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Industry news: February 2009

‘Clean’ coal to be extracted from Scotland

A licence has been granted by the Coal Authority to Thornton New Energy Ltd for a scheme to extract coal from under the Firth of Forth using underground coal gasification. Thornton New Energy, a subsidiary of BCG Energy Ltd, plans to drill into the coalfields and convert coal into gas in situ.This gas would then be extracted with carbon dioxide captured and stored during processing.The director of Thornton New Energy, Steve Walters, said "The award of the country's first UCG licence is a significant milestone in Scotland moving towards new, cleaner forms of electricity generation and it helps ensure that we won't have to be too reliant on importing energy from other countries in the future."

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Approval for Glebe Mines extension

Fluorspar extraction, BGS©NERC

Glebe Mines Ltd has been granted approval by the Peak District National Park Authority (PDNP) for an extension of its Tearsall open pit. As part of the approval, Ineos Fluor Ltd, the owners of Glebe Mines, has agreed to relinquish its rights to quarry a nearby site at Longstone Edge for a four–year period. The Tearsall quarry extension will allow an extra 660 000 tonnes of fluorspar to be extracted by Glebe Mines over an area of 10.37 hectares from up to a depth of 45 metres.

Approval for the extension still has to be approved by the Communities and Local Government Secretary, Hazel Blears.The extension has received much local opposition due to its sensitive location within a national park. However, without it, 150 jobs could be lost at the quarry and over a thousand at Ineos Fluor's chemical manufacturing site at Runcorn in a knock–on effect. Under the conditions of the approval Glebe Mines must ensure restoration, restrict noise and dust pollution, pay for damages to roads caused by quarry traffic and increase its reliance on underground mining.

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Job losses for ball clay operations

Ball clay extraction, BGS©NERC

Imerys Ltd, the French owner of several ball clay operations in Devon, Dorset and Cornwall, has announced 54 job losses across its UK business. Eleven jobs will be lost in Devon and Dorset and 43 in Cornish operations. Imerys, which employs 1200 people in the UK, will also instigate pay freezes and reductions to the working week in a reaction to the current economic crisis. A company spokesman added that there would be no plant closures but the economic downturn meant job cuts were unavoidable due to a decline in demand for their products from the construction, paint, plastics and car industries.

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New ‘Champion’ for Scottish quarrying industry

Talks between the Quarry Products Association (QPA) for Scotland and the Scottish Government have resulted in the appointment of a ‘Champion’ to support and sponsor the quarrying industry in Scotland. Both the QPA and the Manufacturing Policy Team of the Scottish Government agreed that there would be mutual benefits from a closer working relationship. Hugh McAloon, from the Manufacturing Policy Team of the Scottish Government, said, "Our team will act as an initial point of contact for QPA Scotland on Scottish Government policy issues.The team will also, where possible, take on a facilitation role if QPA Scotland encounters difficulty engaging with the Scottish Government and related bodies." The QPA in turn will provide Mr McAloon's team with an insight into the industry and provide direct contacts with companies where appropriate.


Closure of Westbury cement works

Cement works, BGS©NERC

French–owned quarry operator Lafarge has announced it is to mothball its Westbury cement works in Wiltshire.The closure will result in 68 job losses and follows a decision made in September 2008 to mothball half the manufacturing facilities at the site. A spokesman for Lafarge commented "Since September we have seen further deterioration in market conditions, which means we need to realign our manufacturing footprint". Increased energy costs and the economic slowdown have also made production at the site no longer viable. The site will continue to operate as a road and rail depot and Lafarge Cement UK has expressed a hope that the site can be brought back into operation in the future if economic conditions allow.

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Approval for Northumberland quarry

Hadrian's Wall, BGS©NERC

Northumberland County Council has approved planning permission for the reactivation of Cocklaw quarry, owned by Tyndale Roadstone Ltd. The quarry is located near the village of Chollerford and is only 515 m from the World Heritage Site of Hadrian's Wall.Tyndale Roadstone, which produces asphalt, is looking to replace its Allenheads quarry which ran out of reserves in August 2007.The current permission is a reactivation of an existing permission dating back to 1949 and grants access to 600 000 tonnes of sandstone and limestone over a 10–year period.The approval has received much opposition from local residents, the parish council and local business that rely on tourism over concerns of impacts to the World Heritage Site and to tourism in the area.

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Industry survey shows further decline in aggregates market

Gravel, BGS©NERC

A recent survey completed by the Quarry Products Association (QPA) has shown an unprecedented decline in sales volumes of aggregates for the fourth quarter of 2008.The survey, which also showed significant reductions of aggregate and ready mix concrete sales throughout the year, revealed that sales volumes for sand and gravel fell by 29 per cent and crushed rock by 28 per cent compared with the fourth quarter of 2007. For the year as a whole, volumes of crushed rock sales fell by 12 per cent, sand and gravel by 15 per cent, ready mixed concrete by 14 per cent and asphalt by three per cent. QPA Director General, Simon van der Byl, commented, "We thought 2008 would be difficult but the reduction in markets in recent months has been very rapid and very substantial.The outlook for 2009 is grim as there is no prospect of recovery in construction activity until well into 2010, with plenty of downside risk to potentially extend the construction recession."


Hillhead 2009 postponement

The organiser of the Hillhead annual quarrying show, held at Hillhead quarry near Buxton, has announced a postponement of this year's show to June 2010. Quarry Management Journal which organises the event, originally scheduled for June this year, decided on the postponement due to the speed and scale of the current economic recession and its effects on the quarrying industry.The decision has been made with the support of the show's sponsors who have agreed that it is in the best interests of the event if it were put back a year to allow market conditions to stabilise.

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Cononish gold project is economically viable

Gold mineralisation, BGS©NERC

Scotgold Ltd, the owners of the Cononish gold and silver project, near Loch Lomond in the Trossachs National Park, has announced the preliminary results of its scoping study which indicated the project is economically viable. The estimated capital cost of the project is thought to be £12 million with an average operating cost of £224/oz of gold. Based on a gold price of around £660/oz, the project's value could be as high as £25 million. However, using lower estimates of the long–term price of gold (about £502/oz) the value would be nearer £6.5 million. The mine is expected to produce 139 600 oz of gold and 538 000 oz of silver over a period of six and a half years and has a current resource estimate of 454 000 tonnes grading 10.2 grams per tonne of gold and 40.4 grams per tonne of silver. Scotgold hopes to start production in 2010.