7: The Arctic, a growing commodity extraction frontier
with Ksenija Hanaček
Open access

The Arctic is an extraction frontier in the international division of nature. These territories and oceans extend from Norway, Sweden, Finland, to Siberia in Russia, Alaska in the US, Yukon, Northwest Territories, and Nunavut in Canada, Greenland and Iceland. This chapter considers conflicts on oil, coal, gas, metal mining, hydroelectricity for aluminium smelting and windmills. Almost all involve indigenous peoples, often pastoralists relying on herds of reindeer or caribou for sustenance. As elsewhere, extractivism is supported by coloniality and racism. Local networks and international EJO such as Greenpeace or Bellona in Russia are active. This chapter illustrates the paradox of the Arctic: climate change through ice melting helps extractivism by opening maritime and terrestrial roads (although the melting also destroys pipelines). In the Arctic, despite resistance by the (scarce) local population, there is extraction of oil, gas, copper, nickel, palladium - the metals supposedly needed for the energy transition. This, in turn, accelerates the impacts of climate change.


The northernmost territories (above the Polar Circle, 66º latitude) comprise an area that goes from the melting icecap and polar desert to the boreal forest through the tundra. These Arctic territories and the adjoining ocean extend from Norway, Sweden, Finland, to Siberia in Russia, Alaska in the US, Yukon, Northwest Territories, and Nunavut in Canada, Greenland and Iceland. There are only about four million people living at such high latitude, and perhaps fifteen per cent of them are Indigenous peoples surviving centuries of colonization. The environment of the Arctic is changing because of climate change (ice melting, methane released from the tundra) and, related to this, increasing controversial investments in oil and gas extraction, copper, nickel, iron ore and coal mining, aquaculture and hydroelectricity, and even wind energy. One main terrestrial resource are the reindeer or caribou flocks belonging to Indigenous people.

Pastoralists and other Indigenous peoples try to use international legislation (such as Convention 169 of ILO, ratified by only some states) to protect their livelihoods. They are part of a global renaissance of Indigenous peoples (Chapter 25) often linked to defence of their own cultures at the extractive commodity frontiers. The Arctic shows then a situation where there is clearly a growing pressure of extraction on resources, and not so much pressure from excessive population (Blaikie and Brookfield 1987). It is becoming more than ever a commodity extraction frontier. In this chapter about 20 cases of environmental conflict taken from the EJAtlas are analyzed. Further articles have been published by the EJAtlas team (Hanaček et al. 2022, Tran and Hanaček 2023). We do not start from the potential supply of extractive resources in the Arctic, i.e. the availability of proven and estimated resources in the region. On the contrary, we take a bottom-up perspective on the actual conflictive attempts at extraction of hydrocarbons and metals (as also hydropower and wind-power), and the resistance to such attempts. The region is, from the perspective of contemporary world socio-environmental history, one more growing commodity extraction frontier, no doubt with Arctic characteristics.


The following cases in Norway illustrate the battle between short-term economic cupidity and environmental values, and perhaps between hypocrisy and honesty. Norway is not a “green” country, neither internally nor internationally, as we will see in Norsk Hydro's actions in Odisha, India (Chapter 8).

Lofoten is an archipelago in northwestern Norway at 69º latitude. It is a highly biodiverse area that holds cold-water reefs, pods of sperm whales and killer whales. It has some of the p. 133largest colonies of seabirds in Europe and it is the spawning grounds of the largest remaining cod stock in the world. Every winter, huge numbers of cod, or skrei, migrate to Lofoten from the Barents Sea in order to spawn. In 1994, the Norwegian government gave permission to state enterprises Statoil and Hydro for oil exploration around Lofoten. Ever since then, environmental and fishery organizations have protested against proposals to drill for oil in this highly sensitive ecosystem. The government has, several times, put the exploration for oil in the area on hold thanks to continuing strong protests. The last time started in 2013, for four years. In 2017, the topic was brought up for discussion once more, while the resistance against the exploration continued. The oil to be extracted is worth around US$ 15 billion. Leaving oil unexploited because of local biodiversity conservation and to avoid carbon dioxide emissions is a parallel initiative to that of the Yasuni ITT in Ecuador (which Norway failed to support with money from its Oil Fund, whose aim is to ensure through investments in Norway and abroad future revenue from Norway's oil and gas resources so that this wealth benefits both current and future generations). I shall come back to the Lofoten island case in Chapter 16 about LFFU movements.

I add something here on the crucial issue for this book of the meaning of “success in environmental justice”. Sometimes users and younger colleagues working on the EJAtlas complain that the question included at the end of the data sheets: “Is this case a success in environmental justice: Yes, No, Not Sure”, is too subjective. For the EJAtlas as a whole, “No” wins with about 50 per cent of cases, followed by “Not sure” with about 30 per cent, and “Yes” with almost 20 per cent. These are important results because one cannot imagine a growing and persistent global social movement unless there are some “successes”. In this book I want to show that there is a global movement for environmental justice, including in the Arctic. If we add only a few “Not sure” cases to the “Yes” basket, we can say that one-fourth of all conflicts end with success for environmental justice. Often, this means that the project is cancelled. I think it is fair to classify Lofoten as a success: no “subjectivity” is involved, only the reported facts. One cannot be certain that Lofoten will not one day drill for oil. Let's call it a temporary success if you prefer.


There are more and more oil and gas drilling, extraction and transport conflicts in the Arctic. In May 2016, the Norwegian government issued ten licences to 13 companies for the exploration of oil and gas in the Barents Sea, above the Arctic Circle. A continued pursuit of the extraction and combustion of fossil fuels implies continued emissions of greenhouse gases, which contribute to climate change. Drilling in the Arctic Sea would also pose a serious risk to the marine environment in the case of an oil spill, and the extreme conditions would make a clean-up operation difficult to manage.

In 2017, Greenpeace, the Norwegian group Nature and Youth (Natur og Ungdom) and Grandparents Climate Campaign sued the Norwegian government for granting the licences. Their effort is one of a handful of cases in the EJAtlas of young people suing governments and fossil fuel companies because of climate change. They are basing their legal claims on Section 112 of the Norwegian constitution which gives the right to a healthy environment, as well as the country's commitment to the Paris Agreement of 2015, signed by Norway a few p. 134months before. There are large amounts of fossil fuels that cannot be burned in the next decades to keep within the carbon budget, hence exploring for Arctic oil is not in keeping with Norway's commitment. But if the oil is not extracted all this potential chrematistic wealth will become “stranded assets”, which is a financial headache for the Norwegian Oil fund for the next generations.

As the plaintiffs claim, this commitment to contributing to climate change and risking the environment is a violation of Section 112 of the Norwegian constitution and it implies climate injustice as further contributions of greenhouse gases from oil combustion will exacerbate climate change and put communities around the world at greater risk. It is the first time this high-level law has been tested in court. The law states: “Everyone has the right to an environment that safeguards their health and to nature where production ability and diversity are preserved. Natural resources must be managed from a long-term and versatile consideration which also upholds this right for future generations”. The number “112” was carved into a five-tonne block of ice which was placed outside the court by Greenpeace on the first day of the trial.

