Proposed Sand Mine Would Operate Trucks at 7- to 8-Minute Intervals Along Ring Road

Mýrdalssandur

Large transport trucks could be driving along Iceland’s South Coast at 7- to 8-minute intervals – 24 hours a day – if German company EP Power Minerals’ plan to open a sand mine east of Vík is realised. The sand would be exported to Europe and possibly North America, where it would be used as an additive in cement. The company plans to ship the material from Þorlákshöfn, but the local mayor says the town does not have adequate facilities for its storage and EP Power Minerals is yet to apply for a lot in the harbour.

An environmental evaluation of the proposal published earlier this month judged the project’s impact on traffic and noise pollution to be “considerably negative.” Its impact on birdlife, plant life, and the geology of the area was, however, evaluated as “insignificantly negative.”

Former landowners tried to sell to Icelandic state

EP Power Minerals purchased the land where the proposed mine is to be located in 2020. Some 15 km [9.3 mi] east of Vík í Mýrdal, the property stretches from Kötlujökull glacier down to the coast, and consists mostly of sand plains.

The property was listed for sale in 2016 by its former owners, three siblings who have stated that they made several unsuccessful attempts to sell it to the Icelandic state. The land was sold to EP Power Minerals through the company Mýrdalssandur ehf., in which three Icelanders own a 10% share (through the company Lásastígur ehf.).

Trucks at 7- to 8-minute intervals

The proposed mine would be located by Hafursey mountain and north of the Ring Road, which runs through the property. The proposed mining area covers 15.5 square kilometres and it is estimated that the usable sand within the area measures around 146 million cubic metres. According to the mining plans, there should be enough material within that area for 100 years of mining.

EP Power Minerals plans to transport the sand by truck to Þorlákshöfn. The amount of material would entail a full truck leaving the mine every 15 minutes, and empty trucks returning from Þorlákshöfn at the same rate. This means that transport trucks will be driving at 7-8 minute intervals 24 hours a day along the ring road between Vík and Hveragerði, as well as on the roads between Hveragerði and Þorlákshöfn.

Concerns about impact on traffic and roads

Residents of the capital area and South Iceland have expressed concern at the impact this transport would have on traffic and roads in the area. Jóhannes Þór Skúlason, CEO of the Icelandic Travel Industry Association, also expressed concern about the impact the mine and its associated traffic would have.

“There has been talk about the tourism industry in that regard, but it’s recognised that one heavy truck such as those that transport fish between regions, it damages the road to the equivalent of 10,000 Yaris cars or small rental cars,” Jóhannes Þór told Vísir, expressing doubt as to whether road infrastructure could handle so much heavy transport. He added that a project such as the mine would affect the experience of tourists in the area.

Environmental impacts considered negligible

The environmental evaluation conducted by Efla and published earlier this month judged many of the mine’s negative impacts to be negligible. Its impact on plant life and birdlife in the area was considered “insignificantly negative,” as the sand plains in question are not a habitat for endangered or protected plant species and the mine would not greatly impact nesting areas.

Despite the fact that the mine would have a “direct and permanent effect on the sedimentation of Mýrdalssandur,” the effect would only be on a “tiny percentage of the total formation,” lowering the surface by 10 metres at a site where the sand is 120 metres thick. Therefore, Efla’s assessment was that the overall impact on geological formations would be “insignificantly negative.” The same was determined of the mine’s impact on tourism and outdoor recreation in the area.

The project’s climate impact was considered to be “considerably positive,” as the material produced would replace cement clinker and would therefore reduce carbon emissions due to concrete production by 800 million kg of CO2 equivalents annually (when emissions due to transportation are taken into account).

Fishing Industry Profits Spark Wealth Distribution Debate

fishing in Iceland

Iceland’s largest seafood companies made huge profits last year, if the first published financial statements are any indication, Fréttablaðið reports. Opposition MPs are arguing that the industry should be taxed more so its earnings are more evenly distributed throughout Icelandic society. According to Minister of Fisheries Svandís Svavarsdóttir, the nation sees the industry as unjust, largely because consolidation of fishing quota has funnelled large profits into the hands of very few individuals.

