The newly-elected leader of Greenland has lifted a ban on uranium mining, but wants to introduce royalties on the mining industry and revise a law that would allow an influx of foreign labor.
Aleqa Hammond, whose center-left Siumut party won a parliamentary election last month, said in Copenhagen that “there is a life after mining” and called for laws that “protect the people, our environment, our health.” She also stated that she wants to slow the regulatory process down: “Our government wants to use the time we need so we don’t ... get ripped off.”
Hammond has also said ‘no’ to any increase in offshore drilling, but a yes to more mining — with conditions. Cairn Energy and other companies, which have exploration licenses set to expire in 2017 and 2020, can continue their hunt for oil on the western coast, according to the conditions of their licenses, reports in Greenland’s Sermitsiaq newspaper said. But it means that licenses for 11 additional blocks on northeast Greenland — which could hold as much as 31 billion barrels of oil — won’t be handed out, as had been expected.
The new governing coalition has also stated: “As our country develops toward statehood, the need for Greenlandic labor is greater than ever,” the coalition said in recent statement. “The coalition emphasizes that foreign labor should be minimized.” The previous government had intimated at a major influx of Chinese workers to build a mine. Kvanefjeld, with the world’s second largest deposit of rare earths and the world’s fifth largest uranium deposit, is located in southern Greenland. It’s technically impossible to extract the rare earths there without also extracting uranium.
Denmark – and consequently Greenland as a member of the Danish commonwealth – has a zero tolerance policy on mining radioactive material and this rules out mining minerals if uranium were a by-product. But Hammond refuses to let this stop Greenland from cashing in. “We want mining to bring us the greatest possible economic benefit, and that is not possible without also mining uranium,” Hammond said. Greenland’s ambition to sidestep Denmark’s zero tolerance policy is not unproblematic, however. Given the security issues that come with mining uranium, it may fall under Copenhagen’s jurisdiction since Denmark is responsible for Greenland’s security. Hammond argues, however, that Greenland ought to be able to set its own policy on uranium given that it was granted the jurisdiction over its natural resources with the 2009 Self Rule Act. The premier stressed, however, that Greenland would not permit direct uranium mining and a new law would be needed to limit the concentration of uranium that would be allowed as a by-product of mining. Other regulations would be needed, she argued, to tax mining revenue, protect the environment and maintain security. “We want to mine without destroying our environment, without endangering people’s health and without making the world less secure,” Hammond said.
“Unemployment has exploded over the past four years,” Hammond said. “It has put us in a situation where if we want to invest in health and education, we need new income that will have to come from the future mining industry, whether we like it or not.”
Greenland’s new leader has grasped the new reality—Greenland needs jobs but development that is sensible over time.