Pacific Islanders, already affected by climate change, were amongst those testifying at the court case in Oslo. It also received support from scientists, lawyers and activists, and an online petition of over 522,200 signatures was presented as evidence in court. Arctic drilling was framed as a human rights issue, and a UN Committee called upon Norway to revise its policy on oil drilling on the basis that climate change disproportionately affects women. While the trial was underway, the Norwegian Oil Fund and the Norwegian Central Bank ‒ the largest sovereign wealth fund in the world ‒ asked the Government for permission to divest more than US$ 35 billion from oil and gas to “make the government's wealth less vulnerable”, signalling expert support for the economic uncertainty of yields from fossil fuels.

Ingrid Skjoldvær, head of Nature and Youth, commented: “Our hope is that the court will both cancel the oil licenses awarded in the 23rd licensing round and ensure that the Norwegian government starts assessing the climate change consequences of distributing new oil licenses”. However, on 4 January 2018, the Court found the Norwegian government not responsible for breaching the Constitution, although the Court also found that the right to a healthy environment is protected by the Constitution and the government must uphold those rights.

A contemporary Henrik Ibsen could write a theatre piece like En folkefiende with dialogues between a child who is growing up and her grandfather who is a judge. In her room, she has one Christmas calendar with little windows that open up. In secret, she calls it her Keeling calendar. There is a little window for each half year, marking 421 ppm, 422 ppm, 423 ppm, 424 ppm. Grandfather comes into her room and asks, “What is this, dear?” Then they discuss climate change, the electrical transition, hydropower, windmills and materials such as copper, nickel, iron ores and cobalt, while reading the Repparfjord case and other cases in the EJAtlas as bedtime stories in a tour around the North Pole.


Kvalsund, a village of painted wooden houses on the Repparfjord, at 70º latitude, east of Tromso at the northern tip of Norway, will be the scene for large-scale copper mining. By 2019, resistance to the exploitation has been defeated. Sámi populations are low in numbers p. 135and almost powerless. As reported by Reuters, Norway's decision on the copper mine was viewed as a litmus test for the Arctic, where climate change and technology are enabling additional mineral and energy extraction, shipping and tourism, but threatening traditional ways of life. The paradox is that destruction of the environment is justified by the need for a “green economy”. According to the Norwegian government, its decision to allow mining company Nussir to extract copper will help the world to obtain the minerals for the electricity transition. Driven by economic growth and by so-called green economy, extraction of copper continues to grow in the world. Even a non-growing economy would need “fresh” supplies because recycling only reaches a relatively small percentage. Kvalsund is part of the extractive periphery of Europe hit by the electrical transition, from Portugal and Andalusia to the Balkans and Scandinavia.

The company Nussir ASA plans a large copper mine in the inner part of the Reppardfjord, a rich fishing fjord hosting Norwegian and Sámi fishers. The company seeks to extract copper ore through subsurface mining, providing the largest known copper deposits in Norway at 74 million tonnes of copper ore. Prior mining took place at Ulveryggen which the company seeks to reactivate, as well as opening a new shaft at Nussir. Both shafts, as well as all buildings, roads, equipment and activities, will take place on Sámi reindeer herding land, blocking the migration path between summer and winter pastures.

The tailings from the mine will be deposited in the fjord, a total of 30 million tonnes of toxic mining tailings over a period of 20 years. Norway is one of the few countries which will legally allow dumping of mining wastes at sea. Nussir's plans are said to be like a new Alta controversy: in 1968, the Norwegian government produced plans for the construction of a hydropower station in Altaälven, which included building a 110 m-high dam that would put the entire Sámi village Masi underwater. Massive protests broke out and marked the beginning of a long conflict. 4

Nussir currently has permission to deposit up to two million tonnes of waste (mostly excess rock with traces of copper and nickel) into the Reppardfjord annually. Copper is worthwhile mining with a grade of one per cent; therefore, waste can be up to 99 per cent of the materials extracted. The Reppardfjord is a rich fishing fjord. The project received major criticism for the potential destruction of marine and terrestrial habitat inflicting socio-environmental costs for the local community and disruption of the traditional Indigenous livelihoods.

In Anders V. Rør's terms, the conflict reveals incommensurate industrial economic values vs. environmental and Indigenous values. There is no common unit to measure the benefits and costs. There was a power asymmetry in the decision-making process, shortcomings of consultation as a participatory method, potential violation of laws and rights, disputes over mining impacts on development, the environment and stakeholders. The power asymmetry determined the outcome of the valuation contest. The process to establish the Nussir mine is then a procedural injustice and also leads to distributional injustice, since the social costs can be shifted upon impacted local stakeholders at a cheap or zero price, as also on future generations and on non-human species.


Wind power is usually regarded as beneficial compared to coal, oil and gas. However, it often implies dispossession of land from Indigenous groups and new requirements of materials. p. 136This happens in Mexico, India, Kenya and Scandinavia (Avila 2018). Complaints are rarely on the property rights on the wind which are appropriated by the state and companies, but over the land occupied by windmills, roads and electricity towers to send the power to richer areas. An extraction frontier for a new commodity.

In May 2008, the Swedish Company Svevind applied for a permit to build and operate the Markbygden Wind Farm. The project consists of over 1,000 wind turbines, and an extensive road infrastructure to be deployed in the region of Piteå. It is expected to achieve an installed capacity of over 4,000 MW with total production of around 8‒12 TWh per year, supplying electricity for about 400,000 households in Sweden. According to Svevind, the project is located in a region with “very good wind conditions” and “relatively small degree of conflicting interests” since the area is “sparsely populated”. However, the project covers a total of 450 km2 of Sámi reindeer herding areas. Sweden is a country committed to human rights and international treaties except that it has not ratified ILO 169.

The Sámi people are an Indigenous people inhabiting the Arctic area of Sápmi, which today encompasses parts of far northern Norway, Sweden, Finland and the Kola Peninsula of Russia. They are the only Indigenous people of Scandinavia. Their best-known means of livelihood is semi-nomadic reindeer herding and currently about 10 per cent of the Sámi are connected to this activity, providing them with meat, fur, and transportation. For traditional, environmental, cultural and political reasons, reindeer herding is legally reserved only for Sámi people in certain regions of the Nordic countries.

Sámi herders in Piteå say that the deployment of the Markbygden Wind Farm through the reindeer herding lands will limit their movements and endanger their animals. If the Sámi lose the reindeer, they lose their language, culture, traditions, and ability to move in nature. Ingrid Inger, president of the Sámi Parliament, explains that reindeer herders need to move their herds between seasonal grazing lands – often across long distances ‒ during the year. But increasing demands on the land from other economic interests are making that more difficult, and it is leading to the closure of traditional Sámi businesses. The Sámi are protected by a law which gives them the right to grazing lands across vast stretches of the north of Sweden. However, this does not add up to much in practice as it is almost impossible for herders to prove they have been using the land, which is 95 per cent owned by two forestry companies. Despite recent court rulings in the Sámi's favour, the Swedish government decided to accept the admissibility of the project in March 2010, placing wind power as a high priority for the national interest.

