Eric the Red attracted the original European colonists of the world’s largest island with tales of a fertile, green land in one of history’s most blatant examples of a PR spin. Promises of resources are once again attracting Europeans to Greenland. This time the riches are oil, gold and other raw materials.

Greenland is currently one of the few places on Earth largely un-touched by fossil fuel and mineral extraction, but that is changing, reported the Guardian. One gold mine is already in operation there with five more in the works. Oil and gas exploration have begun in waters around the island.

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"Greenland is hugely important in terms of natural resources, it has vast opportunities,” Antonio Tajani, the European commission's vice-president, told the Guardian. “We are currently working very hard with the prime minister of Greenland on this – we are working on our own agreement with Greenland on raw materials."

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Mining Greenland used to be blocked by the massive ice cap that covers the island. As climate change melts the ice, industrialists are seeing a literal silver lining.

The pressure to open Greenland to mining and fossil fuel extraction isn’t just from Europe. The Chinese have already funded one mining project on the island through the UK-based company London Mining.

"This is raw material diplomacy,” said Tajani. “We have allies working on this worldwide.

Environmental groups worry that Greenland’s tiny population of Europeans and Inuits may end up on the losing side of that raw material diplomacy. Some believe Greenland’s industry regulation and environmental protection legislation may not be sufficient to deal with the hazards of mine wastes and other pollutants.

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“It's a real worry, and we don't think that the Greenlandic government has the capabilities to regulate this in the way that's needed – they can't stand up to these multinational companies,” Mikkel Myrup, chair of the Greenlandic environmental group Akavaq, told the Guardian. “The public haven't been given the full picture."

IMAGE: The coast of Greenland (Túrelio, Wikimedia Commons)