Approximately 180km South of Nuuk near the settlement Fiskenæsset, you will find the ruby mine Aappaluttoq. The name translates to red stones in Greenlandic and with good reason. It was in this exact place where Greenlandic huntsmen on a reindeer hunt discovered the red ruby crystals in the raw cliff wall centuries ago. But it was not until many years and two owners later that the first Greenlandic rubies were ready for sale on the world market.
Anders Stig-Jørgensen is a senior project manager in NIRAS, and he works closely with the Norwegian owned mining company Greenland Ruby, who operates the mine. According to the NIRAS-consultant, the mine is operated with great comprehension and consideration for Greenland and the unique Greenlandic environment. Anders Stig-Jørgensen is part of the consulting team that has devised and is in charge of the monitoring programme, which oversees the impact of the mining operation on the surrounding environment.
Although many might think that the requirements for extracting natural resources in Greenland are harsh, it is according to Anders Stig-Jørgensen important to understand what is at stake:
Fishing, tourism, and extraction of mineral resources are politically regarded as Greenland’s most crucial future sources of income. It is consequently important that the extraction of mineral resources is conducted in a controlled manner that does not negatively impact other sources of income.
Rubies without chemicals
Extracting mineral resources in Greenland is an expensive affair. Before the mining operation could commence, numerous environmental studies and tests were conducted and necessary permits were obtained. The infrastructure in the rural area was constructed from scratch along with a small mining town for the Greenlanders working at the mine. The mine is furthermore operating under very difficult climate conditions and can only be accessed by ship from Nuuk or by helicopter during the winter.
Operating an open pit mine is done by gradually blowing up small batches of rock in the pit area and transporting the rubble to a process plant using the well-known yellow dump trucks associated with mining all over the world. The ore is crushed and will then go through a physical and optical sorting process in the process plant, where corundum (a rock type containing rubies) is separated from the waste rock.
The sorting process requires water, and the process plant uses water from a nearby lake. After it has been sorted, tailings (residual products from crushed rocks with water) are extracted and placed in a tailings deposit at the bottom of the lake. The difference in water temperature causes a physical lid (a thermocline) to be created in the summer months, which abates the dilution in the lake and reduces emission of particles from the deposit.
The extraction permit issued by Greenland’s Mineral Resources Authority (MRA) requires Greenland Ruby to continuously monitor the environment enclosing the mining operation. This is done to ensure that the mining does not detriment the environment. NIRAS measures the water flow from the affected lakes and a number of autosamplers collect water samples on fixed intervals from the surrounding rivers. The samples are gathered, processed, and analysed monthly for heavy metals and trace elements. .
As part of the monitoring programme, NIRAS also collects annual biological samples from the enclosing environment in fjords and on land.
The mine in Aappaluttoq is subject to an agreement ensuring a socially, economic, and environmentally sustainable mining project in Greenland. They are e.g. committed to give something back to the nearest settlement Fiskenæsset. Both as economic subsidiaries, but also by hosting courses and sharing knowhow.
Greenland Ruby has also placed “Responsible mining” high on their own agenda. For example, all cleaning agents etc. used at the mine site and in the living quarters are certified with the Nordic Swan eco label, and twice a year employees set out to collect debris in the surrounding environment. The employees at the mine are mainly Greenlandic, supplemented by a few Danish and Norwegian specialists.
For Anders Stig-Jørgensen, who has previously lived several years in Greenland, the project is more than just work:
Once you embrace Greenland like I have, you approach the culture and nature with a sense of humility. You not only want the best for the client, but for Greenland as a whole.