After the government's decision, the Saami Council (NGO representing the Sámi people in all four countries in which they live) published a press release criticizing the German bank KfW IPEX for their funding in alleged contravention of the OECD Convention on Multilateral Enterprises. The Sweden government also received strong international criticism from the UN Racial Discrimination Committee and the Human Rights Committee, calling it to end human rights violations against Sámi people in several cases across the country.

The wind power company argued they consulted the Sámi and that they are willing to pay appropriate compensation while the Sámi state that they never were properly consulted. Ingrid Inger said: “We’re not against wind power ‒ but we are against big wind farms like Markbydgen because they affect the reindeer business – the local Sámi herders will lose about a quarter of their winter grazing land”. According to the company's information, by April 2016, the pilot, first and second phases of the project had already been approved and under construction, while the third and last phase of Markbygden were still being investigated.p. 137


In November 2013 the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination called on the Swedish government to stop all activities at the proposed nickel mine in Rönnbäcken south of Tärnaby. Representatives said that the Sámi herd their reindeer in the area and a mine would severely harm their ancient traditions. This was the first time the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination received a complaint relating to a specific mining project. Earlier in 2013, the Swedish government decided that mining interests should take precedence over the interests of reindeer herding.

As explained by Linda Dubec, in the valley Björkvattsdalen, there was an ongoing conflict between reindeer herding and a nickel mine. This was one of the first times in Swedish history that explicitly and officially two “national interests” were put against one another. In May 2012, the Swedish Supreme Court came to the conclusion that they were incompatible and incomparable. It was a case, we would say in ecological economics, of “strong sustainability” pitted against the “weak sustainability” logic of monetary cost-benefit accounting. According to the Swedish environmental law, to choose between two national interests, the government should choose the one that “in the most appropriate way promotes a long-term management of the ground, the water and the physical environment in general” (1998, Ch. 3, 10§). The government instead based the decision on the economic benefits that the mine would bring.

Many local Sámi organizations and EJO Nätverket Stoppa Gruvan i Rönnbäck protested and appealed to the decision to give Nickel Mountain AB permission to mine. A mine would completely eliminate the possibilities for the Sámi people to have reindeer there since it is a narrow passage. A concern was also the risk of pollution for the nearby river Umeälven. “Leave the nickel and the cobalt in the ground”, they concluded. A student's thesis at Lund University in 2017 on Swedish non-ratification of ILO Convention 169 states: “The Swedish–Sami relationship is part of the darker chapters of the Swedish history. This study aims to understand parts of this relation from a postcolonial perspective. The postcolonial approach is built on postcolonial theories and the concept of internal colonialism”. I agree. 7


In 2006, the British company Beowulf Mining Plc. and their Swedish affiliate, Jokkmokk Iron Mines AB, were given permission by the Swedish governmental agency Bergsstaten to explore possibilities for mining iron ore in Gállok (also known as Kallak), an area located 40 km northwest of Jokkmokk in the province of Lapland. Again, the area where the mine was to be located was used by the Sámi from the villages of Sirges and Jåhkågasska as winter pasture land for reindeer.

Further to the north, in Kiruna, at 68º of latitude is perhaps the world's largest underground iron ore mine. Production is about 27 million tons per year. The company LKAB (Luossavaara‒Kiirunavaara AB) was established in 1890, which makes it one of Sweden's oldest industrial companies. The mine has been in operation for over a hundred years and has been most important for the Swedish economy both in metabolic and in monetary terms.

The iron ore is being extracted all year round from the mines in Kiruna and nearby mines, Malmberget and the surface mines of Gruvberget and Leveäniemi, in the town of p. 138Svappavaara. Every time the ore is removed it causes a collapse of rock underground, which automatically fills the cavity and creates clogging. The more ore that is extracted, the more the ground above sinks. In 2004, the mining company LKAB publicly announced that the mine was caving in, destabilizing the ground that the town is built upon, creating one of the most spectacular side effects of underground iron mining. Since then, there has been an ongoing project funded by LKAB and the Swedish government to relocate the town centre roughly 3 km east. The affected population is over 15,000; 4,000 households must be moved. The completion of the relocation of Kiruna was officially set to take place within 2019, but it was postponed. One large part of the company's liability goes uncompensated. As in other similar cases (Morococha and Cerro de Pasco in Peru or Berezniki in Russia), the cost is paid by nobody or by the government (and Swedish tax-paying citizens).

The data sheet in the EJAtlas classified the conflict as “latent”, which implies that there is no open conflict or that we would expect complaints but they are not visible. Most of the media coverage of the moving of Kiruna presents the situation as uncontroversial, emphasizing the technical and architectural interesting perspectives and the co-dependence of the mine and the city of Kiruna. Some criticism has emerged from researchers and journalists, but there has been little organized opposition. Residents have reported they are unhappy with the new location of the city and the prospect of relocating is a cause for sadness and the stresses of uncertainty. The new site has been criticized for being even colder, windier, lacking a view of the mountains and unfavourably located in an industrial area, sometimes referred to as the “valley of death”. The choice of the new site was also regarded by some as undemocratic and unclear. It was alleged that the price offered by LKAB for old housing was lower than what the price will be in new Kiruna. Some people contemplate migrating for good. The reaction has however been muted.

The Circumpolar North has been a commodity extraction frontier for some time ‒ the point of this chapter, however, is that it is becoming more so than ever, particularly since fossil fuels and new metals are added to old metals and biomass.

A map of the Arctic presenting some cases of the EJAtlas, classified in nine categories (biodiversity conservation, biomass, nuclear, waste management etc.).
Figure 7.1

Some of the environmental conflicts mentioned in the Arctic

Source:  A. Grimaldos


As this book was written over the years, the commodity extraction frontiers continuously advance. Finland's environmental conflicts have to do with a new large nuclear power plant, conservation of forests and of course mining of metals (as in Sakatti) such as copper, nickel, cobalt, platinum, palladium, gold and silver. Cobalt is a mineral used for batteries of electric cars and renewable energy infrastructures, among others. As the electricity transition is gaining momentum due to climate change, its demand is expected to grow. About half of the cobalt production comes from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, under awful conditions, and there are also mines in Morocco and other countries. Nevertheless, the interest in carrying out mining in the periphery of Europe including the extreme north is continuously growing. In addition to important base metals such as copper, nickel and cobalt, the deposit also contains platinum, palladium, gold and silver. Finland has been ranked as one of the most attractive countries for mining. It offers low taxation, building infrastructure, and finance for mining companies. In Lapland, the northernmost area in Finland, one-third of its territory is reserved for mining activities.p. 139 p. 140

In the municipality of Sodankylä, extraction has been increasing since 2005. The mining company Anglo America has one of the most controversial projects underway: the Sakatti mine. The exploitation of the minerals is going to be performed in the Viiankiaapa nature conservation area, where ten plant species and 21 bird species that are being listed as threatened have been located. The Sakatti mine is not on Sámi land but it threatens their rights and livelihood at some distance Those living in the northernmost Scandinavia and Russia are estimated to be over 75,000. Since 1996, they have constitutional self-governance in their homeland, managed by the Sámi Parliament. In Finland, approximately 10,000 Sámi people are living in northern Lapland. There are further possible social and environmental impacts caused by noise, dust, tremors from blasts and tailing ponds, etc. The animals also face higher risks due to the expected increase in traffic. Additionally, there are unpredictable effects on the water resources. The people who will be most affected by the Sakatti mine are Finnish speaking herders whose pasture lands are in the area. However, some of them have roots in Sámi culture, their grandmothers or ancestors might have been Sámi but due to the aggressive Finnish assimilation politics in the area during the nineteenth century, ties to the language and culture have been lost. Also, some of them might have ancestry among Finnish settlers who came to the area from the south.

