Young geologist leads northern Europe’s largest mining project
M. MICHAEL BRADY
Northern Europe’s largest mining project is now underway at Egersund, a municipality in the Dalane district of Rogaland County, located on the coast halfway between Stavanger and Kristiansand in Norway’s southwesternmost county. Its principal pursuit is to extract an estimated 70 billion tons of phosphor, an essential component of fertilizer. In addition to that core business, the project also is searching for viable deposits of titanium and vanadium, a ductile metal that makes the blades of wind farm generators possible. The project is a commercial venture of Norge Mineraler AS in Egersund (see norgemining.com), a subsidiary of Norge Mining.
The history of the project reflects that of the industrialization of the country. In 1524, during the reign of King Frederick I of Denmark and Norway, copper ore was found in Telemark County. That led to the development of copper mining, which for centuries thereafter generated income, created jobs, and blighted landscapes. Then, within the past 50 years, ore mining dwindled almost to extinction, in the face of the rush to exploit oil extracted from the North Sea.
Now, as the world moves away from fossil fuels, ore mining seems set for a renaissance. The opportunity for it arose in 1992, at Ualand in Rogaland County, where geologists found mineral-rich deposits created 925 million years ago by an upheaval in the Earth’s crust. Those deposits contained apatite, the fluorophosphate mineral now mined for its constituent phosphor.
The project is led by Monika Øksnes (b. 1995), a scientist with a bachelor’s degree (2017) and master’s degree (2019) from the University of Bergen. In her studies she specialized in quaternary geology, the discipline that looks into changes in the surface of the Earth up to the present. It’s a broad discipline that requires a broad appreciation of innumerable interactions, such as those involved in geological mining.
With the requisite broad appreciation, in November 2020, she joined the staff of Norge Mineraler in Egersund and rapidly rose to become the operations manager of its exploration project. The job required her to handle logistics and stakeholder involvement, which included acquiring supplies, contacting landowners, and liaising with local and national politicians. In June 2021, she was promoted to chief operating officer of Norge Mineraler.
At first you might believe that this is an unusual profession for a young woman, but The Norwegian American learned in an interview, about 50% of the geology students at Norwegian universities are women. Øksnes “stumbled into” the field of studies while she was at the University of Bergen, and it turned out to be an ideal career choice for her.
“It’s very interesting to put together the roadmap to develop a mine,” she said. “It’s never certain that there will be a mine; there’s a lot of bits and pieces that have to fall into place first. You need to figure out how to survey and map out an area. You have to think about the landowners and how to coordinate with them. You always have to find good solutions.”
Despite her rapid rise through the professional hierarchy, Øksnes realizes that she still is at an early stage of her career. She wishes to gain as much experience as possible to acquire the professional weight required for wise decision-making. In that, she knows she’s not alone, as many young people now seek to acquire the skills necessary for future leadership positions. The result is a hectic pace, not the least of which is to always be updated on technological developments.
She believes that the Rogaland area is attractive for young job seekers and aspiring managers. It has many well-established companies and businesses. The oil and mining industries are big. Hence there are many links that enable smaller industries to access larger ones. In turn, that means there are many jobs. Rogaland is also a beautiful area in which to live.
For the time being, the pandemic has created more paperwork for Øksnes at work. Strict protocols must be followed, and it is important that everyone is tested properly. “We live together in accommodations set up for the project, like one big family living in a bubble,” she said.
But then much of their time is spent outdoors, where Monika feels at home. “I love being out in nature with my job,” she said, “And sometimes you really do get to see some cool rocks!”
This article originally appeared in the Sept. 3, 2021, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.