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Industry news: January 2011

Plans to recover additional coal from Shotton get the go-ahead

Surface coal mining, BGS©NERC

Northumberland County Council has approved plans to extract an additional two million tonnes of coal from Shotton surface mine, located to the west of Cramlington. Banks Mining, part of the Banks Group, had sought approval to extend the life of the mine by two years in order to recover the additional coal.

The council planning committee approved the extension plans in acknowledgment of the high environmental standards achieved by operations at the site. Extraction is anticipated to end by 2016, with full restoration completed by 2018.

Banks says the additional work will not require any uptake of land outside the existing site nor will daily traffic movements be affected. Banks' environment and community director, Mark Dowdall, said Shotton had been operating successfully for nearly three years and that the company were very pleased with the approval to extend the life of the mine. He said that Banks has invested heavily in the Northumberland region for over two decades and is one of the largest industrial employers in the area. He added that the approval would allow Banks to maintain its investment in the region and continue to provide employment for over 200 people.


Peruvian salt imported for use on roads in Rochdale

Salt production, BGS©NERC

Rochdale Council, located 45 miles from the UK's largest salt mine, said it was forced to import salt from Peru to make sure roads were kept clear. In total 3,000 tonnes of salt was purchased from the South American country following concerns that salt levels could fall critically short this winter.

The authority said that the price paid was "comparable" with local sources. A spokesperson for the council said the decision to import grit, which travelled around 6,000 miles to reach Greater Manchester, ensured that its gritting policy was met.

Salt Union, which runs the Cheshire-based mine, said it had been working hard to meet the needs of its customers. The operation, based in Winsford, can produce around 30,000 tonnes of crushed rock salt per week and has been mining seven days a week since December 2009.

During summer 2010, Salt Union said it had been faced with "unprecedented demand for supplies" from councils wanting to stockpile salt for the 2010-2011 winter. In response to increased demand Salt Union has invested £4 to £5 million in machinery, processing equipment and storage facilities to improve the security of the nation's salt supplies.


Restored Midlands coal site gains SSSI status

Almost 115 acres of restored land around the former Bleak House surface coal mine site, near Cannock, in Staffordshire has been designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) by Natural England.

According to Natural England the "mosaic of habitats" that has been created as part of the restoration now supports up to 140 wildlife species and is of national importance, hence the designation.

Trevor Hind, land rehabilitation manager for UK Coal, said the SSSI designation at the Bleak House site acknowledges UK Coal's "common sense and practical approach to land restoration". He added that the designation also demonstrates that surface mining of energy minerals can also "put something back for future generations".

Restoration work at the Bleak House site started in 1993 and was completed in 2001. During its operational life the site produced 3.26 million tonnes of power station-quality coal from around.

13 seams, at a maximum depth of 90 metres.

The company's land rehabilitation team continues to manage the heathland site with rotational cutting operations, controlled cattle grazing and wild deer, in co-operation with a local farmer.


Sustainable delivery solution for flood-defence project

An Environment Agency contract, worth £260,000, will see Hanson UK deliver 7,000 tonnes of armour stone from Whatley Quarry, in the Mendips, to Minehead, in Somerset.

The armour stone will be used to repair coastal defences at Minehead to prevent flooding of local businesses and property; the material will be delivered from Whatley by rail, saving at least several hundred lorry journeys.

The Minehead flood-defence contract is the largest to date under the Environemnt Agency's national framework agreement with Hanson UK. The framework is aimed at maintaining assetts such as river systems and flood defences, whilst improving sustainbility by increasing the use of recycled and secondary materials and by reducing transport impacts.

Around 7,000 tonnes of stone, in blocks ranging from one tonne up to almost six tonnes, will be utilised in the emergency repair scheme. Seventeen train loads, of around 420 tonnes each, will travel the 82 mile journey from Whatley between Novmeber 2010 and January 2011.


Landfill containing nuclear construction waste to be remediated

Plans are in place to remediate a landfill site at Dounreay, in Scotland, containing construction waste from a former nuclear research station.

Dounreay Site Restoration Limited (DSRL) has revealed its plans to restore an area of land designated as a rubble dump during the construction and operation of Britain's former centre for fast reactor research and development. The work is due for completion by the end of 2011, subject to regulatory controls, and is expected to cost around £2 million.

The site contains an estimated 70,000 m3 of construction and demolition waste from 1960 onwards. The site has not been used since 2005 and needs to be restored under environmental and planning regulations; remediation has been ongoing since 2008.

The works will include the movement of 16,000 m3 of material and the construction of new sea defences. A large impermeable membrane will also be used to cover the site, with around 25,000 tonnes of rock being used to close off the site.

Phil Cartwright of DSRL said "We studied several options for closure of the landfill and carefully considered the environmental impact of each.

He added "We believe the facility can be left in a safe condition with the engineering measures identified in our closure application to the Scottish Environment Protection Agency."


UK aggregate production at its lowest level for 50 years

Aggregate production, BGS©NERC

According to a new report published by BDS Marketing, UK aggregate production during the last year was the lowest it has been in almost 50 years at around 160 million tonnes.

