War of words erupts between mining companies

Boulby Mine
Boulby Mine

A war of words has broken out between the area’s two mining companies as the operators of Boulby Mine called into question the viability of the York Potash project.

Cleveland Potash, which operates the Boulby plant, says it has “considerable doubts” over the mine that Sirius Minerals is proposing near Sneaton.

The comments come in the same week that Cleveland Potash announced £300 million worth of investment which would extend the life of Boulby Mine for the next 40 years.

York Potash claims it will sell 15 million tonnes of polyhalite per year, create 1,000 jobs and transport the mineral via an underground pipeline, keeping surface buildings to a minimum so as to restrict the impact on the landscape.

But Cleveland Potash said this week: “There is no indication as to where it is planning to sell such an amount because publication of a Definitive Feasibility Study has been deferred.

“The York Potash proposal involves placing much of its operations underground, but Cleveland Potash questions whether it is possible for a mine, cutting up to 15 million tonnes per annum of mineral and with such a large workforce to operate with such a limited surface footprint.

“We have considerable doubts over the ‘buildability’ of such a large mine, and we are unable to see how 15 million tonnes of polyhalite will be accommodated by the world fertiliser market.”

The York Potash project, would be the biggest development to hit the Yorkshire Coast for decades,and with a decision due later this year there is no doubt that Cleveland Potash is responding by ramping up operations.

This week it too was in talks with the North York Moors National Park Authority with a view to extending its planning permission, which currently runs to 2023, for a further 40 years and to take up the option to have a 20 year extension on its lease at its facility at Teesport.

Its parent company, Israel Chemicals Ltd (ICL) has approved development plans which will see £300 million ploughed into projects over the next five years, starting with the installation of state of the art underground equipment.

One of the first jobs at Boulby will be a £16 million programme to replace the rock shaft head tower which will “significantly” increase production potential and jobs at the plant.

Cleveland Potash general manager, Phil Baines, said: “This announcement makes clear we will be here for many more years to come.

“Our present combination of potash resources and reserves totals around 70 to 80 million tonnes, but following a major exploration programme - including a £4 million offshore seismic survey - we expect this figure will increase significantly over the next few years.”

In response to the criticisms by Cleveland Potash of its project, Sirius boss Chris Fraser said: “We are surprised at some of the sensationalist claims it has made about our project.

“We are getting a very strong response in our engagement with major customers in the UK and around the world in terms of what polyhalite represents as a sustainable, multi-nutrient form of potash.

“The York Potash project has set new standards for sensitive and sustainable mine design and the engineering behind the project is robust and has been assessed in detail by teams of professional engineers.”