A deafening explosion rang out across Staithes on Monday afternoon as the redevelopment of Boulby mine took a major step forward.
The old rockshaft tower, which was one of the first structures built when the mine opened over 40 years ago, was demolished as part of a multi-million pound upgrade at Cleveland Potash Ltd.
General manager Phil Baines said: “The installation of the new rockshaft tower is a key element in the major investment programme now underway at Boulby which will allow us to extend the life of the mine for potentially decades to come.”
The 50-metre tall tower, which weighed 2,700 tonnes, was demolished as part of a sophisticated operation that saw it shifted around 50 metres away from the minehead.
Speaking immediately after the demolition, Cleveland Potash general manager Phil Baines said: “From here it looks like it’s gone perfectly as planned but we will have a closer look. Obviously a lot of thought and planning goes into this and it does look like it’s gone very well. It allows us now to remove the debris from the site in a manageable way.”
The responsibility for pressing the button to detonate 25kg of high-power explosives fell to 22-year-old accountant Tom Drinkhall. He won the opportunity after a friend bought him a ticket in a raffle held at the mine to raise funds for the Great North Air Ambulance.
Mr Drinkhall said: “We did a little test run to make sure what I was going to do, when I was supposed to do it and the supervisor put a little piece of charge in the end of it to make it realistic, without telling me. So I pressed the button and there was a quick bang, but that was nothing compared to when they were doing it for real.
“Having my finger on that button felt pretty powerful and when it went off and it really came down I felt on top of the world.”
The steel frame that will form the replacement tower had already begun to be constructed over the minehead, and following the demolition this will now be completed.
This should allow the mine to reopen on Monday following the company’s annual shutdown period.
Mr Baines added: “It will significantly increase the potential production capacity and, together with the other investment, including state-of-the-art underground equipment, it means the mine is well-placed to play a key role in the area’s economy for many years.”
The contract for the installation of replacement headgear was undertaken by the Yorkshire engineering company Qualter Hall.
A new concrete tower shroud will be built around the steel headgear which has been designed to allow for future uprating of the system, to allow the capacity of the two skips to be increased from a 23 to a 30 tonne capacity.
Cleveland Potash Ltd supplies up to 65 per cent of the UK’s potash consumption from its Boulby mine, which has been operating since 1973 and which is currently the UK’s only potash mine.
The company employs over 1,000 people and workings extend down to over 1,300m below ground level and as far as 12km out underneath the North Sea.
The mine can hoist up to 3 million tonnes of potash and more than half a million tonnes of salt each year.
The £200 million investment at Cleveland Potash has already seen the creation of 200 new jobs, the company claims.