Greenland’s own Murray River project

Erkan Özden and Douglas Baird were in town doing a story on the HD Mining controversy for DR, the Danish Broadcasting Corporation. The issue of temporary foreign workers resonates in that country, as, while Denmark itself does not have a mining industry as such, new mines are being developed in Greenland, an autonomous country within the Kingdom of Denmark. Chinese mining companies are eyeing up the new resources, and the parallels between there and Tumbler Ridge drew them to town. Erkan is from Denmark, educated in Britian and currently working out of Washington DC. Douglas Baird is a freelance cameraman out of Vancouver.

Trent Ernst, Editor

And you thought the issue of two unions going to court to stop temporary foreign workers in Tumbler Ridge was a strong political statement? Over in Greenland, some people are talking about declaring independence and severing ties with Denmark, which has ruled the nation for over two hundred years.

Many people in Denmark are not impressed by a plan to import Chinese workers and companies to help extract the nation’s minerals. And, since Denmark controls Greenland’s foreign policy, Copenhagen has the ultimate say as to whether or not to allow this to happen.

As in BC, the issue is politically charged and one of the key planks in Greenland’s second largest political party, Siumut. The country’s election happens on March 12.

Greenland is self-ruled, but still falls under the rule of the Kingdom of Denmark. With a population of 58,000 people many of whom are Inuit who live on the land, the country does not have a strong economic base. Its primary source of income is fishing, primarily shrimp exports, but over the last few years, that industry has been in decline.

But while global warming trends have negatively impacted the oceans around Greenland, warmer weather is causing the country’s perennial ice sheets to retreat, opening up more of the land base to mineral exploration.

The country is now looking to mining as a source of income for the country, but has neither the expertise or manpower to build its own mines.

Denmark provides the county with $600 million in subsidies, which would be at risk if the country left the kingdom of Denmark, but the country stands to gain billions from taxes and investments.

A British company, London Mining Plc. (LOND), is expected to get preliminary permits this year for the $2 billion Isua iron-ore project, which local authorities estimate will create 700 permanent jobs. A second mine under development by an Australian mining company is estimated to hold four-billion tons of rare earth elements.

By 2025, the country is hoping to have up to ten mines in operation, with half the workers local Greenlanders.

And therein lies the issue. As part of a plan to lure investments, the country has had several meeting with officials in the Chinese government and business community. Which is worrying the lawmakers in Denmark, who have the power to block any deals with China.

While Denmark is a member of the European Union, Greenland, which is semi-autonomous, is not. That means EU labour laws do not apply there, and many in Denmark are worried that the remaining jobs will be taken by “underpaid” workers imported from China.

Remember the Isua project? According to a report on the website of China’s Ministry of Land and Resources says Chinese Mining company Sichuan Xinye is in discussions to take over the site.

Even US mining company Alcoa is planning on bringing up to 3000 workers into the country. Rather than bringing in US nationals, the company may be bringing in labourers from China.

But more than the Chinese labourers, the European Union is worried about Chinese companies controlling the rare earth resources of Greenland. Chinese companies already control almost all of the rare earth market, and have used their monopoly (they produce about 97 percent of rare earth metals annually) to drive up prices in the past. In 2010, for instance, China cut off rare earth exports to Japan (one of the world’s largest users of rare earth metals) over a dispute in the East China Sea.

But one deposit in Greenland, near the town of Narsaq, is estimated to contain ten percent of the known world deposits of rare earth metals.

Rare earth metals is the name given to a group of 17 metals that, while relatively common, are rarely found in concentrated amounts. These metals are frequently used in high-tech equipment, from lasers to X-Ray machines to cell phones. Those minerals are currently inaccessible, not due to ice cover, but due to a law that radioactive material won’t be mined in Greenland, and the rare-earth metals share the deposit with Uranium.

The EU approached Greenland, asking them to allow Europeans special access to the minerals, but Greenland has said all are welcome.

While we should find out what will happen with the Murray River Mine in April, the Greenland issue will play out over the next few years. Will Greenland formally break with Denmark? Will workers from China make up ten percent of the population of the country by the end of 2013? And how will it affect the global market?