Billions in profits

At the end of 2020, the seafood industry’s equity was evaluated at ISK 325 billion [$2.6 billion; €2.4 billion]. In the same year, the industry paid just under ISK 4.8 billion [$37.7 million; €35.2 million] in quota fees, while the state treasury faced record financial challenges due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The fishing industry has continued to grow despite the pandemic recession. Between 2020 and 2021, the total value of catch in Iceland increased around 9%, from ISK 148.3 billion [$1.2 billion; €1.1 billion] to ISK 162.2 billion [$1.3 billion; €1.2 billion], according to figures from Statistics Iceland. Prospects continue to be good, especially since the price of fish has risen dramatically in the wake of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Four companies hold 60% of quota

Just four companies hold around 60% of Iceland’s fishing quota: Samherji, Brim, KS, and Ísfélagið. Brim reported profits of ISK 11.3 billion [$88.8 million; €82.9 million] last year, and Síldarvinnslan’s profits are similar. In the first three months of this year, Síldarvinnslan has made profits of nearly ISK 4 billion [$31.4 million; €29.3 million]. Samherji, Kaupfélag Skagfirðinga (KS), and other fishing industry giants have not yet submitted financial statements from last year, but similarly high profits are expected.

In a column published in Morgunblaðið yesterday, Minister of Fisheries Svandís Svavarsdóttir stated that the nation viewed the consolidation of fishing quota in so few hands as deeply unjust, and that it felt that this collective resource was not distributed fairly.

Fishing money in other sectors

Opposition MP and Social-Democratic Alliance Chairman Logi Einarsson echoed these words. “We have watched a huge accumulation of wealth in very few hands, which has also led to a small number of individuals not only holding the majority of fishing quota, but due to this same wealth, accumulated assets in many parts of society, in unrelated sectors.” Logi named these sectors as the media, real estate, transport, grocery stores, energy, and even insurance and banking.

“This creates a very unhealthy situation,” Logi continued. “And now that the entire public expects worsening livelihoods and various healthcare and welfare services are underfunded, quota holders should certainly pay more toward public expenditure, they are well capable of it, to say the least.”

Aluminium Workers’ Contract Hinges on Price of Energy

ISAL aluminium smelter Straumsvík

Three hundred workers in Rio Tinto’s ISAL aluminium smelter could see their collective agreement nullified in June if the National Power Company and Rio Tinto do not reach an agreement about the cost of power supplied to the smelter, RÚV reports. The National Power Company’s CEO says it is “unreasonable” for the contract to hinge on that factor, but says the company will not let it impact their negotiations with Rio Tinto.

Rio Tinto says energy costs hamper competitiveness

The workers’ collective agreement, which was signed in March, is valid for two years. It contains a clause, however, that makes it invalid as of June 30 if an energy supply contract has not been renegotiated between Rio Tinto and the National Power Company. The ISAL smelter, located in Southwest Iceland, has been running at a loss for the past eight years, and its executives point to high energy costs as one of the reasons.

National Power Company CEO Hörður Arnarson says his company did not know about the contract clause until it was reported on yesterday by Morgunblaðið. “I find it a very unreasonable development, both in collective agreement negotiations and in negotiations of energy contracts, to connect two unrelated parties in this way,” Hörður stated. “The only reason I can see for doing this is that they believe it will put added pressure on the National Power Company, but it won’t have that effect.”

“These are difficult conditions. Markets are closing for them,” Hörður added. “We will look for ways to find a common solution but it’s completely unclear whether we will agree on one.”

Smelter may close for two years

Rio Tinto is considering suspending production at the ISAL plant for two years due to the downturn in the market caused by the coronavirus pandemic. The metal and mining company is also preparing a lawsuit against Iceland’s National Power Company intended to release Rio Tinto from a large part of the electricity purchase obligation to which it is subject.

