Nordic Mining has begun test drilling for a new open-pit rutile and garnet mine near the small community of Vevring on Norway’s west coast. If constructed, the mine would remove the top of the Engebø Mountain and dump 250 million tonnes of toxic mine waste directly into the fish-rich Førdefjord. While Nordic has yet to secure final permits to operate, test drilling is already underway; the mine is scheduled to open in 2020.

Norwegians take their fjords seriously, and for good reason: fjords are critical to Norway’s identity and economy. A diverse coalition, including national fishermen organizations, tourism operators, coastal communities, and environmental groups are united over concern that Nordic’s mine will have an irreversible, catastrophic impact on the iconic fjord and communities that rely on it.

The Norwegian government considers the Førdefjord a National Salmon Fjord, connecting the open sea with a permanently-protected river and important spawning grounds for salmon, cod, halibut, and herring. The fjord is home to pristine coral reefs and is regularly visited by orca whales and sea eagles and supports thriving sport and commercial fishing industries. Tourism is critical to the regional economy; the local tourism board has called Nordic Mining’s project a “catastrophe for modern business.”

Tailings are the sludge left over once the mineral is extracted from the ore. They contain crushed rock, processing chemicals and naturally occurring elements that become toxic when exposed to air or water. This toxic cocktail settles on and smothers the seafloor, killing everything that lives there. Tailings can also spread, contaminating other areas and destroying coral reefs and other habitat.

Norwegians’ concerns over the mine are well-founded. An Institute for Marine Research study found few signs of life on the bottom of the Jøssingfjord 35 years after dumping ceased at Titania’s Tellnes mine in southern Norway. Scientists believe it may never recover.  

Norway is the only country in Europe currently allowing mining companies to dump solid  mine waste directly into open water bodies. The country approved the project over the objections of its environmental ministry. Citigroup, along with a number of Norwegian, Danish, and Swedish banks and pension funds, are the project’s major shareholders.

In January 2018, the Norwegian government placed a four-year ban on new permits to dump mine waste to allow time for a thorough economic and environmental analysis of the practice. The decision does not impact Nordic Mining’s project, which has already been permitted to dump.

“By calling for a ban on mine waste dumping into the sea, the government has revealed that they know the practice is environmentally unacceptable in 2018. The species-rich Førdefjord is an international treasure and the foundation of our livelihoods in coastal Norway. We must protect it and stop adding pollution of the world’s already struggling oceans. ”  Anne-Line Thingnes Førsund, born and raised in Vevring, near Nordic Mining’s proposed mine in Norway