The report entitled 'Estimated outputs of pits, quarries and marine wharves in Great Britain' suggests that Tarmac is still the UK's largest aggregate producer with 20% market share. In total 70% of UK aggregate production is managed by five companies, Tarmac, Aggregate Industries, Hanson, Cemex and Lafarge.

Even though the report claims a slight market improvement took place during 2010, with an increase in demand of around 2% and the re-opening of 20 quarries, almost 70 quarries were forced to close because of low levels of demand.

According to the report market recovery is not expected in the short term due to weak recoveries in both the public and private sectors, and reduced levels of investment in housing. BDS claims further declines may occur this year and in 2012 but that a period of strong growth will follow in 2013.


MPA concerned by plans to scrap the Aggregates Levy Sustainability Fund

The Mineral Products Association (MPA) has expressed its concerns over DEFRA's plans to scrap the Aggregates Levy Sustainability Fund (ALSF) by the end of the financial year.

The ALSF is the means by which around 7% of the Aggregates Levy revenue is channelled back into communities, NGOs and other stakeholders to fund projects delivering conservation, local community and other sustainability benefits.

Chief Executive of the MPA, Nigel Jackson, said "there is no justification to this decision" as the ALSF is an important part of the Aggregates Levy scheme, and is the way in which a small amount of the revenue raised by the Levy brings benefits to communities in areas affected by aggregate extraction.

He added that ending the fund would be "an enormous own goal for DEFRA and the Government" as it runs contrary to the objectives of empowering local communities. He said it could be the difference between communtites saying yes to extraction and saying no. Mr Jackson also called for affected organisations to join the MPA in leading a campaign to make sure the ALSF is retained for as long as the Aggregates Levy exists.


Scotgold releases Grampian Gold Project – Auch Project Area exploration update

Exploration drilling, BGS©NERC

Scotgold Resources Limited has released an update on the company's gold and silver exploration programme within the Auch Project Area, 10 km north-east of the Cononish Gold and Silver Project, and outside the boundaries of the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park.

Small diameter drilling and rock chip sampling, of a vein system at Auch, have returned encouraging results, with up to 62.4 g/t Au and over 200 g/t Ag.

Ground based magnetic surveys have also revealed two significant magnetic anomalies that are thought to be related to a breccia pipe structure.

Source: [No longer available]

Hemerdon Project receives updated and improved planning approval

Wolf Minerals Limited has announced that Devon County Council has given final approval to a modification order, to update and modernise the existing planning permission at the Hemerdon tungsten and tin project, near Plymouth.

A comprehensive review of the existing planning permission, by Wolf Minerals and Devon County Council, found the original 1986 conditions to be "robust and relevant". Only minor modifications have been requested to reflect current priorities, including: changes to Government advice on biodiversity; restoration objectives; changes in technical measurement terms; and the new permitting regime operated by the Environment Agency.

The new modification order, incorporating the above conditions, was wholly accepted by local residents, landowners, stakeholders and the UK Government's Secretary of State. The updated planning permission will allow mining until 2021.

Source: [No longer available]

New study on resource risks to UK industry published

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) has recently published a report, prepared by AEA Technology, entitled 'Review of the Future Resource Risks Faced by UK Business and an Assessment of Future Viability' examining rare metals and materials required for UK business. The report focused on aggregates, fish, palm oil, timber and several metals and minerals including cobalt, copper, indium, lead, lithium, phosphorus, the rare earth elements and tin.

Six main recommendations were made which highlighted the need for: improvement of the flow of information on resource risks; improvement of businesses understanding their supply chains; provision of more opportunities for new business in the form of product reuse, remanufacture and recycling; more interaction between the Government and business; securing better and complete sources of information; the development of a shared evidence base on resource issues.


Parliament releases a new POSTnote on Rare Earth Metals

The Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology has recently published a short briefing note on Rare Earth Metals. The POSTnote examines the debate surrounding the security of future rare earth metal supplies, and discusses both the UK and international response to the situation.


The Science and Technology Select Committee announce an inquiry into the importance of strategic metals to the UK

Growing speculation and concern regarding the future availability of strategic metals, in the UK and further afield, is the main driver behind the Select Committee inquiry which was announced in November 2010. The Committee aims to answer five questions:

  1. Is there a global shortfall in the supply and availability of strategically important metals essential to the production of advanced technology in the UK?
  2. How vulnerable is the UK to a potential decline or restriction in the supply of strategically important metals? What should the Government be doing to safeguard against this and to ensure supplies are produced ethically?
  3. How desirable, easy and cost-effective is it to recover and recycle metals from discarded products? How can this be encouraged? Where recycling currently takes place, what arrangements need to be in place to ensure it is done cost-effectively, safely and ethically?
  4. Are there substitutes for those metals that are in decline in technological products manufactured in the UK? How can these substitutes be more widely applied?
  5. What opportunities are there to work internationally on the challenge of recovering, recycling and substituting strategically important metals?

On 26th January the Committee held a hearing at which experts from several professional and trade bodies and industry gave evidence. A transcript of the hearings will be published shortly.