For sale: Norway's pristine Arctic wilderness - the coal-rich Svalbard Islands

A swathe of the pristine Norwegian Arctic has gone on sale, but it’s not the polar bear spotting and dog-sledding opportunities which are expected entice a buyer: it is the potentially lucrative coal mine in a corner of the world increasingly attracting the attention of resource-hungry nations.

Norway’s tourism office describes the Svalbard Islands – situated half way between the Norwegian mainland and the North Pole – as an “untouched Arctic wilderness” with three nature reserves, six national parks and 15 bird sanctuaries.

But while about 65 per cent of the archipelago is protected, mining has been part of the landscape on the Svalbard Islands since its settlement in the early 20th century, and the 217 square kilometres of land put up for sale recently is believed to hold about 25 million tons of coal.

The Austre Adventfjord property – roughly two-and-a-half times the size of Manhattan – is currently owned by the Horn family of industrialists, the Norwegian VG newspaper reported. A spat between the family and the Norwegian company with rights to the coal mine is believed to have spurred the sale, although only scant details were released to Norway’s press.

“The property is now for sale and I have no comments on the sales process,” said the family’s lawyer, Sveinung Flatten. No figures were given for the potential value of the land, but international financial institutions are reported to have been hired to help find a buyer, sparking debate about whether parts of the island should be allowed to fall into foreign hands.

In an editorial, VG said Svalbard was of “great strategic importance to Norway”. Willy Østreng, a director at the Norwegian Scientific Academy for Polar Research, told the paper that firms from many nations including Russia, the US and China in particular might want to snap it up.

“China is in constant search of coal and other natural resources,” Mr Østreng said. “By purchasing this property they can use Svalbard as a platform for a long-term plan in the Arctic Ocean Basin.”

While no foreign companies have publicly shown an interest in the property yet, there is certainly enthusiasm for the area’s potential. The US Geological Survey estimates that 30 per cent of the world’s undiscovered natural gas reserves and 13 per cent of its undiscovered oil are in the Arctic.

Until recently the thick ice has prevented exploration of these resources, but as global warming causes the sea ice to thaw, companies and governments are eyeing up both the uncovered assets and potentially lucrative new trade routes.

Searching for the natural resources to fuel its economic growth, China is already one of the biggest mining investors in Greenland, and last year was granted observer status on The Arctic Council, a body coordinating policy in the region. The Chinese state-owned Cosco Group in September also sent a container ship on the first ever commercial journey from China to Europe via the Arctic, rather than south via the Indian Ocean and the Suez Canal.

This is one of the most plied trade routes in the world, and by going north rather than south, between 12 and 14 days are shaved off the journey time. But ice still prevents any sailings in the winter, and environmental groups are concerned that more ships puts the delicate Arctic ecosystem at greater risk of oil spills. Political debate in Arctic nations about the environmental impact of mining in the region is also holding up much of the exploration of the natural resources.

Norway’s Green Party is fighting to preserve the wilderness of Svalbard, and at a party congress this week proposed closing down all the coal mines on the archipelago.

News
John Travolta is a qualified airline captain and employed the pilot with his company, Alto
people'That was the lowest I’d ever felt'
Life and Style
healthIt isn’t greasy. It doesn’t smell. And moreover, it costs nothing
News
i100

Other places that have held independence referendums
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding
musicThe singer said 'the last thing I want to do is degrade'
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
news

Arts and Entertainment
Blossoming love: Colin Firth as Stanley and Emma Stone as Sophie, in 'Magic in the Moonlight'
film

Actors star in Woody Allen's 'Magic in the Moonlight'

News
A male driver reverses his Vauxhall Astra from a tow truck
newsThe 'extremely dangerous' attempt to avoid being impounded has been heavily criticised
News
peopleThe Times of India said actress should treat it as a 'compliment'
Arts and Entertainment
Jack Huston is the new Ben-Hur
film

It scooped up an unprecedented 11 Academy Awards when it was first remade in 1959

News
news

Watch this commuter wage a one-man war against the Circle Line
Property
Home body: Badger stays safe indoors
lifeShould we feel guilty about keeping cats inside?
Life and Style
fashion

Olympic diver has made his modelling debut for Adidas

Arts and Entertainment
Maxine Peake plays Hamlet at Manchester's Royal Exchange
theatreReview: Maxine Peake brings emotional ferocity to Shakespeare's starring part
Travel
travel

...and the perfect time to visit them

Sport
Jonas Gutierrez (r) competes with Yaya Toure (l)
football

Newcastle winger reveals he has testicular cancer - and is losing his trademark long hair as a result

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

IT Project Manager (technical, applications, infrastructure)

£55000 - £60000 Per Annum + benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: IT Proj...

SEN Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Birmingham: English teacher required! Warwicksh...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant Birmingham

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Comission: SThree: The SThree group is a world lea...

HR Assistant - Kent - £25,000

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: HR Coordinator - Kent - Up to £25,00...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week