KANGERLUSSUAQ, Greenland - With bottled-water sales rising worldwide, Greenland's ice is again being eyed as a potentially profitable resource.
Jacob Evar of Copenhagen, whose empire includes pita bread and a retirement village in France among other things, has embarked on a campaign to capture melting glacier water and sell it in Greenland and abroad.
Evar and other backers of the Greenland Water company - now more concept than reality - point out that 20 percent of the world's drinking water reserves are encased in the icecap that covers 85 percent of the world's largest island, exclusive of Australia.
Even if only 5 percent of the fresh ice that forms each year were melted and poured into containers, the company could produce 132 million gallons of drinking water each year and rack up sales of $200 million, Evar predicted.
"It's the purest water in the world because there has never been industry or animals here, so there's no organic material that can put bacteria into the water," Evar said. "Unlike other bottled water, Greenland water would never spoil."
Worldwide bottled water sales amounted to nearly $36 billion in 53 countries in 1998, the last year for which the Euromonitor statistical agency has figures. For the past five years, sales have grown steadily at 10 percent annually, Evar noted.
Recently, Evar and former Danish Interior Minister Thorkild Simonsen brought their proposal to Greenland's home-rule government in the capital, Nuuk, and to investors meeting at this air-travel hub that serves as a business crossroads. Evar reported that the project, which initiators say needs government guarantees and private financing to get started, drew "very, very positive interest" among the authorities who administer this territory, home to 56,000 people.
Greenland depends on annual subsidies from Copenhagen of about $350 million. If the ice-melting project becomes a reality, the shareholder returns plus income from expanded shipping and 90 new jobs planned at a Nuuk bottling plant could go a long way toward making Greenland more economically independent.
The product - named Greenland Water - would compete with government-owned bottlers in Norway, Iceland and Canada.
Under the plan, Greenlanders would retain ownership of the resource through the sale of shares in Greenland Water Production to the government. The entrepreneurs would be guaranteed sales and distribution rights for 25 years in exchange for bearing the brunt of the project's estimated $40 million start-up costs.
The entrepreneurs propose to build an elevated pipeline from a glacier field 13 miles from Nuuk to carry water that either melts naturally as a result of global warming or gets a helping hand from heaters. The pipeline effluent would be filtered for clarity and put into plastic containers without being exposed to the plant atmosphere or human hands, Evar said.
Under the proposal, the 13,000 residents of Nuuk would also be provided with Greenland Water for drinking.
Smaller-scale proposals for making drinking water from the icecap have come and gone for 20 years. The Greenland Water idea has moved further and faster toward a government go-ahead than any previous proposals.