Environmental Assessment not to Delay Smelter Plans Skip to content

Environmental Assessment not to Delay Smelter Plans

Minister of Industry Össur Skarphédinsson said at the Althingi parliament yesterday that experimental drilling in the geothermal area in northeast Iceland for the planned Alcoa aluminum smelter at Bakki near Húsavík could begin despite environmental assessment.

That statement is at odds with what Minister of the Environment Thórunn Sveinbjarnardóttir had concluded, that the entire Bakki power plant and smelter project should undergo a joint environmental impact assessment before further operations were undertaken, which would probably delay the project by one year, Fréttabladid reports.

The minister has faced harsh criticism for her decision and now Skarphédinsson is proposing experimental drilling while the project is undergoing a joint assessment. “I do not see any laws against experimental drilling—which people say are bound to be postponed—taking their usual course despite an overall environmental impact assessment.”

Experimental drilling is scheduled to begin next summer; otherwise the entire smelter project will be delayed by one year. Sveinbjarnardóttir had initially concluded that an assessment had to be undertaken first, but the inhabitants of Húsavík and the surrounding countryside are now hoping that she will change her opinion and give experimental drilling for next summer a green light.

In an interview with Fréttabladid, Industry Minister Skarphédinsson restated his opinion that it is natural for experimental drilling for geothermal energy to begin before the environmental impact assessment is completed in fall 2009 because such drilling will reveal how much geothermal energy is available in northeast Iceland.

“An overall assessment will take place as well, but part of that is researching the area and estimating the possibilities at hand,” Skarphédinsson said.

Bergur E. Ágústsson, head of the local municipality of Nordurthing, welcomed the minister’s words. “We thought that the [environment] minister’s verdict ruled out drilling before the environmental impact assessment is completed,” he said, adding that now it appears that the Bakki smelter project will not be delayed by one year after all.

In early August Sveinbjarnardóttir ruled that according to law, a joint environmental assessment for the planned aluminum smelter at Bakki by Húsavík, the Theistareykir geothermal power plant, Kröfluvirkjun II power plant and high-voltage transmission lines from Krafla volcanic area and Theistareykir to Húsavík, should take place.

Now the National Planning Agency is looking into a request from executors of the smelter project whether experimental drilling and other parts of the project can begin before the joint environmental assessment, according to the agency’s director Stefán Thors.

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