ETM sues Greenland for $11bn

ETM sues Greenland for $11bn
Courtesy Nunatsiaq News.

Seven months after the coalition between the Inuit Ataqatigiit (IA) and Naleraq parties won power in a general election in April 2021, a law was passed that banned exploration of any deposit with a uranium concentration. A consequence of this policy has been that Kvanefjeld Mine, the site of one of the worlds largest deposit of rare-earth minerals and a monumental deposit of uranium has been closed. Now, owners of the exploitation license for Kvanefjeld, Energy Transition Minerals (ETM), are attempting to force the government to renege in order to obtain the lucrative minerals lying near uranium deposits. They have demanded the re-opening of the mine, in yet another example of multinational companies using absurdly punitive lawsuits to strong-arm small nations into following their own corporate policy objectives (see our report on Próspera using ICSDS mechanisms to strong-arm Honduras). ETM have since introduced a billion dollar lawsuit that could financially cripple the territory. Greenlandic Ministry of Mineral Resources Officials were hailed to a Court of Arbitration in Copenhagen (Greenland is a Danish Autonomous Territory), and were faced with seventeen lawyers representing ETM who set forward a multitude of proposed damages. The lawsuit totalled $11.15 billion USD. With the Greenlandic nation budget standing at just $1.85 billion USD for 2023. This attempt by ETM should be recognised for what it is, a clear attempt to degrade the democratic sovereignty of a nation to satisfy greed for profits.


As stated, Kvanefjeld is rich in valuable rare-earth metals and minerals. One of the more notable is the material steenstrupine, which contains 15 other minerals that are critical to many of the renewable goods that will allow for the transition from carbon to green fuels. Items like solar panels, batteries, and other goods contain various materials found in steepenstrupine. The leveraging of the desire to move to renewable energy sources has been a common practice of ETM since the mine closure. ETM, formerly Greenland Minerals (a blatant example of greenwashing) has written articles, like the one recently published by Innovation News Network, which hails the companies commitment to sourcing “magnet metals which hold the key to an energy-efficient and environmentally sustainable future”. Written by the companies Managing Director, Daniel Mamadou, it did little to mention the local social and environmental concerns.  


Found in the 1950s by Neils Bohr, Danish Quantum theoretician and nuclear physicist, who was searching for nuclear materials, inhabitants of the town Narsaq have historically been concerned about the fallout of extracting any materials from the mine. Fears about deadly contamination have animated much of local discussion since Bohr’s discovery. The latest plans  for the use of the mine in general are no different and vehemently opposed by Narsaq. Primarily, people are concerned for their areas environmental and the towns biological health. Uranium extraction, was initially part of the plans of ETM, though of course after the radioactive material ban, alternative solutions had to be created. ETM proposed that they would only target rare-earth metals, and the uranium that would be extracted as a byproduct. The uranium-rich mining waste water would be dumped in the tailings dam in Lake Taseq. This suggestion was met with distaste by the UN Special Rapporteur in 2021, who projected that the opening of the mine, and dumping of uranium-rich water in the local lake would have an adverse impact on the indigenous and sheep farming communities close by. Aside from radioactive materials, locals are also concerned with the safety of having a heavy metal mine so close to a settlement. ETM, in their initial plans, indicated that they would target annually removing 30 000 tons over 37 years, a figure which has worried many. 


Of course, ETM, are intent on their legal position and indicate that their “assessments are we are entitled to an exploitation license, and that is the right we are trying to enforce.” However, concerns about the issues of the mine lie beyond local concerns about contamination fears. It is also a geopolitical issue. As the global hierarchy wrestles with the increasing speed of the renewable transition, regional hegemonies are looking to secure vital resources. In this race, Greenland occupies a critical and interesting position. Most powerful nations and global institution structures recognise that the island holds increasing value as the green transition continues. Firstly, the EU has opened an official office in Greenland as part of its new Arctic policy, which recognises the region as vital to the ‘EU Green Deal’. Notably, US authorities also recognise the importance of Greenland, sending their Geological Survey Team to identify “one of the world’s largest reserves of critical materials”. The gaining of mining rights and therefore, critical minerals, is now a major policy goal for the US and other juggernauts, as we have seen with the dispute over the rights to a mining project in Citronen Fjord, North Greenland. In 2019, Trump’s suggestion that the US would buy Greenland, whilst farcical, illuminates a desire to obtain critical minerals. The presence of the Chinese state in ETM, has received perhaps the most attention however. Shenghe Resources, a company partially owned by the Chinese State, and linked with the China Nuclear Corporation which processes nuclear material for the military. This was one of the larger concerns before the Uranium Act prevented any shipping of nuclear material to the China Nuclear Corporation. Whilst these issues were rather secondary to local contamination concerns, the dangers of mineral mining indicate a complex layering of issues that could pull the Kvanefjeld mine out of the control of authorities if their sovereignty is not respected.


This issue has largely been framed within the ‘green transition’, however, impACT suggests that this rather illustrates a worrying trend. Hegemonic nations, such as the US and China, and corporate interests will continue to fight for extraction licensing, meanwhile, the democratic realities of small, less powerful nations, such as Greenland and Honduras, will be ignored. Companies such as ETM, will espouse the importance of such minerals for ‘saving the environment’, but will throw mining site areas and those that surround it into disrepair, ill health and poverty. For nations like Greenland, attempting to champion environmentally conscience policy, the possible successes of companies like ETM and Próspera, will signify a clear erosion of democratic integrity and is representative of the current political landscape for many small nations. As the likes of Greenland, Ecuador and others struggle to espouse the importance of environmental consciousness, mining companies and other extractivist industries will maintain their perseverance and confidence that business can be conducted.  For many, nations like Greenland represent hope in a period of looming environmental disaster, anything other than the maintenance of the democratic demands of the nation will surely register as a loss for the environmental movement and democracy. 


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