Many of these herders self-identify as “forest Lapp” or “forest Sámi” people, a category that the autonomous Sámi parliament of Finland does not recognize as Indigenous. This is a highly conflictual debate in Finland's North in general, about the category of who is Sámi. The consequences are not considered relevant enough compared to the amount of metals, employment and income the project will generate. Furthermore, Finland has not yet ratified the ILO 169 Convention which ensures Indigenous rights.

For the endorsement of the Sakatti mine, different workshops were organized in order to discuss the advantages and disadvantages of the project. The Sámi Parliament directly declined the invitation since they considered that the whole project would only be harmful to them. Anglo American promises respect for all “stakeholders” and that they are in contact with them in order to understand and fulfil everyone's needs, to make sure the project will improve everyone's lives in the future. The Sakatti mine might still become a huge international environmental conflict (Kröger 2019).


After a short trip in Scandinavia, we now move East to Russia, to an Arctic offshore oil field located in the Pechora Sea, west of the Yamal peninsula. The field development is based on the single stationary Prirazlomnoya platform, the first Arctic-class ice-resistant oil platform in the world. The field was discovered in 1989. In 1993, the development licence was issued to Rosshelf, a subsidiary of Gazprom. In June 2000, Gazprom and German energy company Wintershall signed a memorandum of cooperation for developing the field. In 2002, the licence was transferred to Sevmorneftegaz, which later became a wholly owned subsidiary of Gazprom.

In September 2011, a joint statement was published by Greenpeace Russia, Russian Bird Conservation Union, WWF Russia, Bellona Russia and Socio-Ecological Union. Ecologists asked to suspend further work on the installation platform, to hold an open and comprehensive p. 141discussion of environmental security and to ensure information transparency of the project documentation. Environmentalists drew attention to the difficult environmental conditions: air temperature down to -40ºC, winds at a speed of 30 m/s, etc. The project did not take into account the consequences of a possible accident and was not prepared to deal adequately with a spill. There was a danger to biodiversity and the proximity to a nature reserve. Environmentalists also pointed to the flaring of associated gas.

On 15 November 2011, a meeting dedicated to the issue of oil spill was planned between environmental organizations and “Gazprom Neft Shelf”, which refused to participate at the last moment. Almost a year later, in August 2012, a group of Greenpeace activists under Kumi Naidoo intruded into the platform and put up a banner saying “Don’t kill the Arctic”. In September 2013, Greenpeace's ship Arctic Sunrise circled the Prirazlomnoya oil rig while three members attempted to board the platform. In response, the Russian Coast Guard seized control of the ship and detained the activists. On 18 April 2014, the tanker “Mikhail Ulyanov” shipped the first batch of oil. On 1 May, the Greenpeace “Rainbow Warrior III” tried to prevent this tanker from entering Rotterdam; 30 activists were arrested and the operations went ahead.

Five years later, Gazprom Neft Shelf reported that this platform had extracted a total of 2.6 million tons in 2017. In 2018, production was to increase to 3.6 million tons and in 2020, Prirazlomnoya would reach its target production of about five million tons, meaning 100,000 barrels per day. Gazprom Neft Shelf drilled another four production wells in the course of 2017. The Prirazlomnoye field holds a total of 70 million tons of oil. Extracted oil is shipped by ice-class tankers to the “Umba”, a 300,000-ton tanker in the Kola Bay, near the city centre of Múrmansk.

Slightly to the south, in the Komi Republic, there are regular oil spills. In 1994, between one hundred thousand and two million barrels of heavy crude oil spilled out and polluted the area. The Komi region is located in a belt of taiga – coniferous forests – and inhabited by Indigenous people, which are mainly fishermen, hunters and reindeer herders. The Save Pechora movement is also active here. At one point, Lukoil lost a legal battle and was ordered to pay a US$ 20 million fine to the Indigenous peoples of Komi for the destruction and pollution that their spills caused. This was due to a successful legal campaign by Greenpeace Russia, together with local communities.


Oil extraction by the company Surgutneftegas threatens Numto Nature Preserve's Wetland Areas in the region of Khanty-Mansi, a federated territory of Russia located at 63.51º of latitude, where the tundra ends and the boreal forests start. Again, Indigenous minorities are involved. The company already extracts oil there but they want access to one of its most vulnerable areas: the wetlands, where industrial development is currently prohibited.

Lake Numto is one of the biggest in the district with an area of 62 km2 and its territory mainly consists of wetland ecosystems. The Numto watershed is a potential wetland to be included on the Ramsar List of Wetlands of International Importance. It is renowned as a breeding site for different bird species and is positioned on the migratory routes. The plans for expansion of oil activities represent a danger for this fragile ecosystem and its human population through oil spills and habitat fragmentation by pipeline infrastructure.p. 142

Numto is one of the most sacred places in the region. It is used for worship and rituals of two Indigenous peoples of the Russian North: Khanty and Forest Nentsy. Its territory is also used by the Indigenous Nenets population. “Num” is translated as “sky”, and “To” as “the lake”. According to mythology, the Supreme God descended to this heavenly lake. According to other legends, the lake itself is a Deity or an ancient epic hero. It is prohibited to cut down trees and to gather berries on the lake islands. “The hero's neck” (the narrow passage between the bay Uhlor and the main part of the lake) is prohibited from being blocked by fishing vessels or equipment. Forty families of Indigenous people live around, in their nomad camps, involved mainly in reindeer breeding, fishing and gathering.

In 1997, the specially protected natural territory “Numto” was established, not only to protect the environment, but also the Indigenous way of living. The Park's original zoning, approved by the regional government in 2001, established four functional zones and several protection areas to regulate and delineate different activities: natural ecosystems protection, subsistence economic activities, tourism and oil extraction. Oil extraction generally contradicts the idea of a nature park but is a current phenomenon in Russian oil-rich provinces.

The Russian oil company Surgutneftegas was not happy with the original zoning because it prohibited oil drilling in the valuable wetlands near lake Numto. The company persistently sought to amend it. In 2014–15, researchers, sent by the regional government but commissioned by the company, conducted a study to propose a rezoning of the Park in line with the ‘wise use of wetlands’ principle 4, as promoted by the Ramsar Convention. About 80 per cent of the park's area, including the zone of wetlands, are planned to be given for geological exploration, oil extraction and construction of infrastructure including roads and pipelines.

