Apart with special legislation but still reasonable clarifications. This is how the industry sums up the conclusions of the much disputed alum shale investigation that was presented on December first. Kerstin Brinnen, legal counsel at Svemin and a member of the inquiry’s expert group, explains why.
In short, what does the investigator suggest?
– The inquiry contains some proposals in an aggravating direction. Among other things, it is proposed that a suitability requirement be introduced for those who apply for a processing concession for alum shale, and that the applicant enclose a plan for the planned activities. In addition, it is proposed that applications for both exploration permits and processing concessions must contain information that it is precisely alum shale that is referred to. In general, the proposed changes are reasonable and appropriate, says Kerstin Brinnen.
What do the changes mean in practice for exploration companies that want to explore for minerals in alum shale?
– The proposals involve some additional work for the companies, but they also make the requirements clearer, this may be justified in view of the concerns shown in some places in the country. At the same time, it should be clear that exploration itself is an investigative activity that collects information that is important not only for the company but for society as a whole.
What else does the investigation involve?
– The investigator also proposes that Bergsstaten (Mining Inspectorate of Sweden), after consultation with the county administrative board, should notify the Swedish Board of Agriculture and the Swedish Forest Agency if the processing can be assumed to cause significant damage to agriculture or forestry.
And what does that mean in practice?
– There may be a requirement for the applicant to investigate the potential impact on agriculture or forestry. It can simply be a duty on the applicant.
Finally, something more you especially want to highlight?
– The investigators have done a thorough job of describing society’s need for metals and what they are used for, namely that they are needed for society’s conversion to green technologies. It is also gratifying that the Swedish mining industry is highlighted as sustainable and that our operations are conducted with high environmental requirements. The inquiry is also clear that the current review process according to the Environmental Code is sufficient to ensure that extraction of alum shale in alum shale takes place in such a way that all prevailing environmental requirements are met. This in turn clarifies that the Minerals Act and the Environmental Code have different purposes, and that the regulations complement each other in a good way, says Kerstin Brinnen.
FACTS – alum shale, the alum shale investigation and exploration
What do you hope to be able to extract from Swedish alum shale?
Alum shale can contain breakable levels of important metals, several of which are on the EU’s list of critical metals. For example, vanadium and rare earth metals, which are important for, for example, future energy storage (batteries) and the development of new technology for, for example, electric cars and wind turbines. The European Commission has, for example, highlighted the need to ensure future needs for rare earth metals for, for example, permanent magnets. Among other things, the Commission has launched a European commodity alliance to bring together players around rare earth metals for the development of the value chain around permanent magnets, in the same way as the Commission previously brought together players in a battery alliance to ensure the development of a European battery industry.
Is exploration and extraction in alum shale particularly dangerous?
What distinguishes alum shale from many other rocks is that it is quite porous and that it can contain organic material. This means that it behaves differently, both chemically and physically, than other rocks. The fact that alum shale may also contain uranium is an aspect that must be taken into account. At the same time, it should be remembered that large parts of Sweden’s bedrock and sometimes also water contain uranium, which is an element and occurs naturally in various media.
In Sweden, there has been no extraction from alum shale for many years, which means that the techniques then used for mining and disposal of residual products are outdated, and that they would probably not keep pace with today’s requirements for the environment and resource efficiency. Here, however, the inquiry’s proposal is well adapted, as the applicant for a processing concession must be able to present a plan for the processing and thus be able to present a method that can be accepted according to current standards. The investigators state that there are knowledge gaps about which methods would be best to use and therefore make several suggestions on how knowledge about extraction from alum shale can be improved. We think that is good.
The alum shale investigation’s assignment
The investigators have been commissioned to unconditionally analyze how the regulations for the extraction of metals and minerals from alum shale can be tightened and submit constitutional proposals for this. According to the assignment, the proposals must be compatible with and work for Sweden to continue to be a pioneer for sustainable development in the mineral industry and especially take into account an increasing need for innovation-critical metals and minerals of importance for conversion to green energy and that neither technological development nor the investment climate is deteriorating.
What does exploration mean?
Much of the exploration takes place in close proximity to existing mines. However, it can also occur in other places. Decisive is whether there are signs that there is a mineralization that may be interesting to investigate further. The environmental impact of exploration is usually barely noticeable, more so than certain tracks that are not very different than compared with forestry or, for example, well drilling. On the other hand, questions may arise among local residents about if the exploration is carried out within sight of buildings or communities, especially if it is in parts of the country where one is not used to this type of activity. However, that exploration is being carried out does not mean that a mine will open at that particular location in the future. In all of Sweden today there are 12 mines and the area of the country’s mines does not even amount to one per mille of the land area. Exploration, and especially not mines, is something that does not affect more than a very small proportion of the population.
For anyone who wants to know more about exploration in general; what it is; how this is done and what environmental impact can be expected, we can recommend our Guidance for Exploration in Sweden. It can be downloaded from Svemin’s website (in Swedish and English) and can be used as a reference book by anyone who wants to know a little more about exploration in Sweden.
Learn more and download the investigation on the Swedish Government’s website (Swe.).