Scroll Top
 Norway’s quest to transform European energy security through mining

By Sigurd Neubauer


At a time of intensifying geopolitical competition between the U.S. and China, Norway is positioning itself to help supply its Western allies with access to rare earth minerals and natural resources as part of a strategic push to diversify supply chains for critical infrastructure and industries.

In an exclusive interview, we discuss how Norway is going about this with Member of Parliament Bård Ludvig Thorheim, a conservative lawmaker representing a district in the northern part of the country.

Thorheim, a former diplomat turned politician, knows the U.S. well from his time serving at the Norwegian Embassy in Washington. He also serves as the Chairman of the Friends of America Caucus in Parliament.

We have previously interviewed the trailblazing lawmaker for a separate feature

“After Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, it became clear that Moscow would stop its gas supplies, which triggered a European energy crisis. This experience made it clear to Europe and the West that we’re vulnerable to other actors potentially denying access to rare earth minerals in the event of conflict,” the lawmaker explains.

He points out that rare earth minerals needed for critical technologies are primarily controlled as of today by Russia, China and other nations that are not Western allies.

Russia's invasion of Ukraine was a strategic game changer for Norway's decision to enhance its mining industry: Thorheim
Bård Ludvig Thorheim
Thorheim is a conservatie lawmaker representing a district in northern Norway. Photo credit: Courtesy

“Being able to access these minerals are critical in order to succeed with the energy transition towards renewals and reaching climate goals,” which are needed to build critical infrastructure for the future such as wind farms; solar cells; and batteries.

Combatting climate change is a top priority for Norway. Unlike in the U.S., this issue is not politicized as the political establishment remains mostly unified on the matter. 

Norway warns that unless a reliable supply chain is established, Western nations, including the U.S., could be outcompeted by other countries. Fortunately, he argues, “Norway stands out as one of the few European countries that possesses the minerals needed to facilitate the energy transition.”

The country is already mining the following natural resources; cesium; aluminum; titanium and graphite. While Norway extracts these minerals in large quantities, it possesses large deposits of untapped minerals that Thorheim believes will be critical for the coming decades. 

“We have one of the world’s biggest fields of rare-earth minerals, including iron, nickel and cobalt which are needed to build permanent magnets.”

These metals are used in electric vehicles and in wind turbines.

Norway posseses one of the world’s largest fields of rare-earth minerals,which are needed to build wind farms: Thorheim

Then there’s the China factor, which Washington considers to be its main strategic competitor.

“As of today, China supplies Europe with 90 percent of these rare earth metals,” he says, then pauses and cuts to the chase: “In the central Norwegian region of Telemark alone, there are enough untapped rare earth minerals to supply 30 percent of the European Union’s needs. Once extractions begin, this will be a strategic game changer.”

In a separate region, Rogaland, which is off Norway’s southwestern coast, one of the world’s largest fossil rock deposits is located, which can be used for solar panels and batteries. 

“As of today, most of the fossil rocks come from Morocco and Russia.” And in northern Norway, where the lawmaker is from, “we have the potential for developing large-scale mines for copper and iron ore, which can even be manufactured in a climate neutral manner which adheres to the highest environmental standards in the world.” 

Responding to what prompted Norway to overcome initial hesitancy to develop these natural resources, the lawmaker points out that prior to the war in Ukraine, the potential for mining in Norway was one out of many opportunities the government considered when it came to fostering economic growth and jobs. 

“Now, however, it is no longer just about creating jobs but rather about security policy. We’re now collaborating with other countries to provide value, including for the green industry, which is at the very top of the government’s agenda.”

Strengthening alternative supply chains is also a top priority for the EU, which passed The European Union’s Critical Raw Minerals Act (CRMA) in March of this year. 

The lawmaker nonetheless cautions that in addition to extracting more resources, this has to be done responsibly as they are not unlimited but rather that this requires more recycling as well.

It is no longer just about job creation but it's about national security
Seabed mining off Jan Mayen could eventually be developed  

The environment and regulatory reform 

But before Norway’s national mining strategy can be realized, its regulatory environment needs to be overhauled. “It takes too long to get a license to operate a mine but we’re overhauling the regulations so that we can attract more investors. We are also looking at seabed mining, but the top priority for now is mining on land.”

When it comes to extracting natural resources through seabed mining, Thorheim explains that more knowledge about its impact on the marine environment is required first. 

He’s specifically referring to the island of Jan Mayen, which is located some 1,233 miles (1,985 km) off the coast of Norway. The island has large deposits of minerals along the Mid-Atlantic Ridge between Jan Mayen and southern Svalbard/Bear Island, which include copper, zinc, cobalt, gold, and silver.

Jan Mayen is uninhabited, but could be of geopolitical interest, especially to Russia but the Norwegian claim is undisputed by any country. 

Currently, Australian, British and Swedish companies are operating in Norway’s mining sector but the country is open to other international investors as well. The land of the midnight sun also stands out as one of Europe’s easiest countries to do business in, according to a top corporate lawyer who we interviewed for a separate article in November of last year about the country’s business climate. 

While Thorheim welcomes U.S. and European companies investing in the Norwegian mining sector, he would also like to see Norwegian industry such as Hydro and Aker Solutions participating in new mining projects. 

Thorheim will be visiting the U.S. Congress in September to discuss mining regulations

Washington talks

Responding to what’s next, Thorheim reveals that there are three land mines that have been granted all the necessary licenses and that they will become operational in a couple of years. “We have additional ones that are in the pipeline,” but when it comes to seabelt mining, he concedes, this might be possible in about 15 years. 

In September, the lawmaker will travel to Washington for talks with his counterparts in the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate about outlining trade regulations between Norway and the U.S. in addition to strengthening security collaboration. He will also hold talks with the U.S. National Security Council at the White House. 

Share this