The main problem was ignoring cultural ecosystem services. Traditional production value of northern minority's lands was less in monetary terms but more valuable in other terms. There was a value system contest. Which should be the priorities in land use planning? Crucially, legislation does not acknowledge Indigenous peoples as owners of their ancestral lands. Based on their traditional occupancy, they are merely granted rights to hunt, fish, herd. Many observers report that the level of respect and protection of Indigenous peoples’ human and ecological rights in Russia has declined significantly. In the mid-2000s, the government, with the aim of promoting economic development, removed administrative barriers, supported geological exploration and has been consistently applying the concept of “un-ecologization” to federal legislation since then.

Just before the public hearing in Beloyarsky in February 2016, protests arose in the electronic, social and conventional media. The Park's administration and civil Indigenous organizations informed Greenpeace, which collected more than 35,000 signatures against the rezoning of the Park. The Russian Association of Indigenous Peoples of the North, Siberia and Far East (RAIPON), 30 other organizations and these 35,000 Russians submitted their petitions to the state bodies. Together with Greenpeace, several prominent Russian scholars and organizations spoke out against rezoning and considered the EIA inadequate and biased. These efforts resulted in a high turnout by the public. Some 80 participants, including Indigenous people, came from Numto, Beloyarsky, Surgut and Nizhnevartovsk.

In the months that followed, Surgutneftegas deliberated its ‘Compromise’ scenario with regional authorities behind closed doors. Neither an appeal of Indigenous people, scientists and environmentalists to the regional Governor and the President, nor the request of the Presidential Council for Civil Society and Human Rights to the federal Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment could affect the KHMAO-Yugra Government's approval of the p. 143oil company-sponsored ‘Compromise’ rezoning scenario and its subsequent endorsement by the federal Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment in October 2016. These decisions did not manage to settle the protests by the Indigenous population.


East of the Prirazlomnoye oil field, there are large investment plans in a new commodity frontier where the Ob and Yenisei Rivers get to the Kara Sea. There is an important extractive frontier in the Yamal peninsula, Gydan, and the Taymyr in the Arctic coast of Siberia for natural gas and coal exports through the new routes opened up by ice melting. More information will be given in Chapter 27 on investments in this area by Total of France and Novatek, and their “corporate social irresponsibility”. The issue has gained attention with the geopolitics of the Russian war in Ukraine in 2022 and the general awareness of Europe's dependence on imports of gas from Russia.

In Taymyr, Russia is to develop one of the largest domestic coal fields, Syradasay, to supply coking coal to India. The transport will be along the Northern Sea Route. The Syradasay field is located over 100 km from the Dikson settlement. There is a natural reserve called Bolshoi Arkticheskiy (The Great Arctic State Nature Reserve). Russia has been signing these energy cooperation deals with India on a mega open-cast anthracite coal mine project in Dikson with VostokCoal-Diskon as developer company. Environmentalists say that developing mega coal projects in such an ecologically sensitive area is a “madness” (Chapter 16).

Sabetta 13 is one of the largest Russian Arctic ports situated on the Yamal peninsula, on the bank of the Ob River. The US$ 2.5 billion project was initiated by the Russian Government for the development of the Yamal Gas Mega Project. The port's construction is being carried out in two phases. The piers for handling LNG (Liquefied natural gas) plant modules and construction materials are being constructed in phase one. Phase two includes the construction of berths for handling LNG and gas condensate. They build and sell cheap gas and oil, but in the meantime the Arctic continues to warm at twice the rate of the rest of the world, as the Barents Observer reports, since navigation is helped by climate change that melts the ice. While activists, journalists and scientists raise their concerns, the Russian government has a different perspective on the Arctic: the goal of the Sabetta port is an annual shipment of 80 million tons by 2024.

Russia's biggest gas field covers two-thirds of the Yamal peninsula which the Nenets Indigenous people need for nomadic reindeer-herding. Nenets activists are accused of preventing economic development. In the 1990s the Gazprom company under the name of Yamal LNG (Liquefied natural gas) initiated preparations for one of its biggest gas projects. Due to this project, Nenets’ traditional lands have been transformed and environmental degradation started to take place. Activists from the Nenets community, especially the Forest Nenets, involved in Indigenous rights group alliances of Siberia, have publicly raised awareness about the environmental and cultural issues of gas and oil industries on their traditional territories. In 2019, a Moscow court ordered the closing down of the Indigenous rights group, saying that the organization has not provided the documentation which is needed to be recognized by the Russian law. “It's not a legal issue. It's a political one”, said the director of the Centre for Support of Indigenous People of the North/Russian Indigenous Training Centre. “There's p. 144a big conflict of interest between corporations and indigenous people”. Also, such huge gas fields have other issues with permafrost holes, that can explode easily, bringing a danger of large-scale accidents to the community as well.

Gazprom, on the other hand, argues that they provide the Yamal province with US $665 million a year. Herders and administration officials argue that compensations for pasture degradation and land are meant for local government but they do not reach Nenets people.


Norilsk is one of the largest cities located above the Arctic Circle at 69º latitude, east of the Yenisei River, in Krasnoyarsk Krai. This area is rich in nickel, copper, palladium and cobalt deposits that were discovered and started being exploited at the beginning of the twentieth century. Since the 1930s, the city has been the home to “Norilsk Nickel”, one of the biggest mining and metallurgical complexes in the world. The citizens experience noxious gases emitted from the mining and industrial activities, while even more extreme conditions are experienced daily by the workers in the mining and metallurgical complex. The pollution consists of sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, phenol, and chlorine that contaminates both air and water with negative impact on local lakes and the fragile tundra ecosystem. Norilsk is or has been one of the ten most polluted cities in the world, an industrial hell.

“Norilsk Nickel” employs over half of Norilsk's population and the citizens have apparently rarely protested environmental pollution. Instead, strong critiques came from Greenpeace Russia, and it is hard to say when the conflict started. President Vladimir Putin visited the city in 2010 and announced an increase in environmental fines if the companies did not cut out the amount of pollution, which resulted in an increase of environmental measures in production processes, including the shutdown of a 74-year-old nickel factory in 2013, which should reduce emission levels by 75 per cent. Although there are signs that Norilsk has embarked on “ecological modernization” and is making efforts to combat its high pollution by replacing old equipment, pollution still occurs. Thus, in September 2016, local people reported heavy pollution that turned the Daldykan River water red.

An accident on 29 May 2020 made many of these issues reappear. A fuel tank collapsed, leaking 20,000 tons of diesel in the nearby waters, up to 12 km away. It contaminated a 350-km2 area, and Putin declared a state of emergency. The company stated that the spill was probably a combination of both climate change and infrastructure-related factors. Yet Greenpeace and World Wildlife Fund stated that the company emphasized the role of climate change to avoid sanctions for its ageing infrastructure and potential negligence. Russia will either have to decrease fossil fuel production to prevent infrastructure from collapsing or build more infrastructure to spread the weight, because most of Russia's oil network was built on permafrost – permanently frozen ground which is melting rapidly.


After these cases in Russia, we now turn to the North American Arctic in the USA and Canada. Again, the presence of Indigenous peoples makes itself felt.p. 145

By 2019, the fate of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) was in doubt because President Trump's administration was keen to start selling leases for oil extraction to companies such as Exxon. 16 A much-disputed Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) was issued, and “commenters raised concerns about oil and gas development's impacts to wildlife, including the destruction of polar bear dens and the nesting grounds of more than 200 migratory birds”. Comments also took issue with the analysis of drilling's impacts on the Porcupine caribou, which some Alaska Native people depend on as a critical food and cultural resource. In addition, various comments expressed concerns about the greenhouse gas emissions.

