Potash boss: Boulby has figures ‘wrong’

Sirius Minerals managing director Chris Fraser
Sirius Minerals managing director Chris Fraser

The boss behind a billion-pound plan to build a new polyhalite mine near Whitby has responded to claims made by its closest rival in the Gazette recently.

Polyhalite has the potential to create thousands of jobs and develop a world-leading new industry, says the chief executive of Sirius Minerals.

Recent news from Cleveland Potash that it plans to increase its polyhalite capacity has been welcomed by Sirius’ Chris Fraser, but claims that it can satisfy the global demand have been roundly dismissed.

“It’s great that Cleveland now start to recognise the importance of polyhalite, having previously dismissed it”, said Mr Fraser. “The benefit that polyhalite brings to Boulby mine is welcomed, because of its importance to the local area.”

But a move to extract up to 600,000 tonnes per year by Cleveland Potash is “a drop in the ocean” compared to the 12 million tonnes per year that York Potash hopes to extract.

“We’re talking about large volumes of material, priced competitively, to meet the needs of food producers both in this country and around the world,” Mr Fraser added.

“Customers all over the world want polyhalite so ultimately that means we can create thousands of jobs and also generate hundreds of millions of pounds of exports for the country.

“This means generating taxes, paying royalties to both landowners and our community foundation and making the UK a world leader in this unique form of fertiliser.”

Although its potassium content is lower than traditional Muriate of Potash, Sirius Minerals says polyhalite has other benefits because, in addition to potassium, it contains the vital plant nutrients sulphur, magnesium and calcium and does not contain chlorides which many plants are sensitive to.

Cleveland Potash had objected to the York Potash planning application in 2013 stating there was no market for the product. The recent change of heart seems to have countered that claim, but at 20 times the proposed output capacity of Boulby mine, the York Potash project has grand ambitions.

“We’re talking about a completely different strategy, business model and pricing structure that is going to create new jobs and a new industry. Focussing on polyhalite from the start, we have access to the thickest and highest grade polyhalite in the world and our infrastructure is designed to deliver a very low cost operating mine,” said Mr Fraser.

“People outside our company can debate the market for polyhalite, but the reality is there is a very large and growing demand within the global fertiliser industry.

“Nobody understands the value, market or agronomy of polyhalite quite like us because nobody else has done the same scientific studies or talked to the same volume of customers.

“Selling polyhalite requires more than waiting for people to knock on your door and when you talk to them, food producers around the world increasingly understand the importance of balanced, sustainable fertilisers like polyhalite”.

The claim is backed by an unconditional ‘take or pay’ contract Sirius has with a major US agri business for 500,000 tonnes a year, a one million tonne per year offtake agreement in China and various other commitments totalling nearly five million tonnes per year.

Fraser says: “The global demand speaks for itself but it’s wrong to just dismiss farmers as fixed in their ways. Farmers want to see better yields and better value for money and balanced fertilisation using polyhalite can offer that.”

A planning application for the York Potash new mine near Sneaton is due to be submitted later in the summer.

Local people will have the opportunity to review the proposals which have been revised to incorporate feedback from local people and a range of interested stakeholders, at a series of public exhibitions in the coming months.