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North York potash mine construction delayed over environmental concerns

North York Moors National Park

North York Moors National Park: Sirius Minerals’ chief executive says the mine will ‘disappear into the surroundings’. Photograph: Alamy


Powered by article titled “North York potash mine construction delayed over environmental concerns” was written by Rupert Neate, for The Guardian on Monday 16th September 2013 18.35 UTC

Plans to build a £1.2bn potash mine in the North York Moors national park have been delayed by at least a year over environmental concerns.

Sirius Minerals, the British company behind the controversial project, on Monday postponed submitting its final planning application until July 2014 – triggering a 20% slump in its share price.

The delay, which will allow the firm to fully investigate any potential impact on migratory birds and underground water reserves, will push back construction work until at least late 2014 with the mine unlikely to begin operations before 2018.

Chris Fraser, Sirius chief executive, said the delay would let the firm take a “more holistic approach” to the project, which will tap directly into the world’s largest deposit of polyhalite, a mineral-rich form of potash used as a powerful fertiliser for intensive farming in Brazil, India and China.

The Campaign for National Parks said the mine would “seriously damage the environment of a protected landscape”.

Fraser said extensive landscaping would allow the mine to “disappear into the surroundings”, adding: “It will be one of the world’s biggest producers of fertilisers but done in a way you wouldn’t ever notice.”

Fraser said the “huge economic benefits” of the mine far outweighed environmental concerns. “We will re-establish the UK as a leader in exporting a value commodity and help with the global challenge of food security,” he said.

The mine will create more than 1,000 jobs and earn dozens of local farmers millions – Sirius intends to pay out more than £1bn in royalty payments over 50 years. If the £1bn was split evenly between all landowners above the mine near the village of Sneaton, near Whitby, each would collect £2.5m.

Shares in the company – 8% of which is owned by Fraser, a former Citigroup banker – collapsed to £9.90, their lowest position since October 2011.

Geologists have known for decades that the moors contained big mineral deposits, and global mining companies submitted plans for mines in the 1970s but pulled out when the price of potash dropped.

Of the mining planning applications granted in the 1970s only one, Cleveland Potash mine near Boulby, ever began operations and is still operating today.

At peak production in 2020 the Sirius mine will produce more than 20m tonnes a year. The raw material will be pumped through an underground pipe 28 miles to a Teesside processing plant.

Most of the potash will go to China, India, Brazil and other countries with large amounts of intensive farming. The mine could also meet Britain’s potash demand several times over, removing the reliance on imports from Germany and Canada. © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010

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