From outside the US, the Inuvialuit Game Council ‒ a Canadian council representing the Inuvialuit peoples’ wildlife and habitat interests ‒ and several Canadian committees commented that the draft EIS “fails to fulfill the United States’ obligations under both US domestic law and under international law and fails to recognize the transboundary nature of the Arctic Coastal Plain”. The group highlighted the potential impact that a lease sale would have on Canada and criticized the draft EIS for lacking quantitative data and analyses. In addition, the Gwich’in Steering Committee ‒ formed in 1988 to represent the interests of the Gwich’in, including the protection of the Porcupine caribou herd and its habitat ‒ along with 152 advocacy organizations across 33 states, submitted comments in opposition to the deficient draft EIS. This conflict, like other Biodiversity Conservation Conflicts in the EJAtlas, finds Indigenous people supported by conservationist organizations. This is not always the case: there are numerous examples of “military conservationism” (Büscher and Fletcher 2019, Chapter 11).

The conflict was more active in 2021 than ever. The US Geological Survey (USGS) estimated that ANWR 1002 could produce 75 million tons of oil per year, at 1.5 million barrels per day at full capacity after roughly a 10-year ramp-up. The ANWR comprises 19,000,000 acres of the north Alaskan coast. Although the 1002 Area is only 10 per cent of the total Refuge acreage, it includes most of the Refuge's coastal plain and arctic foothills ecological zones. It is the largest protected wilderness in the United States and was created by Congress under the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA) of 1980. The Refuge is America's example of an intact, naturally functioning community of arctic/subarctic ecosystems. Such a broad spectrum of diverse habitats occurring within a single protected unit is unparalleled in North America, and perhaps in the entire Circumpolar North. It also provides a habitat for the Porcupine Caribou herd ‒ one of the largest in the world, with over 150,000 animals. This herd, with calving grounds on the tundra of the Refuge, is an important means of subsistence for the region's Indigenous inhabitants. The Alaska Inter-Tribal Council, which represents 229 Native Alaskan tribes, officially opposed any development in ANWR.


This conflict is one of many in North America between local Indigenous peoples and the oil and gas industry (Chapter 16). However, this case in the Canadian north was different. Indigenous organizations were ambivalent. There was some opposition by them but the main social and political instrument to stop the project was an official inquiry, plus the economics of the oil and gas industry. The Mackenzie Valley Pipeline was a proposed project to transport natural gas from the Beaufort Sea through Canada's Northwest Territories to tie into gas pipelines in northern Alberta. After large quantities of fossil fuels were discovered in Alaska in 1968, discussion started around Canadian resource extraction and development in the Yukon p. 146and the Northwest Territories. By 1970, Pierre Trudeau's government already had plans on pipeline development. The Canadian Arctic Gas Pipeline Ltd along with Foothills Pipe Lines Ltd planned to run natural gas from Alaska, across the Yukon, through the Mackenzie Valley south to Alberta and the US. At the time, it would have been the longest pipeline in the world and quite an engineering marvel building on permafrost. The potential economic benefits of the project as well as the ability to expand control into the Canadian north through resource development was an attractive proposal (Figure 7.2).

However, the local Aboriginal communities saw issue with the pipeline and potential changes to their physical, social, economic, and environmental well-being, resulting in a number of conflicts, land claims and disputes. It led to the appointment of Justice Thomas Berger to conduct an inquiry on the proposed pipelines and the potential impacts on Canada's north and its people. The 1977 report concluded that further study was necessary, especially with regard to Indigenous land claims, and that the pipeline should not be constructed given the vulnerable northern environment.p. 147

Berger recommended a 10-year moratorium on construction to allow for more baseline studies. It was also intended to give the Aboriginal communities involved more time, and by 2000, the Inuvialuit, Gwich’in, and Sahtu peoples had their claims taken care of. These communities now had an interest in the pipelines, and Imperial Oil, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil and the Aboriginal Pipeline Group (local communities with pipeline interests) proposed the $16.2 billion Mackenzie Gas Project to carry 34.3 million m3 of natural gas about 1,200 km from the Beaufort Sea to northern Alberta. The plan was submitted to the NEB in 2004 and approved in 2010, with December of 2015 set as the deadline to begin construction.

Changing economics and the falling price of natural gas resulted in Imperial wanting to delay construction further to ensure the economic feasibility of the project. The extension was granted by the NEB to the dismay of environmentalists, but by the end of 2017, Imperial Oil decided the Mackenzie Gas Project was no longer profitable enough and declared the end of the nearly 50-year deliberation and development process. The Deh Cho Dene of the Northwest Territories were important social actors. Primarily, the case was mobilized through Aboriginal involvement and not so much due to environmental organizations.

Mackenzie Valley pipeline in Canada (National Post, Developing the 2015 Northwest territories energy plan, Department of Aboriginal Affairs).
Figure 7.2

Mackenzie Valley pipeline in Canada

Source:  National Post, Developing the 2015 Northwest territories energy plan, Department of Aboriginal Affairs. Material republished with the express permission of: National Post, a division of Postmedia Network Inc.


A historic conflict in the North of Canada is the Yellowknife gold mine conflict on the pollution by arsenic (Chapter 20). Here we consider a current mining conflict in Baffin Island where the Inuit council approved the expansion of an iron mine to 6 million tons per year, against the recommendations of the Nunavut Impact Review Board.

Baffin Island, in the Canadian territory of Nunavut is the largest island in Canada and the fifth-largest worldwide. Its area is 507,451 km2 and its population less than 15,000. Nunavut is the largest in area (1,750,000 km2) and the second-least populous (36,000) of Canada's territories. It is becoming an extraction frontier, with uranium and iron ore resources. There is a story of defence of local and ethnic identity, a successful Indigenous land claim, as well as a story of mining in the area. There was resistance to uranium mining in Baker Island led by the NGO Nunavummiut Makitagunarningit. This is also one of the frontiers of climate change impacts, with the ice cover receding and melting.

Mining companies are attracted by the huge iron ore deposits underneath a frozen landscape. The Baffinland company shipped its first load from Mary River via Milne Inlet in August 2015. Global prices of iron ore had plummeted because of world production, since the NIRB (Nunavut Impact Review Board) first granted the company its certificate in 2012. For that reason, the company changed its plans for Mary River several times. The original proposal called for a $5-billion railway to be built.

Instead, the company began transporting iron ore along a 100-km tote road between the mine and Milne Inlet. This was done with enormous trucks that melted the ice, frightened the caribou and disrupted the hunting habits of the Inuits. Then, in late 2014, Baffinland proposed significant changes to its project certificate, including: more than tripling truckloads of iron ore, nearly tripling the output of iron ore (from 4.2 million tonnes to 12 million tonnes per year), increasing the shipping season from four months to ten months a year; and building a second dock at Milne Inlet and a tank farm.p. 148

The NIRB decided in August 2015 that the proposed changes warranted a full public review, requiring Baffinland to submit a new EIA. The Inuit inhabitants agreed through their councils to get royalties from the mine; however, there are many latent conflicts, which also have to do with a trend among the Inuits to self-governance.