The ISAL smelter is one of the largest employers in the town of Hafnarfjörður and according to its mayor, has a “synergistic effect on other companies in town.”

Rio Tinto Considers Suspending Production at Iceland Aluminium Smelter

ISAL aluminium smelter

Rio Tinto is considering suspending production at its Straumsvík smelter in Iceland for two years, Morgunblaðið reports. The company, which is one of the world’s largest metal and mining corporations, is considering various options to reduce its losses during the economic downturn due to the coronavirus pandemic. Rio Tinto executives have also complained that high power costs have contributed to the company’s losses and are preparing a lawsuit against Iceland’s National Power Company.

Rio Tinto’s ISAL aluminium smelter, located in Southwest Iceland, has been operating at a loss for eight years. Its losses in 2019 alone amounted to ISK 13 billion ($91 million/83.7 million). Rio Tinto Aluminium chief executive Alf Barrios stated earlier this year that the smelter’s performance “is currently unprofitable and cannot compete in the challenging market conditions due to its high power costs.”

Prepare to sue Iceland’s National Power Company

Morgunblaðið’s sources report that the metal corporation is preparing a lawsuit against Iceland’s National Power Company, which is intended to release Rio Tinto from a large part of the electricity purchase obligation to which it is subject. The lawsuit also addresses alleged “product fraud” on the part of the National Power Company, which Rio Tinto alleges has been selling the smelter energy produced by coal and nuclear power, while the company purchased the energy on the grounds that it was produced using hydropower.

Icelanders Used Most Electricity Per Capita in 2017

Carbfix Hellisheiðarvirkjun

Icelanders used more electricity per capita in 2017 than any other country in the world, the World Economic Forum reports. According to the IEA Atlas of Energy, Icelanders used 54.4 Mwh (megawatt hours) per capita that year – more than double that of Norwegians, who came in second place. Rounding out the top five with Iceland and Norway are Bahrain, Qatar, and Kuwait, where demand for air conditioning is said to contribute significantly to energy usage.

Iceland’s high energy consumption is explained by several factors. One is the low cost of electricity production, thanks to an abundance of renewable energy sources (hydropower and geothermal energy). Also, Iceland houses several energy-intensive industries, including aluminium and silicon production, which account for a large proportion of the country’s overall energy consumption. Furthermore, the country’s cold, dark winters contribute to the high demand for electricity.

Iceland’s per capita energy consumption could prove significantly higher in 2018 and 2019, thanks to another energy-intensive industry that has taken hold in the country: Bitcoin mining. In 2018, Jóhann Snorri Sigurbergsson from energy company HS Orka estimated that Bitcoin mining used more electricity that year than all of the country’s households combined.

Plentiful Sea: Rethinking the ocean’s output

Seaweed harvesting Iceland

Seventy per cent of the Earth is covered by water – that’s 361,132,000km2 (139,434,000mi2) of water, to be exact – and considering the fact that a large part of the ocean is uncharted, there is a lot we don’t know about it. What we do know, is that the ocean is a vast source of resources and its abundance is very important.

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CO2 Emissions from Tourism Quintupled in 20 Years

Carbon dioxide emissions from the tourism industry have increased more than fivefold since 1995 and tripled since 2012. The data comes from the Air Emission Account (AEA) for the Icelandic economy. RÚVreported first.

Carbon dioxide emissions generated by the Icelandic tourism industry surpassed those made by the metal industry in 2016, making it the sector with the highest emissions in the Icelandic economy.

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Emissions from the tourism industry can be attributed mostly to airline operations. Icelandic airlines have greatly expanded their operations over the past six years. In the AEA, no distinction is made between domestic and foreign operations of Icelandic airlines or between services rendered to international tourists and residents of Iceland.

Emissions in Icelandic households, on the other hand, peaked in 2007 at 1.96 tonnes CO2 per capita. The have since decreased to 1.7 tonnes per capita in 2016, an amount comparable to driving a mid-size car 8,000km.

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Emissions from the Icelandic economy have doubled since 1996 overall.