Svalbard Switches from Coal to Diesel, Presenting Opportunity for Russia

United States Military Academy and American Military University Alumni. Victor covers flash military, intelligence, and geo-political updates.

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The Norwegian-administered archipelago community of Svalbard has just taken one of the final steps to ending its energy independence. The Longyearbyen Local Council, which administers Svalbard’s largest settlement has decided to transition the Longyearbyen Power Station from coal, which it has operated on for 100 years, to diesel, once the winter tanks are filled with imported diesel from the mainland.

In 2021, the Longyearbyen Council agreed to shut down the last remaining coal mine, Coal Mine 7 which fueled the last remaining coal-fired electric plant. In 2008 Store Norske Spitsbergen Kulkompani, a subsidiary of the Norwegian Ministry of Trade and Industry, operated Svea Nord in Sveagruva and Mine 7 in Longyearbyen. Svea Nord produced 3.4 million tons of coal in 2008, while the latter uses 35% of its output to fuel the Longyearbyen Power Station. However, Svea Nord has since been shuttered leaving #7 as the sole coal producing mine in Svalbard. It is being shuttered to reach carbon-neutrality in the archipelago.

However, halting coal mining ends the energy independence of the Norwegian-administered settlement, at a time when Russian aggression in Northern Europe is at an all-time high. Indeed, High North News observes the risks in such a move:

”The energy plan reveals that Svalbard Energy will be responsible for purchasing diesel either via the open market or agreements with fuel suppliers on the mainland or via tankers and shipping companies.

With the transition to diesel, the Svalbard community will become more vulnerable if something happens to the access to fuel.

Svalbard Energy’s risk analysis points to diesel transport to Svalbard and storage and distribution in Longyearbyen as vulnerabilities.”

The Norwegian settlement, which also hosts key satellite communication hubs for polar focused space assets, was of particular concern for the Soviets, Norwegians, and Nazis during WW2 and the subsequent Cold War. In 2023, this settlement is of even more importance due to the Russian Federation increasing its arctic traffic through the thawing Northern Sea Route. The Russian Federation employs a defense-in-depth in the High North focused on maintaining open sea lines of communications (SLOCS) and freedom of navigation for its Northern Fleet. During the Cold War, and now today, the Russian Federation is particularly focused on keeping the GIUK gap open for its large submarine and surface fleets in the event of a war with NATO. Svalbard presents ripe ground for Norwegian and NATO to place air defenses, aircraft, listening posts, and other assets to deny sea and air use to Russia.

However, by transitioning solely to imported diesel, Svalbard has now created strategic targets for Russia such as the vulnerable diesel tanks and ships transporting them.