The NIRB decided that the increase in production wished for by Baffin should be denied, but Inuit pressure (for jobs and royalties) made it relent, and together with the government said yes to an increase request from Baffinland Iron Mines Corp. The NIRB said that Baffinland did not show how it would soften the impact of additional dust along the tote road and of marine shipping out of the Milne Inlet port. Meanwhile, the review board began to look at a much bigger request for the construction of a railway between Mary River and Milne Inlet. Jobs and royalties, together with the geographical isolation and low population, will make this area a “company town” for as long as the ores last. Several foreign companies, including ArcelorMittal and possibly Tata, have been trying to acquire these assets.


Not far from Baffin Island, in Greenland, which is still part of the Kingdom of Denmark although an autonomous region, the controversial Kvanefjeld/Kuannersuit proposed by Australian Greenland Minerals Ltd., would be one of the world's largest open-pit uranium mines and sources of rare earth elements. With rising temperatures due to changes in the climate, new mining opportunities are emerging because the Arctic shipping season is extending.

Greenland counts only about 40,000 inhabitants. There are plans for iron ore extraction, also for ilmenite mining (Dundas project, Chapter 15). The country gained self-governance from Denmark in 2009 and then welcomed foreign investment. Rare earth elements or metals have unique physicochemical properties which make them indispensable in renewable energy, communication technologies or electric vehicles. China has a particular interest in Greenland's deposits. Interest in Greenland's uranium resources is also increasing following a decision by the parliament, Inatsisartut, to change the zero-tolerance policy on nuclear mining, one of Greenland's most divisive political issues. The discovery of uranium at Kuannersuit (Kvanefjeld) in Southern Greenland dates back to 1956 and Danish exploration took place up until the 1980s, when the government dropped their plans to develop nuclear energy plants.

The Kuannersuit/Kvanefjeld Rare Earth–Uranium Project was first proposed by Australian Greenland Minerals Ltd. (GML) in 2007, and the company was granted access to commercial mineral exploration. The project is still in the planning phase, but is predicted to be one of the world's largest open-pit uranium rare earths mines, and the first mining project of its kind in the Arctic.

Already in 2008, GML confirmed large sources of rare metals but stated that the commercial mining project would only be economically feasible if the uranium sources existing in the same deposit were also commercially mined. This consequently influenced the Greenlandic parliament to lift their zero-tolerance policy against radioactive minerals by a narrow vote of 15 to 14 in 2013, which remains controversial. Following this, an agreement was reached in 2016 between the Danish and Greenlandic governments on the joint regulation of future uranium export. Danish Friends of the Earth NOAH had opposed the diverse EIA submitted.

Given the open-pit construction, there will be pollution from mining water and spills from processing materials, as well as dust containing radioactive materials risks affecting nearby populated areas, including the town of Narsaq and local sheep farms. Social impact includes dramatic changes to everyday life, to farming and to tourism.p. 149

The project is opposed by multiple environmental justice organizations in Greenland and Denmark, including Urani Naamik (No to Uranium, Greenland), Avataq, The Ecological Council (‘Det Økologiske Råd’), Sustainable Energy (‘Vedvarende Energi’) and Nuup Kangerluata Ikinngutai (‘Friends of Nuuk Fjord’). In 2009, the association for opposition against uranium mining at Kuannersuit was founded in Narsaq, with over 50 members. In 2015, environmental justice concerns were formally raised in the ‘Ajorpoq’ report by the Inuit Circumpolar Council criticizing the public consultation of the project. These worries were re-affirmed in a statement by the UN special rapporteur on human rights and hazardous substances and wastes. By April 2021, election results showed Inuit Ataqatigiit, a left-wing environmental party opposed to the project, winning with about 37 per cent of the vote.


This Arctic chapter started in Norway, went east completing the circumpolar circuit and now comes back to Iceland, a country that was peopled by Norwegian migrants 800 years ago. Iceland is a fascinating country with a population of only 300,000 people. The fights against dams for aluminium smelting have produced the documentary Woman at War in 2019. The case narrated here is only one of several similar ones in Iceland. The construction of the dam at Kárahnjúkar was a pivotal moment in Iceland's growing reaction against environmental destruction. In this sense, it contributed to the environmental movement on the island, but the dam and the Alcoa smelter were built. Aluminium production involves mining of bauxite and then alumina (with “red mud” as a by-product), and finally the smelting. Transnational companies thought about Iceland in terms of its hydroelectric potential, and the foreseen investments reached tens of billions of USD. However, it was stopped by popular resistance and the economic crisis of 2008.

In Iceland, the production plans did not involve bauxite mining but only concerned the last stage, the electricity-intensive smelting. The Kárahnjúkar hydroelectric dam is part of a complex of dams of 690 MW, the largest hydroelectric power plant in Iceland. It is located to the north of the glacier Vatnajökull. Its purpose was to feed electricity to Alcoa's aluminium smelter Fjardaál, at Reyðarfjörður. The conflict was because of the project itself and also because it was seen as part of a wider push for enormous investments in hydropower at very high environmental cost for the benefits of aluminium multinationals. The project was built by Impregilo-Salini, the Italian building firm that appears often in the EJAtlas (cf. Chapter 27). Opponents pointed out that the sediment from glacier water will fill the dam quickly.

The rivers that feed the hydropower plant are fed by one of Europe's largest glaciers. Since the dam and power plant were built, the paths of these highland rivers have changed. Valleys have been flooded by artificial lakes. Árni Finnsson, head of the Icelandic Nature Conservation Association, foresaw extensive sediment build-up in reservoirs, with high winds blowing dust onto vegetation and into settled areas with lowering water levels. The surrounding areas are important habitats for geese and wild reindeer. The project, named after nearby Mount Kárahnjúkur, involved damming the Jökulsá á Dal River and the Jökulsá í Fljótsdal River with five dams, creating three reservoirs. Water from the reservoirs is then diverted through underground water tunnels and down towards an underground power station. The Kárahnjúkastífla Dam stands 193 metres tall with a length of 730 metres.p. 150

The Fjardaál aluminium smelter reached full operation in April 2008. Construction began in 2004 by Bechtel (for Alcoa) and the facility contains a smelter, cast house, rod production and deep-water port. The smelter employs 450 people and produces 940 tons of aluminium a day, with a capacity of 346,000 metric tons of aluminium per year.

The dams have been the frequent object of protests by environmentalists for many reasons. The area is within the second largest (formerly) unspoiled wilderness in Europe and covers about 1000 km2. The project as a whole has been criticized heavily in the book Draumalandið by Andri Snær Magnason and subsequent 2009 documentary Dreamland. In 2013, International Rivers reported: “The impact the highland dam at Kárahnjúkar has on the lake Lagarfljót by Egilsstaðir in East Iceland is considered to be more severe than earlier anticipated”.


