide (TiO2) grade at the resource was
increased to 3.89%, while the garnet grade is around 44%.
Production at Engebø will be largely through
traditional rutile processing routes, Fossum told
"Nothing is particularly new, but we need to find the
optimal route," he said. "We’re looking at a
package of well-known processing technologies for these
kinds of minerals. It could be that we need to carry on with
flotation on a smaller part of the volume and there will be
different processing routes for rutile and garnet."
The minerals will be liberated upfront through a fairly
advanced crushing and milling system which will determine the
specifications, Fossum explained.
"60% of the tailings will be in the sand fraction, and the
remaining part will be slightly finer, with about 10% on the
finer side. All of these tailings will be a lot coarser than
the huge volume of natural sediments already on the sea floor,"
facility: There are only a handful of countries in a
natural position to allow for the fjord depositing of
tailings, Norway included, owing to the proximity of
mines to fjords. (Source: Nordic
The ESA’s decision to close the complaints
against Nordic Mining were subject to limitations, as the
authority noted its review was limited to assessing whether
the decision-making process was conducted within the
requirements set out in the directive, and not to evaluate
the merits of the project.
"It is not ESA’s role to decide whether the
project as such is good policy. Rather, ESA has assessed the
Norwegian decision-making process on the basis on EEA law, and
there we have found no breach of Norway´s commitments,"
ESA’s president, Sven Erik Svedman, said in a
However, Nordic Mining is not the first to use processing
methods requiring seabed disposal in Norway. According to the
company there are only a handful of countries in a natural
position to allow for the fjord depositing of tailings, Norway
included, owing to the proximity of mines to fjords.
Currently the country has six operating fjord tailings
deposits where the tailings material is transported as a slurry
in a pipeline to the fjord bottom. The material then settles on
the sea bottom. The fjords themselves contain natural
depressions and sills that form barriers for the transportation
of sediment, in addition to already receiving a large amount of
natural sediment from rives and surrounding landscape. This
environment also prevents the tailings from migrating over
large areas, allowing Nordic Mining to limit its disposal
Fossum pointed to the precedent set by existing fjord
disposal sites and argued that the method is preferable to
risky and difficult land disposal sites, where dam walls and
other safeguards are required.
"We have some unfortunate experiences in Norway with land
and beach disposals, even river tailings disposals with
sulphide minerals. We will have a controllable sea disposal
that will reduce the risk over time – and we have seen
from data that recolonisation of life on the sea floor goes
extremely fast once you stop disposing, which is the opposite
of what is seen on land," he told IM.
While Nordic Mining conceded that bottom dwelling species
will be negatively impacted, the company emphasises its
limited disposal area and points to studies showing that
marine life will return to normal within 2 to 10 years,
taking the example of Titania’s former disposal
at Dyngadjupet and from tailings disposal in the
Working with the opposition
However, environmentalists and the Norwegian
Fisherman’s Association have criticised the
project on the basis that cadmium could be released into the
fjord and damage fish stocks. Opponents have also expressed
concern that fine waste particles could spread further from the
fjord and pollute the food chain and ecosystem.
Nordic Mining has meanwhile cited studies showing that wild
salmon will not be affected if tailings are deposited through
a pipe system in a controlled manner at a depth of around 300
metres. In contrast, the company noted that wild salmon
usually do not venture below a 30-metre depth.
"Even in the last years of the deposition [of the 50-year
mine life] there will be a particle-free zone of more than 100
metres between the disposal area and the normal depth for
salmon," the company outlines in its mine plans.
Additionally, Fossum said that the tailings will cover a
bottom area of around 4km2, or 5% of the total Forde fjord
Nordic Mining also plans to closely and independently
monitor the disposal of tailings, using advanced techniques
already developed by the offshore oil and gas industry.
"What has been a recent standard in Norway is to establish a
cross stakeholder resource group where we have various
stakeholders represented in a broad resource group, which
will be responsible for the monitoring of the environmental
impact," he told IM. "They will jointly file
environmental data to the authorities and it will be a
sophisticated monitoring programme installed."
Developing new tailings options
The company has noted the future possibility of finding a
use for around 20% of the tailings for the coverage of
contaminated seabed sediments, or for use in shore line
protection, the building of new land area, and as a raw
material for concrete.
"Nordic Mining will have a substantial commercial incentive
to find ways to utlise the tailings – this work will
have high priority," the company said.
Rutile and garnet production is expected to start in 2020 or
early 2021 according to current schedules and the project is
ideally located to target a deficit of titanium dioxide (TiO2)
feedstock production in Europe.
"It’s a win-win situation to supply pigment
plants located in Europe from the west coast of Norway," Fossum
said. "Europe produces in the area of 5% of titanium feedstock
supply and they are consuming around 20-25% of the overall
consumption of feedstocks, so there is a significant deficit
and huge imports of feedstock from overseas suppliers."
Now that the case against its permit has been closed, Nordic
Mining is in the process of carrying out a prefeasibility
study (PFS) for the Engebø project, which is set to be
completed in the second quarter of 2017.