Mining in the Arctic
Alaska has a growing mining industry which includes exploration, mine development, and production. The industry produces zinc, lead, copper, gold, silver, coal, as well as construction materials such as sand, gravel, and rock. There are six large operating mines (Fort Knox, Greens Creek, Red Dog, Usibelli, Pogo, and Kensington) providing 2,675 full-time jobs out of the nearly 4,600 mining industry jobs in total in Alaska in 2019. Mining there involves a rigorous permit process. The state contains 75 future mineral recovery prospects.
Mineral products accounted for 36% of the state’s total exports in 2018, with a value of $1.7 billion, consisting primarily of zinc and lead from the Red Dog Mine.
The mining industry provides mostly year-round jobs for residents of 70 communities throughout Alaska, more than half of which are found in rural Alaska where few other jobs are available.
In Sweden, mining is one of the major economic activities, with the mining industry contributing to the country’s economic growth as a main source of tax and employment. Among the mining companies are Atlas Copco, Sandvik, LKAB, Boliden, and Lundin Mining. The Swedish government has formulated Sweden’s mineral extraction strategy with the aim of ensuring long- term sustainable growth while taking ecological, social, and cultural factors into consideration. It is expected that by 2025, Sweden will triple its mining production, which should provide more than 50,000 new jobs.
Alaska, more than half of which are found in rural Alaska where few other jobs are available.
NANA Regional Corporation’s Red Dog Mine is the largest lead and zinc concentrate producer in the U.S. Red Dog Operations was developed in 1989 through an innovative agreement between the operator Teck and the land-owner NANA. NANA is a Regional Alaska Native corporation owned by the Iñupiat people of northwest Alaska. NANA is owned by the more than 14,500 Iñupiat shareholders who live, or have roots, in northwest Alaska. The mine and concentrator properties are leased from, and were developed under an agreement with, NANA.
In 2019, Red Dog employed 650 people, of which over half are NANA shareholders. In partnering with NANA, Red Dog operations paid $241 million to NANA in 2019, with $140.5 million of that being redistributed to other Alaska Native regional and village corporations. The mine’s life is expected to continue to 2032.
Economic and social impact in the North
Swedish LKAB is Europe's leading producer of iron ore. LKAB’s mine in the northern Sweden town of Kiruna (20,000 inhabitants) is the world's largest underground iron ore mine. The Kiruna underground mine is about 80 metres wide and four kilometres long. The mine employs over 2,000 people. Kiruna has three main industries; mining, tourism and space. But the industrial profile of Kiruna is defined by the iron ore company LKAB, which is the dominant employer. LKAB is owned by the Swedish state and has always played a key role in Kiruna’s development.
As mining operations expanded, parts of the town came to be situated on top of the mine and be at risk of collapsing due to sinkholes. Kiruna Municipality decided to relocate the affected parts of the town about 3 km east. The process began in the early 2000s and will not be completed for many years. LKAB's future is dependent on parts of Kiruna and Malmberget (a town of 5,000 inhabitants) being successively moved. These urban transformations are the result of the location of the ore bodies and the expansion of mining operations. In all, around 5,000 homes and 700,000 m2 of housing and business premises will be relocated or replaced. The process of urban transformation is expected to continue at least until 2035. According to the Swedish Minerals Act, LKAB is responsible for paying the costs incurred when a company's mining operations make urban transformations necessary. The municipality is responsible for urban planning. In 2020, a conflict between LKAB and Kiruna municipality erupted, based on the municipality’s demand that the mining company should compensate for the population decline caused by the city relocation.
Responsible mining in the Arctic
Mining has on the one hand has the potential to contribute to economic development, but on the other, it harms the environment and irrevocably shapes the social dynamics of Arctic communities and indigenous ways of life. The Arctic Economic Council’s Responsible Resource Developing Working Group produced recommendations for responsible mining in the Arctic. According to the recommendations, in developing mining activities, project proposers and northern governments must engage in early and ongoing open dialogue, consultation and cooperation with indigenous communities. Mutually beneficial partnerships, ensuring long- term sustainable benefits, depend on this.