The Arctic is a growing commodity extraction frontier in the international division of nature. Far from a distant and exotic space, the Arctic is one of the hottest spaces at the heart of expanding international social metabolism. It will appear again in Chapter 15 (ilmenite extraction in Greenland) and in Chapter 27 (with TotalEnergy in Yamal and Gydan peninsulas). This chapter has considered about 20 cases of environmental conflicts on oil, coal, gas, metal mining, hydroelectricity for aluminium smelting and windmills. Almost all involve Indigenous peoples, often pastoralists relying on large herds of reindeer or caribou for sustenance, and a variety of national and international protesters. Most of them ended in failure for environmental justice, but some of the projects were stopped, at least for now.

Altogether, the countries involved practise internal colonialism in Scandinavia, Russia, Alaska and Canada. There are some efforts in Norway and in the US to leave some of the oil under the soil or seabed. There are new lawsuits against climate change. There are threatened Indigenous peoples able to appeal to international solidarity. But on the whole, the march of the extractivist economy is stronger in the Arctic than almost anywhere else. No matter the environmental fragility or the raising temperatures, extractivism increases helped by the ice melting. As elsewhere in the world, it is supported by coloniality and racism. What was the fur trade and the wood trade from the Arctic and Subarctic is now the trade in fossil fuels and metals. New ports are built for shipping bulk commodities in the new sea routes.

If we remember some of the figures in this chapter (30 million tons of iron ore per year in Baffin Island, 40 million tons of anthracite coal from Yamal peninsula, so much copper and nickel, so many millions of barrels of oil and tons of LNG) we realize that the Arctic will support an export pressure per capita of several dozens of tons per year, a world record.

The so-called Arctic paradox appears clearly in many cases: transport is facilitated by global warming with new sea routes, but sometimes it is made more difficult (sinking pipelines, melting ice and permafrost under the wheels of trucks). As a whole, climate change is helping to open up the Arctic commodity extraction frontiers, which in turn contributes to climate change. A new paradox is added ‒ the Europeans knew since before 1900 that the greenhouse effect would increase because of industrial coal burning, and did nothing for nearly one hundred years, until the IPCC was formed in the 1980s. Now, the Europeans’ solution is to intensify metal mining in its periphery, even to the point of sponsoring “research” projects on p. 151how to achieve a Social Licence to Operate to keep the natives quiet, as transnational mining firms look for metals for the electricity transition. A third possible paradox arises from the threat to the Gulf Stream (and temperate climates) in some Northern countries.

We see some networks being formed among Indigenous peoples (despite the government's resistance in Russia), such as RAIPON and the Inuit Circumpolar Council, and also intervention from national and international EJOs such as the groups of the confederation Friends of the Earth, Bellona and Greenpeace (which was founded in Canada in 1971 against nuclear bombs testing, and also in defence of whales). Commodity frontiers do not respect strict political frontiers. Those who resist extraction do not always know to which instances of governance to appeal: the UN with its various departments? The banks or corporations financing and running the projects? Or the provincial or national capitals of which countries? As a hypothesis, even in such a difficult geography as the Arctic the tenuous networks of resistance across borders mentioned in the EJAtlas confirm the existence of world movements for environmental justice. Research has been published by the EJAtlas team and collaborators in favour of this hypothesis of cross-national Indigenous-environmental resistance in the Arctic. (Hanaček et al. 2022).



Oil drilling, Lofoten, Norway (Linda Dubec), EJAtlas.

Clark, N. (2019). Saving Lofoten Islands: Norway's turn towards biodiversity, Al Jazeera, 13 May.


The People versus Arctic Oil litigation, Norway (Alice Owen), EJAtlas.


Reppardfjord/Nussir copper mining case, Norway (Anders Vieth Rør), EJAtlas.

Vieth Rør, A. (2018). Mining or traditional use? Conflicts in the Northern Norwegian copper frontier. Master thesis at Norwegian University of Life Sciences.

Solsvik, T. and Fouche, G. (2019). Norway gives go-ahead to disputed Arctic copper mine, Reuters, 14 February.


Alta River Hydro Power Plant, Norway (Linda Dubec), EJAtlas.


Large-scale Wind Farm in Sami reindeer land, Sweden (Sofia Avila-Calero), EJAtlas. A similar case in Norway is Fosen Vind project, declared invalid by the Supreme Court, in the EJAtlas.

Sasvari, A. (2016). Green grabbing – modes of appropriation and knowledge production in the conflict between Sami herders and the wind power industry, ENTITLE Conference, Undisciplined Environments, Stockholm, March.


Rönnbäcken Nickel Mine, Västerbotten, Sweden (Linda Dubec), EJAtlas.


Eng, J. (2017). A discourse analysis on the Swedish Non-Ratification of the Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention ‒ a critical postcolonial perspective, Lund University.


Gállok/Kallak Iron Mine Sweden (Linda Dubec), EJAtlas.

Relocation of Kiruna town due to iron ore mine, Sweden (Alice Owen, Mariko Takedomi Karlsson, Daria Rivin), EJAtlas.


Sakatti Mine, Finland (A.L. Piazza), EJAtlas.

Lassila, M. (2021). The Arctic mineral resource rush and the ontological struggle for the Viiankiaapa peatland in Sodankylä, Finland, Globalizations, 18(6).


Prirazlomnoye oil field, Russia (Natalia Finogenova), EJAtlas.

Staalesen, A. (2018). Offshore Arctic platform Prirazlomnaya prepares for doubling of production, The Barents Observer, 19 March.

Oil spills in Komi Republic, Russia, EJAtlas.


Oil Extraction at Numto Nature Preserve, Russia (Ayse Ceren Sari, Bogaziçi University), EJAtlas.

Slow Food (2016). Heavenly Lake Numto in Western Siberia is under threat from Big Oil, 1 April.p. 152


Coal mining in Arctic's natural reserve, Taymyr, Russia (EnvJust Project Arctic sub-project ICTA-UAB), EJAtlas.


Sabetta port, Arctic Russia (Ksenija Hanaček and Joan Martinez Alier), EJAtlas.

Yamal Mega natural gas project, Arctic Russia, EJAtlas.


Arctic Oil Spill in Norilsk, Russia (Ksenija Hanaček and Joan Martinez Alier), EJAtlas.

Norilsk pollution, Russia (Jovanka Spiric), EJAtlas.


Oil Drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Alaska, USA (Bernadette Grafton), EJAtlas.


The oil threat to the ANWR was one of the 40 initially selected in 2015 by University of Michigan's Professor Paul Mohai and his students as the top conflicts most relevant of the US EJ movement since the early 1980s.


Mackenzie Valley Pipeline, Canada (Lauren Nelis), EJAtlas.


Iron Ore mining in Baffin Island, Nunavut territory, Canada (Joan Martinez-Alier), EJAtlas.

Bell, J. (2018). Inuit org helps Baffinland overturn Nunavut review board's advice, Nunatsiaq News, 2 .


Greenland Mineral Ltd.'s Kuannersuit/Kvanefjeld Rare Earth-Uranium Project, Greenland (Louisa Mathies), EJAtlas.


Kárahnjúkar dam, Iceland (Joan Martinez-Alier), EJAtlas.

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